© Cuny Janssen, My Grandma Was A Turtle


1. How did you start taking pictures, what attracted you to this medium?

When I was studying fashion at the Academy of Fine Arts I loved to take pictures of the designs. Most of the time I took the pictures in the studio and I felt I could express my ideas much better with a picture as a final product than with a piece of clothing. After two years of fashion I switched to photography. I think the directness of the medium attracted me a lot and I discovered that photography was a great opportunity to go somewhere or to meet someone. And moreover, I discovered that I could come very close to someone with the camera safe in between.

2. You've taken pictures of children in different places all over the world. Could you tell us something about your experience? Is it possible to describe photographically how children relate to nature and the spaces around them?

In my work I am not describing the relation between children and their surroundings. What I am attracted to in both humans and nature is the resourcefulness of life. In my pictures I think this is what connects them to each other. When I visit a country, to me the landscapes and the people that live in it are equally present. The only desire I then feel is to get in touch, to really connect, with both nature and it’s people.


© Cuny Janssen, My Grandma Was A Turtle Cover


3. What kind of difficulties (if any) did you face and what are for you the main differences between photographing adults and children?

The most difficult thing is to find yourself in stunningly beautiful places and not make a calendar photograph. The same counts for children portraits. I have seen the gypsy girls with tear on the cheeck. Also, I am trying to avoid putting the subject in the middle and demonstrate it. At this moment I am more and more interested in William Eggleston’s democratic photographs. He said: ‘I am at war with the obvious’

Much more than adults, children are connected to their situation, their surroundings, their culture in a very visual and very natural and unconscious way. I think everything they experience is direct.

4. You worked in India, Macedonia, Japan and the USA among others. What does it mean for you to photograph in a foreign country?

When I am in another country, I am much more open to the immediate experience of normal things. There are less distractions than at home and everything is more stimulating. One is activated to cope with a different culture and climate and that makes alert.


© Cuny Janssen, My Grandma Was A Turtle

© Cuny Janssen, My Grandma Was A Turtle


5. Your publications are very well curated and thought out. You've often collaborated with the designers SYB. Which aspects are important to you when it comes to creating a photographic book?

It’s important to me to treat the book as an object and not as an exhibition on paper. Sybren’s talent is to really look at a body of work and to transform it to a book. His idea is that every series of photographs demand it’s own design.
It was very interesting and a real challenge to make two books at the same time in 2010: ‘My Grandma Was A Turtle’ and ‘Amami.’ It was clear from the beginning that they had to be two very different books despite the equal structure of portraits and landscapes.

© Cuny Janssen, Amami Cover

6.Your images are extremely personal and in each portrait we can feel the connection between you and your subjects. How about your approach in the moment of taking a photograph? Do you think that it is important to interact and communicate verbally with your photographic subjects before shooting?

Before taking pictures of children the most important condition is the permission of the parents. To gain children’s trust I need their full cooperation. It also takes some time. The best picture could be taken immediately after I arrived at someone’s home. Sometimes it was the last one I took. When I don’t speak their language I always work with a translator and I literally explain what I would like to do. Usually the translator talks to the parents while I am taking the pictures. Face to face with a person words like ‘yes’, ‘perfect’ or ‘beautiful’ are universal.

My approach to nature is completely different. It doesn’t talk back or walks away.
With landscapes you just look, listen and wait.


© Cuny Janssen, Amami

© Cuny Janssen, Amami


7. Especially children and landscapes animate your photographic world. The connection between these two elements creates a fairy world but also a suspended one. What moves you to compose your projects in this direction?

It’s not my intention to create a fairy or suspended world. Nature and children direct to the future, that is what connects them in my opinion. Other interpretations are free. It depends on the context in which the images are shown.

8. In your photographic education, which experience influenced you the most?

My internship with Thomas Struth in 1999 and my library.



© Cuny Janssen, Amami




Interview by Anya Jasbar and Daniel Augschöll