By Zach Singh
Photographer Anne Menke occupies the unique realm where high fashion meets bohemian travel and a free spirit. Her editorial work (for magazines including W, Sports Illustrated, Esquire, Elle, In Style, Travel & Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler and Vogue) exudes a sense of glamour often amidst a backdrop of far flung, exotic locales. Menke has photographed couture on the mountains of Peru and beauty contests on the plains of Mongolia. Her eye for the authentic, somehow she’s an insider wherever she goes, has informed her campaigns for clients including Tommy Hilfiger, Nine West, Keds, Clarins, L’Oreal, Aveda, Banana Republic, Ralph Lauren, Macy’s, J. Crew, Nike, Wrangler and Hush Puppies .
Menke was born in Germany and has lived and worked in London, Paris, and New York City. Currently, she splits her time between New York City and Sayulita, Mexico where she surfs and chartered a green school, The Costa Verde International school project. Mexico is also the perfect base for her frequent photography excursions.
Can you tell us about yourself and how you got started in photography?
I was 12 years old when I decided I wanted to be a photographer and my dad gave me his camera for my birthday, it was a contact 35mm, and I started shooting black and white nude picture of my girlfriends. I lived in a small town in Germany. I would just keep on taking pictures until I was sixteen and I decided to do an apprenticeship with a photographer instead of doing my high-school degree. In those three years, I knew I wanted to be a fashion photographer.
At what point did you realize that photography is what you wanted to do as a career?
I knew it from very young, and I just wanted to do nothing else, the only other passion I had was ballet, which I pursued until I was 22years old very intensely as well. I was working in my apprenticeship in a wedding studio and one day during the lunch break; I saw a German Vogue lying on the table in the waiting room, picked it up, and said to myself, I will work for VOGUE one day!
Was there any particular job that was a break in your career?
I moved to Paris at 22 and got my first cover for Vogue Bambini, and that started a serious of shoots for them that would change a lot of my editorials and jobs I got after that.
Tell me about your new book “See the World Beautiful”?
A photographers dream to be able to publish their favorite collection of pictures. It is a collection of all my travels I did for many years doing that were related to editorial stories that I wanted to do. The pictures I took were from while I was traveling or for the stories we created.
What photographers from the past or present have influenced you the most; being German, did August Sander and Herbert List have an impact on you?
Yes, all of these photographers influenced me, but I was influenced by Alfred Eisenstaedt and Henri Catier Bresson the most. When I started and even today all my inspiration came from all these reportage photographers, and it is what I am inspired by every day.
How do you balance your style with what a client has previously envisioned for a project? Do you find that most clients are controlling or do they let you have a lot of freedom?
I am lucky that most clients let me do what I do best and let me go, there are obviously a lot of jobs where there is a big concept, and you need to work within that idea or premises, but I still get to decide most details. I think I would not be able to work when everything is set in stone as I am very spontaneous and work in the moment.
You live between NYC and Mexico, tell us something about The Costa Verde International school project?
After living in New York for many years and having our first son turn 2, my husband and I decided to move to Mexico and live in the little town of Sayulita. We had planned on sending our children to public school until we realized that that was not an option. We decided with a close friend to make our own school and when we thought of the concept it was clear we did not want to create a school for our children we wanted to give back to the little community we live in and create a school where local children will get the opportunity to learn English, and get to learn an ecological consciousness. We wanted to find a modern progressive way of teaching and create life-long learners that will be stewards to the environment when they leave our school. I think we have successfully created it, and it is the biggest pleasure to walk in the school on any given day and find smiling kids of all colors that have fun with what they do. www.colegiocostaverde.com
What type of cameras do you shoot with and what is your favorite lens?
My favorite camera that I still use for all personal project is Pentax 67 with a 75 mm lens, but in the digital age, I had to learn to use the new digital cameras and I love the Nikon D 810 with a 35mm lens.
You shoot at beautiful locations, would you please name some of them and tell as your favorites?
I love anywhere I have not been and I love discovery. I think that Mongolia and India and anywhere in the Andes mountains are where I find my biggest inspiration, and of course Mexico.
Do you have any advice for up and coming photographers?
I love meeting young people and take time every year to meet with young photographers to give them my advice and opinion how to start. My most important advice is to get a camera to shoot film. I want to make sure that in the new digital age they all understand where the roots come from and how it was to shoot one picture at the time and that it was not possible to look and erase, that a lot of frames were total surprises. Another advice from me is because I did not study photography is that what is most important is to just take pictures. Nobody can teach you to take pictures in a school, you need just to do it and I preferred way to learn is to be an assistant to someone to learn a professional way of working.