Back to Writing / 4-26-2005

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Erotic photographer Beatrice Neumann often takes her beautiful models into the Southern California desert to capture their souls through her lens. And she does it successfully.

Her work is more than the traditional nude; there is an honesty in faces and bodies, a truth that offers everything from a fed-up fuck-off rock-star emotion to a disquieting complacency. Neumann uniquely captures the essence of her subjects, allowing their bodies to express rather than simply seduce. She spoke with us about her shady past and her deserted present.

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Sez G: You're originally from Frankfurt. How do you think having falling in love with photography in Germany affects your attitude towards art?

Beatrice Neumann: I don't think growing up in Germany affected my photography or attitude that much. I studied Art History in Frankfurt back then and I felt rather uninspired and bored with that city. Going to museums and looking at paintings was what I spent most of my time with during the day… besides making a living as a bartender in nightclubs.

EZ: Ah, a bartender. Is that how you started to meet your models?

BN: At some point, living at night took over completely, and that's when I started meeting girls who were strippers and/or prostitutes . I think they were my biggest inspiration and I started going to strip clubs and other shady places after work, spending my money there.

Those "shady" establishments that I liked to frequent back in Germany inspired me much more than anything else. I loved going to strip clubs and hanging out with prostitutes in dirty after hour clubs in the Red Light District. It was like an addiction. Their tragic existence fascinated me, and I wanted to take photos of those girls.

Of course, it didn't work. I was 20 back then, and it was difficult to be taken seriously as a photographer, which I wasn't at the time. I lacked the technical skills and money to pay girls for photos. None of those girls were interested in getting their photo taken, and women weren't really welcomed in most of those places anyway.

EZ: So when did photography become more serious for you?

BN: In 1997 I applied for the London College Of Printing to get a BA in photography, but I was turned down since I had no proof of financial backup. That was a very frustrating experience, since assisting photographers in Frankfurt bored me to death.

That was when I decided to move to NYC. I felt that I'll be able to do what I love to do there.

EZ: And you did! When you moved to NYC in '98, you worked with many controversial artists, including Andres Serrano. Is this when you started exploring more erotic photography?

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BN: Most of the photographers I worked with in NYC were shooting high fashion for magazines like Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, W, etc. That's when I realized that fashion is something I was definitely NOT interested in. Even Richard Kern was shooting for a magazine called FLAUNT when I finally got to work with him.

When I worked with Serrano there was actually no nudity involved. it was for an exhibit called "America." I anticipated wild and raunchy shoots, but this show was quite different from most of his other work.

EZ: What was it like to work with him?

BN: He definitely is a great conceptual artist and it was a pleasure working with him. What I liked most about him was the fact that his equipment was rather simple. As a matter of fact, most photographers I admire use very little additional lighting, as apposed to some fancy fashion photographers who use 10,000 square feet studios and 5 assistants on every shoot.

But Erotica was pretty much all that I have always been interested in. Not that I don't like shooting people with their clothes on, but there is this voyeuristic aspect and intimacy that I highly appreciate. In New York, though, it was really hard to find models who'd get naked in front of the camera, and if they did, they wouldn't sign a release. I was lucky enough to have stripper friends who were not very shy…

EZ: Now that you're in LA, you've said you love shooting in the deserts. What about them draws you in?

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BN: Growing up in Germany I was used to lush green landscapes and compact cities with an efficient public transportation system. After living the fast life in New York for 5 years, the silence of the desert appealed to me a lot.

Living on a loud block in the East Village in Manhattan had turned me into a zombie! I started getting tired of all the things that I used to love, the fast paced life, A-list parties, having people at my house 24/7 … I find all that rather annoying now. I am amazed at how social I used to be. Now I don't get excited about leaving the house unless I am buying groceries or doing a shoot.

Before I moved to LA I spent about 2 months in deserts of California and Arizona by myself .It was an amazing experience and it influenced my decision to move to LA. What I love about it most is the fact that the desert seems to be so untouched by anything around it, and it has its own rules. I also love that on the surface it seems so dead, and yet it is full of life. Some people don't understand how I can spend weeks and weeks driving and shooting in the desert, but I'd consider it as my own form of meditation.

EZ: What's a "typical" shoot like for you? How long does it last, how many rolls do you get, how many prints do you end up with that you like?

BN: I don't think that there is a "typical" shoot for me. The length of the shoots and the outcome depend very much on my chemistry with the model and my current mood . It has happened in the past that I was about to start shooting and I just felt completely empty and uninspired. Thankfully, that has happened only a couple of times in all the years.

What is typical for me though is my lack of planning, since I prefer being spontaneous. But in real life that doesn't always work, of course. So I usually book my locations the very last minute. I am not a big fan of "overshooting," which means, I try to not take too many photos to get "the shot" as fast as possible before the model gets tired or annoyed. That's what I loved about shooting film on medium format, because I'd think twice before I'd push the button. Now I have to deal with weeding through a bunch of images that I don't like, only because shooting digital gives me the freedom of shooting without worrying about the cost of developing them.

But regardless of whether I shoot 3 or 300 images, I usually end up liking maybe 1 or 2. But that might be just me. I am extremely critical of my work.

Regarding the length of the shoot, it varies. I can seriously shoot until I fall over, but 5-8 hrs of shooting a more realistic time frame. The problem is that sometimes when a shoot goes really well and I am having lots of fun, I just don't want to stop.

EZ: You work in an industry that generally has women in front of the camera and men behind it. How has being a female artist helped or hindered your career?

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BN: I have been shooting for roughly 10 years, and I have rarely felt that being a female photographer made a huge difference, except when it came to assisting other photographers, which was essential to me. Without any formal training, it was the only way to learn about lighting. Getting assistant work is still tough for girls, I think. Most photographers prefer male assistants because they can lift heavy things and seem to be low maintenance. Honestly, I prefer male assistants myself.

I also think that women used to be more intimidated by taking photos and learning the technical know-how before digital photography took over. Through instant gratification, it's easy now for everyone to pick up a camera now and take a photo, and I think that's the reason why there are many more women shooting now.

Sometimes it's an advantage to be a girl shooter when it comes to erotica if the model is not very experienced. Girls can open up more and they don't feel so much like a piece of meat. Sadly, there are still some pervy male photographers who are hitting on their girls or get aroused as soon as they can see a nipple, and that's kinda gross.

EZ: You manage to provoke a lot of attitude from your subjects, and it really portrays their personality. How do you draw this out of them?

BN: I think it's all about chemistry. Most models feel comfortable being themselves when I shoot them. Maybe it's because I am a woman, I don't know.

To me, it's not just about making a girl look pretty. It's about getting a glimpse of their soul.

EZ: What's coming up for you in the future?

BN: I don't plan much and I pretty much live from day to day. The only thing that comes to my mind when I think about the future is buying a fancier camera, more lights, more memory cards and more hard drives.

And yes, I have a book in the works, but that shall remain a secret for now.

Not so secret anymore! To learn more about Beatrice Neumann, go to

Beatrice Neumann - by Sez G.