BEYOND THE SURFACE WITH ANNA DAKI
Anna Daki photographed in her photo studio in western Berlin; the graphic print next to her reads, "Strong people of the steely country".
With an uncanny eye for individual beauty and human appeal, Anna Daki is responsible for the honest and intimate atmosphere of the MYKITA ACETATE campaign. We met at her Berlin studio for a generous talk about her instinctive, hands-on approach that not only formed her career and aesthetic, but also led her volunteer in any way she could as her birth country Ukraine was thrown into an impossible state of emergency at the start of 2022.
This conversation is the first in our new feature series Beyond The Surface, where we talk to progressive thinkers and makers leading positive change for the future of our community, society, and planet.
Originally from the beautiful port city Odessa on the Black Sea, Anna Daki is a Berlin-based photographer whose clean, close-up and tactile aesthetic is now featured in renowned fashion titles across Europe and increasingly sought-after by high-end fashion and jewellery brands. But Daki actually first started out studying architecture in her hometown. It was a short trip to London that inspired her to apply for a scholarship to study in the English capital. Yet, once she had arrived, she felt more confused than liberated by the liberal arts approach to education at English university: “I came from a very different post-Soviet approach, we had a really hardcore curriculum, including about 7000 types of concrete to learn about”, she recalls laughing. “In London, it was more like these four-hour long classes where we had to imagine our childhood and draw a road from our childhood or something. Our little post-Soviet enclave were just sitting there going, ‘What?!’ I can appreciate being creative, but it didn’t feel practical enough for me.”
Daki quickly realised she didn't have as much passion for architecture as she thought. Fortunately, her true calling was already in the works. Since her late teens, she had begun taking pictures of her friends. In the creative scene of London, it didn’t take long for someone to notice and encourage her to pursue the field. “That's when I noticed how much passion I had for something, working tirelessly through the whole night. You don't sleep, you edit, you retouch. I just didn't have that for architecture. Photography was a simple decision in the end.”
Amongst the impressions at the photo studio: Daki's beloved medium format Pentax 645N camera.
In the years that followed, she continued to build her skills and style, always preferring to get hands-on and practical to the navel-gazing approach of going to art school. Around 2017 is when she started getting serious about her own aesthetic, focusing on fashion and declining ‘money’ jobs like events and random portraits. By 2021, clients were booking her for her distinctively clean and intimate style with jobs in London and Paris for the likes of Cartier, Vanity Fair and Boucheron. As her career was really taking off, the volatile situation in the Ukraine was quickly escalating. By March, the war had started. For Daki, there was not a second thought about getting involved.
“I think when it all started, we all did as much as we could. For example, my mum is a psychologist, and she organised a therapy group for Ukrainian people who fled the war. She has continued with that twice a week until now. I was busy rehousing about 50-70 people in Germany and driving my car full of medical supplies to the border next to Dresden by the Czech border. My husband and I, with our close friends, collected money for medical aid that I distributed in the Ukraine via trusted sources. It was a lot going on. All my attention went into this and there was not enough to put into my own work. I only accepted selected commercial jobs to tide me over financially in order to take care of what I felt needed to be taken care of. By summer it all became too overwhelming. I ran out of … I had a burnout. All the stress of the previous years, alongside the added distress of everything happening in the Ukraine. I ended up taking a break, maybe the first break ever.”
In May, a publishing company approached her with the proposition to do a book. After some deliberation and the decision to increase the number of copies from 15 to 50, she agreed in order to sell the copies with all proceeds going to medical aid in the Ukraine.
“During the first three months of the war, it was very easy to collect anything but as the situation continues, people sort of get tired of the subject – I feel like if you can offer a kind of product or something, people are quite happy to support it.”
She found additional support from the small Kreuzberg gallery Project Space that gave her free use of their space for a small launch event. Vogue Germany wrote about it and all the prints and publications sold out, plus many people came and donated. “I just wanted to collect as much as possible,” she emphasises.
It’s hard not to draw a parallel between this passionate volunteering to her work as a photographer, which, albeit in the fashion realm, reveals genuine focus and love for humanity. Asked about her attraction to fashion photography, she says “I do like fashion, but actually much less than I like people and features. I can get tired of fashion, because it changes so quickly, the images also feel outdated after a short time. This is why I have always been drawn to a more reduced, timeless, and personal way of doing my work.”
Printing proofs for the MYKITA ACETATE campaign images by the photographer.
Her work stands out via its close-up yet natural aesthetic, one that reveals the small physical idiosyncrasies that make us not only individual but human. It was precisely this quality that caught the eye of the MYKITA creative team.
“Well, I’m actually really drawn to ‘beauty’ and super inspired by jewellery – maybe it's the Ukrainian part in me, you know, ‘It's shiny, it's beautiful!’” she laughs. “I really don't mind admitting that. Every time I work for any jewellery clients, they always say ‘oh my god, you see it so nicely’. I do like it simple and clean, a reduced style, focused on a human photography. I appreciate it a lot when clients come especially for this quality. The MYKITA shoot was very intimate. I felt free to do what I wanted. We had an amazing cast, and everything was so reduced and so clean – I was very much in my element.”
With her very warm and unpretentious nature, Daki has a natural way of making sure those around her feel welcome and comfortable. It’s easy to understand how she can achieve the intimate quality in her personal portraits.
“Well, it’s hard for me to praise my own work, but one thing I can say is that I'm good at making portraits of people and everyone always likes the portrait I make of them. The path I went down took many years and I gained a lot of experience, working with every kind of person you can imagine. You have to be able to read the room and feel out if someone is shy. Maybe you need to talk for a while, drink a tea and start very slow or you have someone you know is going to give you the shot in five minutes and so you work very quickly.”
“Especially considering the recent revelations around photographers and their exploitation, I feel it’s so important to stay tuned to the person in front of the camera. I don't like to force people into something they don't like. Sometimes you have an image in mind but then you realise the person just doesn't want to do it and the shot will just feel forced and wrong. Sometimes people want to be nice and want to please, or models want to do whatever you tell them, but you can still notice when it doesn't feel right.”
With her most dedicated model, Brandy – Anna Daki wears AYAN in Pink Clay from the MYKITA ACETATE collection.
Having had a recent break in the summer to regain her health, sanity and energy, Daki is now filled with big plans and projects for the future. Her idea is to release a proper book, something with meaning and creativity. True to her hands-on way of doing things, she says she’s still thinking about it, but not overthinking. “My approach is to do things and figure out the bigger picture as I go along – I already find a lot of meaning in photographing ‘real’ people. Showing a bit more realness can be a struggle with fashion editors, just to be allowed to leave things more natural.” She works mainly with an analogue camera for the last two years. “By now, I know what I really like so I don't have to use up 27 million rolls to get five pictures. I have my favourite camera that I bought two years ago and I’m absolutely going to die with her, a medium format Pentax 645N and it's the most perfect camera ever.”
Whatever is coming next from Anna Daki is sure to have true human focus and we can’t wait to see the results.