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Top food photographer Manja Wachsnuth has once again clinched a coveted spot in Lürzer's Archive's prestigious BEST Ad Photographers 23/24, marking her second consecutive year of recognition.

Tom Louden from Little Black Book chats to Manja about her thoughts on this accomplishment, delving into the inspiration behind her latest Burst series, the influence of her Scandinavian heritage on her elegant compositions, and her role in the Women's Work exhibition celebrating women photographers. 

Lüzers Archive Best Ad Images Edition 10 & edition 11

Tom: Congratulations on being featured in Lürzer’s Archive’s BEST Ad Photographers 23/24 for the second time! Can you share your thoughts and emotions about this recognition and what it means to you as a photographer?

Manja: This is the second time I have had the honour of having my work displayed in this prestigious publication among some of the photographers I admire most in this world! Since the early days of my apprenticeship in the studio basement, issues upon issues of Lürzer's have been studied in the search for photographic excellence and inspiration to develop my craft for outstanding food photography. To be selected for the second time running is an honour, to say the least. Being able to boast the stamp in pretty much all my marketing/comms is not only a super useful tool but also, has such kudos that I get approached with a certain respect. Out of all the awards, this one packs a punch for sure.

Photo of a smashed pumkin, smashed eggs and a smashed red pepper

Tom: Your Burst series, created for the 2023 Women’s Work exhibition, seems to have a deep and layered meaning. Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind this series and how it reflects your artistic perspective?

Manja: My most recent food photography project was created for the Women's Work exhibition "The Shape of Things" here in Auckland for International Women's Day 2023. It's about being an ex-pat reflecting on years of separation from family and friends and how one might process the emotions that emerge. This series quite literally explores the shape of things as they burst and metaphorically what it's like to be an ex-pat. I had a lot of fun in the studio smashing up fruit and other everyday items, making a big mess and smashing up things can have a rather therapeutic effect! 

Tom: Your work is described as having a "Scandinavian sense of elegant composition." How does your Scandinavian heritage influence your photography style, and what do you aim to convey through your images?

Manja: I am influenced by the philosophy of less is more! Danish life, in general, is about efficiency, reducing mess and clutter, and at the same time promoting functionality, beauty and authenticity. It’s not something I consciously think about every time I have a camera in hand, but more deeply ingrained in my personality and approach to life in general. I aim to promote a sense of intimacy and calm in my images.

Images of various plated dishes of food.

Tom: In addition to your commercial work, you've also been involved in Women's Work, an exhibition celebrating women photographers. Could you tell us more about your role in this initiative and its importance in promoting women in photography?

Manja: I’m one of the founding members of Women’s Work and have shaped the group from the beginning. My current role is looking after our social media, both strategy and management. I aim to promote the work of every one of our exhibiting members and actively share the work they are promoting through our Instagram channel. It’s an incredibly rewarding experience to be part of this group because it breaks down barriers of competition between women, which can sometimes be quite fierce by building a community feel and, at the same time, promotes us all as individuals. Many of our members have had a lot of success since joining, myself included. 

Woman with chop sticks eating octopus soup.

Tom: Your portfolio includes a wide range of clients, from American Express to Heineken. How do you adapt your photography style to suit different brands and industries?

Manja: What’s common for them all is my style and approach. The goal is always the same, regardless of the client—to create compelling and beautiful images that convey their message very precisely. I love to create beautiful images and collaborate with fellow creative minds. So whether the client is a global Fortune 500 brand or an owner-operator, it means very little to me. What’s important is the outcome and the relationships with those I’m collaborating with, and of course, that the images convey the message the client needs them to.

Collection of Images with Chef preparing food.


Tom: You’ve mentioned that your goal is to create authentic images that invite viewers to intimate moments of honest connection. Could you share some examples or experiences from your career where you felt you achieved this goal exceptionally well?

Manja: Uh gosh, that’s a hard one to answer! Mostly because once the images are shot, retouched and delivered, a campaign's results are rarely shared with the photographer. For me, I guess if the images are in continuous use, it must mean a happy client and that they are doing the job they were purposed to do… I think a lot of my work conveys this indirectly, as my main subject of food photography is about showcasing food and how it’s either experienced or prepared. Food and drink is one of the best ways I could think of to invite people together to share and be in each other's company. It invites joyful moments, intimate moments, and connection. 

Tom: Your work includes food photography, lifestyle imagery, and more. What do you find most intriguing or challenging about capturing these different aspects of life through your lens?

Manja: I love the storytelling aspect of photography, and conveying a story through a multitude of genres is very compelling to me. Ensuring you have consistency between lifestyle and food/product photography when you are communicating a brand's ethos is what lights me up! 

Images of native NZ Forest, Paua, Milford Sounds, flax.

Tom: As a photographer with over 20 years of experience, what advice would you give to aspiring photographers who are just starting their careers in the industry?

Manja: My approach and mantra has always been to keep things simple. I believe in simplicity. I rented all my gear to start, even my camera until I could afford one. I didn’t want to get into debt. Less is more, even when it comes to your gear. You don’t always have to have the newest camera and the most fancy equipment. Basic, good-quality tools will last a lifetime. So don’t let anyone tell you that you need this or that. You can make beautiful images with the most basic equipment.

Tom: Could you share a memorable or challenging experience from a photo shoot that had a significant impact on your growth as a photographer?

Manja: I think every shoot provides growth opportunities and takeaways that I always aim to implement going forward. Having said that, the shoots I’ve done for Heineken and American Express have provided the absolute most in terms of learning and growth. Working with brands of this calibre requires a certain amount of patience, as the approval processes of everything from pre-production to retouching results need approval from the global team. It becomes crucial to emphasise important details in the photography treatment to ensure everyone is on the same page. It’s taught me the importance of asking the right questions and never making assumptions. Not everyone speaks your language. This is why it’s so important to work with a great producer.

Man drinking Hieneken

Tom: In your personal work, you explore the female human mind and women's place in life. Could you tell us more about this exploration and what you hope to convey through these projects?

Manja: In recent years, I’ve often used my personal work to convey an internal feeling. I’ve utilised the power of photography as a means of group therapy, thinking that if I’m feeling it, chances are many others are too. A few years back, I shot a project about post-natal depression, focusing on my own experiences. Recently, I’ve been focusing on lighter themes. We’ve been through some hard years and so my most recent personal project focuses on a return to getting out and having fun. Let’s enjoy the pleasures of life and gather together for intimate moments with food and drink!


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