Ania Liesting (43), Photographer and initiator of the Ode to Women project
The women’s strike in my native Poland in April 2020 has made me reflect. Every attempt to curtail freedom that women have fought hard for over the decades touches me, hurts me, makes me angry… and scared. Because what if the attempt succeeds? I find it shameful what is happening in Poland. This also applies to how the LGBTI+ community is treated. LGBTI+ free zones in my country? How is that possible? I am ashamed that there are cities and regions in Poland that have declared themselves LGBTI+ free.
The women who have stood on the barricades in Poland have inspired and energized me. With Ode to Women I want to make my voice heard as a photographer and draw attention to their struggle for freedom. No, I didn’t meticulously prepare that. I let my feelings guide me more and just started. The first woman I asked was my friend Celestina Stark. She is also in the Dutch book ‘Ode aan Vrouwen’ . I photographed her in such a way that she radiates strength, freedom and emancipation. That’s what I’m looking for in all the portraits in the Ode to Women series. By participating in the series, the women also send a signal: they distance themselves from violating women’s rights. Call it a photographic protest. I never thought that as many as 24 women would be photographed and interviewed. I also photographed more women for this series. It makes me proud that so many women feel connected to the project. I have approached a number of them myself, but there are also women who have contacted me on their own initiative with the offer that I may photograph them.
I posted the photos on my Facebook page and on my website. Often accompanied by a powerful, fitting quote from a famous woman. I knew the personal stories of a number of women I got in front of my camera, but it was not my intention to portray them in text as well. Until I got the question why the stories behind the women were missing? And whether it would not be added value to give the women a face in image and word? I had to think about that. After all, it meant a different setup from Ode to Women. Moreover, I would then work with a writer, who is also a man. And that in a project about women. Would that fit? Yes, I think now, that fits. It is an enrichment for the project that you can also read what drives women to stand up for their rights and the position of women, how they view life and what their ambitions are.
Love brought me to the Netherlands eighteen years ago. It was not actually the intention that I would end up in the Netherlands. In my dreams I saw myself walking around in Italy. What I knew for sure is that I wanted to leave Poland. There I saw no future for myself, I wanted to explore the world. I started working as an au pair in Hanover, where my sister lived. My brother lived in the Netherlands and through him I got to know my current husband. In the Netherlands, I started learning the language as quickly as possible and got a job at Fontys, including as an ICT advisor and AV specialist. In the meantime I had become a mother of our son Ryan. I really want to give him the opportunity to live the life he wants to live. That brought me to the question: am I actually living the life I want? Am I an example for my son in this? The answer was: no. I then made the choice to attend the photo academy and quit my job at Fontys. I was 37 years old when I started a new chapter in my life.
I am still in the process of discovering myself as a photographer. I like it when a photo has meaning, tells a story. That you always see something new in a photo. I notice that I also dare to get out of my comfort zone more and more. I challenge myself in this and sometimes I am also challenged by others. I always want more, but I am often the one holding myself back. Because I doubt, because I don’t dare yet, because I’m not sure I can do it. A series Ode to Men? Haha, who knows. I am curious about how men think, how their brains work, how they live their lives, what their world looks like.
In the meantime “Ode to Women” gets an international follow-up. Writer Maurice Ambaum and I went to Poland to portray the women who stood on the barricades. Who are these women? What is their personal story? What drives them to start protesting publicly? Because that is not without risk in Poland. Here you can meet them and read their stories.
The next idea is to have this exhibition travel through different European capitals, meet women and women’s organizations from various countries and make recordings. In addition, we want to create a platform where we give women and organizations the opportunity to connect, support and learn from each other. Ode to Women acquires thus an even more multimedia character. And hopefully its message gets more and more coverage and impact. Because ultimately it’s about women who stand up for their rights and freedom.