Anja Niemi: ‘The Rider’

“A woman stands turned away from us, dressed in classic black dressage pants – hair gently gathered under her helmet by a hairnet. The sleeves of her white blouse are rolled up, torso slightly arched, shoulders together. Her leather riding boots are securely grounded beneath her, preparing to confront the dark void ahead.”

The Rider Vol. 1 is an ideological progression from Anja Niemi’s previous series The Blow (2019), in which a female boxer has the lead role. The Blow is an allegory for struggle and the countless number of conflicts we as humans wrestle with. As with all of Niemi’s work, the narratives she constructs and then performs act as allegorical amplifiers to the conversations that lie beneath.


When creating ‘The Rider’, I had to change almost everything about the way I worked. Horses are wilful and fast, and I wanted to photograph them on their terms without being too dominating or forceful. I could no longer be as repetitive and meticulous as I usually am, but what I got in return was really rewarding. I ended up spending my summer in the meadow, inviting the horses to roam freely in and out of my frame. I introduced them slowly to the black and white fabric I hung between the trees, inviting them to join me but letting them go when needed. Towards the end of the summer, one of the horses wilfully stands on the white fabric, resting his head on my shoulder. I can feel his weight as if he is almost asleep. I remember thinking what a huge honour it was that he trusted me so much and realized how far we had come.

Anja Niemi

In her latest series, Niemi recreates her character’s struggle in the form of a rider and her horse. Trust and the will to understand each other are essential to their mutual bond. In good times they are one, connected in trust and respect. They are on an open-ended journey, a journey that requires perseverance and the suspension of fear. 


I was a horse girl as a child, but a riding accident kept me away from horses most of my life. A few years ago, I rediscovered my love for horses and decided it was time to overcome my fear. Today they are my source of joy and my comfort when I am down. Horses have an amazing ability to sense your emotions and such a lovely way of changing them for the better. My fear is still there, suspended. But as my relationships and connections grow stronger, I am slowly letting go.

Anja Niemi

Involuntary disembarkation (2021). A jodhpur trapped in a stirrup, with its leather strap tangled and hanging in thin air, hints to events of the past. Reminding us of the traumas that haunt us. The Rider is about the freedom found in progress and the ability to displace fear even if it’s temporary. 

Involuntary disembarkation (2021). A jodhpur trapped in a stirrup, with its leather strap tangled and hanging in thin air, hints to events of the past. 

The Rider Vol. 1 is a declaration of love, for the creatures, the artist simultaneously fears and adores.

“I started creating my character ‘The Rider’ alongside my personal quest to become a rider again. I loosely based her story on my own, intending to successfully get back in the saddle and overcome traumas from her past. I wanted the story to be encouraging, and it still is in many ways, but not like I first intended. During my production, I realised my fictional character’s story was all wrong; I had made it too easy for her to succeed. Personally, I was facing setbacks and disappointments despite all my efforts and endless determination. It was going to be a long journey, and I wanted to acknowledge that, so I left my story at the beginning and named it Vol. 1. “

Anja Niemi

Visit: THE RAVESTIJN GALLERY, Amsterdam , 30 October – 8 January

ABOUT:Anja Niemi (1976) studied at Parsons School of Design in New York and has exhibited in galleries worldwide. Four monographs of her work have been published and her images are part of various public and private collections. Recent museum exhibitions include Fotografiska (Stockholm and Tallinn), MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, Lisbon), Des Moines Art Center (Iowa) and Figge Art Museum (Davenport). 

Therese Stub Alhaug
Therese Stub Alhaug


Therese is the editor of Equilife, and is truly dedicated to equestrian sports and horses. She started riding as a little girl, and enjoys her free time with her two horses back home. Portrait interview is her favorite topic, as it has the gift to inspire others through peoples stories, knowledge, training and general life-philosophy, and certainly, their lives with horses.

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