Sonja Braas

Conditioned Eye

“We actually only encounter exotic landscapes at the zoo or at botanical gardens,” says Sonja Braas, who has been interested in plants since her youth. In the course of time her curiosity heightened; she wanted to get to know the distant countries where the plants that she was preoccupied with grew. At the age of 19 she started to travel, first to Costa Rica and Guatemala. And she took with her a clear notion of what virgin nature should look like. When she had reached her destination, it was only to find out that the real jungle looked quite different. Her second trip took Sonja Braas to Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador; where she had to modify her expectations. For against the backdrop of the real landscape the images she had in her head started to pale. Sonja Braas then traveled to Australia, where she found the topic she was to make her own: the photographically conveyed insight that there is no nature independent of subjective perception.

In her series “You are here” she places authentic landscapes alongside constructed natural scenarios that she photographed in zoological gardens and museums of natural history. The images emphasize the romantic utopia of nature as, to all intents and purposes, “the Other”, which fills us humans, impaired by civilization, with astonishment and yearning. In her series “Forces”, Sonja Braas continues her investigation of conditioned images of nature. Here, too, she uses real and constructed landscapes, yet – unlike the sweet images of nature in “You are here” – now it is heroic, threatening and fear-inspiring elements that predominate.

The question what exactly conditions human perception is one Sonja Braas does not answer in her landscape photographs. Yet she makes us realize that we already bear a glut of images in our minds before we cast our eyes on the real world. A first, innocent glance and completely new experiences belong to childhood – impressions like these are no longer possible later on.

Biographical information

1968

born in Siegen

1991–97

studied visual communication, photo and film design at the Fachhochschule Dortmund

1995/96

studied photography at the School of Visual Arts, New York

1997

Reinhart-Wolf-Preis
Kodak-Nachwuchsförderpreis

1999

DG Bank scholarship

lives and works in Germany and New York