Annika Haas

A woman wearing a bright blue headscarf with a floral design carries a small baby, who is looking directly at the camera, down a lane in Estonia. In the distance, a number of small houses can be seen. Taken by Annika Haas on a Canon EOS 5D.

Russian Old Believers (religious refugees) have lived in Estonia for more than 450 years, but their community is getting smaller, with older members dying and young people leaving. "I'm not a very talkative person myself, but if I'm interested in something, then I really want to go deep, to understand and to always show respect towards this thing or community that I don't know – it’s about communication and being sincere," says Estonian portrait and documentary photographer Annika Haas about her work. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM) at 34mm, 1/400 sec, f/10 and ISO 640. © Annika Haas

In her portraiture and long-term documentary work, Annika Haas creates imagery that is visually poetic. The images she makes are also a way for the award-winning Estonian photographer to learn more about herself and the communities she depicts. "I have been quite a withdrawn character socially and even shy away from people, but observation with the camera has given me courage," says Annika, reflecting on what photography has taught her.

Annika's journey began at 13 when she received a film camera from her parents as a birthday present. Born in Tori-Jõesuu, a village in the area of Soomaa National Park in southwestern Estonia, Annika felt her wild surroundings call out to her. "It was a very natural thing to capture nature and the local people," she says.

Her first Canon camera was the Canon EOS 3 35mm SLR, and at age 19, Annika's first foray into being a published photographer began with regional press. "At the beginning of the 1990s, I had my first picture in a local newspaper and I was so proud of that," she says. "I then decided that my future should involve photography." Annika has gone on to have work published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Der Spiegel, Monocle magazine, San Francisco Chronicle and LensCulture magazine, and has been featured in exhibitions across the world.

The pathway into documentary photography initially began during Annika's studies in Finno-Ugric languages at the University of Tartu. She took a parallel photojournalism course at Tartu Art School (now Pallas University of Applied Sciences), which deepened her interest, and she became intrigued by local villages.

"I explored surroundings close to Tartu and discovered three very interesting Russian Old Believers' villages where the atmosphere is totally different to others in Estonia," she says. "I started to go every summer to these villages to photograph and interview people. I really liked this kind of long-term photography."

The Estonian Express noticed Annika's imagery and she began working for them, which launched her photography career. Freelance jobs for more newspapers and magazines followed, and she eventually went on to work for the Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves, shooting international conferences. Since 2018, Annika has worked as a lecturer at the Estonian Academy of Arts, and since 2020 as a curator at the Museum of Photography in Tallinn, Estonia.

A headshot of Canon Ambassador Annika Haas. © Age Peterson
Location: Viimsi, Estonia

Specialist areas: Portrait, documentary, landscape

Favourite kit: Canon EOS 5D Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV)
In a small kitchen, a young Roma girl happily licks the back of a spoon covered in cream. On a small plate in front of her is a large slice of cake. Taken on a Canon EOS 7D by Annika Haas.

In Varstu, Võru county, Estonia, a young Roma girl named Milana celebrates her birthday. "My attitude towards the new and unfamiliar has definitely changed – I am no longer afraid of the unknown, it has turned into curiosity and the freedom to be vulnerable sometimes," says Annika. Taken on a Canon EOS 7D (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 7D Mark II) with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens at 24mm, 1/60 sec, f/3.2 and ISO 1600. © Annika Haas

Annika's work with communities has also involved shining a light on Estonia's Roma people, a minority group she began connecting with in the late 1980s, and has helped to dissolve misconceptions. "I started this project to get over the [general societal] fear towards the Roma community," she adds. "So I always have to have some kind of push from an emotion or feeling for how and why to start a project."

Windows into hidden communities like this, Annika says, begin with honest intentions and being willing to learn. An image from her resulting documentary work was voted among the Best Estonian Press Photos of 2013, as decided by The Estonian Newspaper Association.

A young Estonian man wearing a traditional Muslim skullcap closes his eyes and prays in front of a calm sea. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III by Annika Haas.

From Annika's Anatomy of the Estonian Muslim Community project, this image shows Ibrahim, a young Estonian man who changed both his name and religion to feel more a part of the country's Islamic population. "The changes that photography can bring about can be positively impactful if we can visually sense and communicate the connections that exist between people, communities, other beings and the environment in our time and space," says Annika. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM lens at 1/160 sec, f/3.2 and ISO 500. © Annika Haas

A young man with red hair and a nose ring stares without smiling at the camera. He is wearing a black leather jacket and sitting backwards on a chair. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III by Annika Haas.

Photographed as part of Annika's Greenhouse Effect project, Ron Jonas is one of many young Estonians who is deeply concerned about the future of the planet. "The situation among them is sometimes paradoxical, because I see how they use electronics and cell phones, which is a really important part of their life and they have been born into a society of digitalisation," says Annika. "But they can't understand that this is a part of what destroys the natural world as well. So it's really difficult to think differently. I think that it's important to go back to simplicity and that way of living. For this reason, I have used only analogue cameras for this project, including my Canon EOS 3." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM lens at 1/1000 sec, f/2 and ISO 200. © Annika Haas

Annika's project, Anatomy of the Estonian Muslim Community, followed a similar motive to gain insight through documentary portraits, and resulted in an informative exhibition. "I decided to show the real face of the Muslim community in Estonia and my aim was to somehow show that there is no difference in who you are by your nature, skin colour or religious background," she says. "There is always some kind of ethical theme in my photography."

The moral compass she uses in her work has also included environmental issues, evidenced by her Greenhouse Effect project, a long-term photographic study of four years portraying Estonia's younger generation, aged 12 to 21, that is tackling the exploitation of nature and overconsumption of Earth.

"I perhaps have a little bit of a naive hope that I can change the world with photography," Annika concludes. "My work involves important themes and I really enjoy that there is always a connection between photography and poetry."

What's been the key to having your work featured in a lot of prestigious publications?

"If you want to be a 'voice' it's important to show your work. You have to just start making contacts. There are always people who hopefully feel something, so it's important to find those people and connect. I started with competitions. I was quite successful even at the beginning of my career. I won one very important international photo competition all about Estonian visual identity. Competitions are important for photographers because nowadays there are too many photos. If you have something to say, then just try."

What is your greatest achievement?

"If I see that my work really matters to an audience who comes to an exhibition, or if I can change things for good. The most important thing is if a person feels touched in some way through my creation."

Who have been the photographers and artists that have inspired you the most and why?

"You have to find your own way. If you have to copy someone it's not the right way for me. There are always people who will be influenced by your art."

What have you learned about yourself through your own lens over the years?

"Above all, photography has taught me empathy and vision. In order to see, you need to look and be open first. But the greatest discovery and development in myself has been that looking has changed to seeing. Why is it important? Because looking is momentary and limited, seeing is a creation of associations and connections, and what a paradox it is: I learnt it from the blind people I created one project with."

One thing I know

Annika Haas

"Before I press the camera shutter button, I don't analyse the technical characteristics of the image so much as its content. Henri Cartier-Bresson's theory of the 'decisive moment' has been incorporated into my photographic practice, not within the framework of using photographic techniques to achieve a visually effective image, but to create a meaningful context for capturing. Think about what you have to say to others, and how your message touches the viewer's senses and makes them react with a movement to become better for themselves and others."

Instagram: @annikahaasphotography

Website: foku.ee/member/annika-haas/

Annika Haas' kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Annika Haas' kitbag containing Canon cameras, lenses and accessories.


Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

The successor to the camera Annika favours is a beautifully engineered and thoroughly accomplished all-rounder. "It's easy to handle, I can use this camera blindly and all the functions are so logical and meet my needs for capturing," she says.

Canon EOS 3

"I worked with this for a newspaper before digital cameras appeared."


Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

With its fast maximum aperture and rapid focusing system, the compact, high performance EF 50mm f/1.4 USM standard lens can be relied on for superb performance in any field of photography. "I adore this fixed lens because of the comfort of its small size and lightness, and because of the light sensitivity," says Annika. "Models aren't afraid to stand in front of this lens because it's not as intrusive as a telephoto lens."

Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM

The EF 135mm f/2L USM is a fast, lightweight, high-quality telephoto lens. It is the ideal tool for capturing indoor sports in low-light conditions and for shooting portrait photography. "This lens is absolutely perfect for portraits," says Annika. "The quality of the result is amazing; the depth of the image is captivating, as is the clarity of the object with detailed nuances."

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM

The EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L USM is a professionally quality, fast-aperture telephoto zoom lens popular with wildlife and sports photographers, as well as those shooting weddings and portraiture. "I use this lens mostly at the events where I cannot be so close to the subject I capture, and sometimes for portraits as well," says Annika. "It gives me the opportunity to create authentic images of a person from a distance."


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