The cinematic punk worlds of Andrea Sonnenberg's photography

The cinematic punk worlds of Andrea Sonnenberg's photography

My Life in Analogue — Photographer and tagger Andrea Sonnenberg – aka Teen Witch – finds the subcultural fringe of San Francisco life in unexpected places around the world.

Filmmaking,” once said experimental auteur Werner Herzog, “must have experience of life at its foundation… Head out to where the real world is. Roll up your sleeves and work as a bouncer in a sex club or a warden in a lunatic asylum or a machine operator in a slaughterhouse. Drive a taxi for six months and you’ll have enough money to make a film. Walk on foot, learn languages and a craft or trade that has nothing to do with cinema… I have always sought to transform my own experiences and fantasies into cinema.”


The same could be said of sometime San Francisco-based photographer Andrea Sonnenberg. Working as an ice-cream scooper and then baker in SF, Sonnenberg developed her wild, free and spontaneous aesthetic growing up among the underground subcultures – graffiti, punk and skateboarding – that make this transgressive city one of the most vibrant in the world.


Herself a tagger under the pseudonym Teen Witch – that Barry McGee (all hail Twist!) has described as ‘killing it’ – Sonnenberg captures moments that only she would ever be exposed to. Whether it’s a quiet smoke with friends or a demolition hike into the unknown, Sonnenberg puts experience at the forefront of all her images, and lets her camera tag along for the ride.


When/why did you start shooting pictures?
I started shooting photos when I was 13 years old – I was taking classes at the Harvey Milk center, learning black and white photography. I home-schooled myself in Eighth Grade, after travelling around South America with my mom and brother for seven months, but only shot digital photos, so when I got to high school and met new friends I really felt the need to capture it all on 35mm.


What cameras do you use and what do you like about them?
I used to shoot strictly point-and-shoot cameras, my favourite being the Olympus Stylus Epic. It’s so small and easy, fits in your pocket and has a super fast shutter speed. Now, I mostly only shoot on a Nikon FE2. This camera has been amazing and it’s fun to watch my progress, learning my style and figuring out what works best for me and what I’m shooting, because you have all the control.


What things/subjects/locations are you drawn to in your photography?
I definitely developed my style while shooting my friends and the activities we were getting into; skateboarding and graffiti, a lot of partying here in San Francisco. But my favourite thing to shoot is landscapes, and I love capturing kids in their natural, uninhibited, playful habitat.


How would you describe your photography style?
I hate to think of photography as a type of work easily classified into a specific style, but I like to think of myself as a ‘professional people-watcher’ or ‘civilian photographer’.


Who/what inspires your work?
The idea of travelling for work really inspires me – the photos I see of people shooting a band or a skate crew are my favourite. I would love to get into some schooling on the matter of Photojournalism, which I think is an inspiring profession that could become almost obsolete with all the iPhone and Facebook uploading in the world.


What do you do for a living and how does photography fit into your life?
I just recently quit my job of seven years – I was working as a baker for the last three. I had to juggle two jobs and do photography on my off-time. Now, I only work on photo-related stuff, which is amazingly freeing but also incredibly nerve-racking – not really knowing when I’ll get my next job. I’m still getting into the groove of things, it’s picking up.


How do you share your work? Zines, books, exhibitions, blog etc? Are you trying to tell stories with your images? If so what are those stories?
I have my website, which I try to keep updated regularly, and I make yearly zines of new work, but I mostly share my photos through shows and exhibitions. I enjoy preparing for a show, printing and framing, and recently I’ve been doing new mounted and resin-coated prints. Through my photos, I try to express that being a girl and being one of the boys is okay. I’d like to inspire people who maybe think that their lives aren’t exciting that they can go out and get out of their comfort zones, to be adventurous and go for their dreams.


Are your photos staged/posed or documentary? Can you describe why you shoot in this way?
Besides my group photos, I try to keep my photography as documentary as possible. I feel like people can get to know who I am through my photography that way – they can get a sense of what my life is really like, and what kind of a person I am.


How do you hope viewers respond/engage with your photography?
I hope that they enjoy it! If I can inspire someone to go out and document their own lives, however that might be, or to enjoy the process of photography like I do, then I have successfully engaged my viewers.


What are your plans for the future?
I’m planning on my first book, which should be quite a time-consuming, but exciting process. I want to keep travelling, hopefully getting back to Europe soon. I want to work on new shows and new processes, but ultimately try to land a job working as part of a team again!

Check out more of Andrea’s work on her website.

My Life in Analogue continues! If you’d like to be featured send a folio of 10 analogue images to using the subject line MY LIFE IN ANALOGUE. We look forward to seeing your work!

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