Koenning left Europe and went to Australia in the early 2000s, where part of her family – her dad and aunt – had emigrated already in the late ‘90s, for love. “I met a man and it just happened. I’d also lost a pregnancy that year and needed to change my life. The move was a privilege, and I think that idea is really important to the work: I’m speaking from the privileged position of someone who made a choice to come here. It wasn’t a forced loss of home or place”, she told GUP Magazine. Once in Australia, she graduated from a BA in Photography at Queensland College of Art, Griffith (Brisbane).
Right after graduating, she started working as a teacher and mentor. “I suppose the reason why I began teaching, to tell you the truth, was that I needed a job; I’d been working as a waitress and bartender for over ten years, and exiting university I felt I needed to try and earn money to sustain my practice by doing something related to my own field”, she told the Photographic Museum of Humanity in another interview.
But she got highly involved from the first moment, engaging with her students on different courses and workshops where she mainly expects them to believe in themselves and their stories. “Teaching isn’t just about extending and exchanging knowledge, it’s also about feeling and intuition. You guide and you give and you draw on every single thing you’ve ever learned, experienced and known”, she affirms. “Rather than wanting to achieve some concrete outcome (which I don’t believe because learning/teaching demands a state of fluidity), if I could think that I have helped a student in some small way to believe in themselves, to trust their instincts, to feel inspired, and to remain hungry or to develop a hunger, then this makes me the happiest person.”
Her work is always highly personal and usually thought of as series or projects, many of which have been awarded or discussed in the media. For example, her first book, Astres Noirs, published in 2016, received the Australian Photobook of the Year Award. Many more followed. “Much of my work is personal and comes from a point of feeling. To me, practice is a means of sense-making, and of being-in-the-world”, she said in an interview. For example, one of her most recent and praised series, Swell, which is still a work in progress, “is born out of anger at policies that elevate short-term profit above the need to make sustainable decisions and safeguard our future”, she explains on her website. “Avoiding expected tropes of disaster-capitalism and rather focussing on a number of mini-ecologies across Australia, the work seeks to present counter-narratives and positive ecological imaginaries to highlight our current state of collective urgency. It creates a space in which things are connected, rather than apart.”
Loss, climate change, small communities, her family, distance, time, anger… There are many themes informing Koenning’s work, all of which are close to herself and her most pressing feelings. “Through the camera, I infinitely learn about something. And through the learning comes knowing, and through knowing comes love. There’s no limit”, she affirmed to GUP. “For now, at least, that’s the kind of storytelling that interests me the most; one which navigates a language that suggests that things aren’t finite, and rather more about questions than answers”, she concludes.