5 powerful images by photographer Annabel Moeller

5 powerful images by photographer Annabel Moeller

1 Jun 2023

Annabel Moeller’s 30-year career has chronicled the human condition and perseverance. From photographs of major productions around the world to documenting current affairs, conflict and its aftermath, her extraordinary body of work charts a career defined by her sense of adventure. Ami Bouhassane, curator of a new show of Moeller’s works at Farleys House & Gallery, discussed five images from the exhibition with the photographer and brings you their stories below

Self-portrait, Sydney, 1992. Image: Annabel Moeller © Lee Miller Archives, England, 2023

Annabel Moeller spent the early years of her career working in Australia with the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Morning Herald, photographing the first years of Australian Fashion Week and the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Returning to London in the 2000s, her work has since taken her overseas with the British Army and humanitarian organisations, such as the David Nott Foundation, working in countries including Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Ukraine. Here are just five of her compelling works.

1.Bondi Beach Surf Scene1990s. Image: Annabel Moeller © Lee Miller Archives, England, 2023

In December 1990 Moeller left the winter streets of London and travelled to the glorious subtropical city of Sydney, Australia, where she was to live for the next 16 years. During those carefree, hedonistic days, she honed her photographic skills, 35mm camera loaded with black and white film in hand. She built up a precious collection of portraits of her friends as they loved and laughed, well before the intrusive omnipresence of mobile phones, the internet and social media. It is also when she began her love affair with the darkroom, and in the studio of her boss and mentor, Philip Weir, she learned and perfected all the skills of the day.

2.Suzanne Johnston in Carmen, Sydney Opera House, 1995. Image: Annabel Moeller © Lee Miller Archives, England, 2023

As a young photographer at the beginning of her career, Moeller was given the opportunity to photograph Opera Australia’s new production of Julius Caesar, at the iconic Sydney Opera House. The technical limitations of film, combined with the often extreme lighting conditions on stage, meant that theatre photography was a fairly specialised discipline. Julius Caesar was to be the first of 45 operas Moeller shot at the Sydney Opera House. Often her images, such as this one of Suzanne Johnston as Carmen in the production directed by Lindy Hume in 1995, were used as the publicity shots for the productions. 

3.Elena Glurjidze as Odette in Swan Lake, English National Ballet, London Coliseum, 2009. Image: Annabel Moeller © Lee Miller Archives, England, 2023

On returning to the UK Moeller transitioned from social photography and her work in Australian opera and fashion to ballet. At the time, English National Ballet (ENB) wanted to move away from the purist images it had been using and engaged Moeller for her ability to bring personality and humanity to the photography. Elena Glurjidze was then a senior principal ballerina at the ENB. Dancing from the age of seven she trained at Tbilisi Choreographic School in Georgia and then the Vaganova St-Petersburg Academy of Russian Ballet. This photograph of her as Odette was used as the lead publicity image for the 2009 ENB production of Swan Lake.  

4.Buzkashi horses training in the Panjshir Valley, Afghanistan, 2012. Image: Annabel Moeller © Lee Miller Archives, England, 2023

The Panjshir is famed as the site of brutal offensives by the Afghan mujahideen and their subsequent victories against invading Soviet forces in the 1980s, and the Taliban in the 1990s. 

It was the homeland of the charismatic French-speaking military commander and politician Ahmad Shah Massoud, the ‘Lion of the Panjshir’. The combination of his military skills, the narrow valley entrance and the single road that runs its length helped prevent any invading forces from entering or conquering the region. 

Moeller recalled: ‘I awoke at dawn to a view of breathtaking splendour. The first golden rays of sunlight kissed jagged mountain tops in the distance, and the valley floor stretched out beneath me. Sheer escarpments slid like massive piles of shale to the banks of the Panjshir River and there, centre stage, a gleaming pharos of luminous white marble, was the mausoleum of Ahmad Shah Massoud.’ Massoud had been assassinated two days before the 9/11 attacks in New York.

5.David Nott in a shelled hospital outside Kharkiv, Ukraine, 2022. Image: Annabel Moeller © Lee Miller Archives, England, 2023

The David Nott Foundation is a humanitarian organisation set up by David and Elly Nott. It is dedicated to helping those injured in the many intractable conflicts raging across our world. 

David Nott is a London-based consultant surgeon who has volunteered in war and conflict zones for 30 years. He has transformed this experience into training programmes that equip doctors with the knowledge they need to manage a vast array of injuries faced in war. 

Moeller has travelled with Nott and the foundation to Ukraine, Libya, Iraq, Cameroon and Turkey to document this unique training. She has witnessed the work of these exceptional surgeons and doctors, in which human bodies in every kind of dismembered, burnt and broken configuration are repaired against the odds, and under the most horrific conditions.

Annabel Moeller: Friends to Frontiers

At Farleys House & Gallery, Sussex

Until 2 July


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