According to Die Zeit, Dr. Can Ansay is a megalomaniac who is exploiting the current pandemic for its business possibilities, offering unvaccinated Germans dodgy Covid tests and ´fake’ certificates – despite a ban. Dr. Ansay is unapologetic though, seeing himself as a kind of freedom fighter working towards a brighter future. I was asked as photographer to make his portrait.
Although I hadn’t seen the article, my assignment brief was unambiguous: “we’re planning a story about a Covid vaccination certificate forger“. This feature was clearly not intended to paint Dr. Ansay as a hero. The shoot would be close to Monaco, near his new home (where pandemic riches could perhaps remain untaxed?), and as photographer, I’d been asked to make an atmospheric portrait with “moody lighting“. Dr. Ansay would wear a white jacket (“he can look a bit like a mafioso – but don’t tell him of course!“) and I would decide where along the French Riviera to shoot. As an editorial photographer I had a brief, but it is always important to me to approach my portrait subjects with an open mind, and my aim wasn’t to make Dr. Ansay look like a criminal.
Once I spoke to Can Ansay himself, shoot logistics became more complicated, as Can demonstrated a keen interest in choosing the portrait location himself. Yet I knew his proposals – a pretty path known as the Chemin de Nietzsche (a homage to the German philosopher in Eze), or picturesque gardens – would contradict rather than complement the ‘confidential’ mood board. We agreed that a recently renovated hotel, with its infinity pool perched high on the cliff above Monaco, could work, but the management declined our request due to the controversial nature of the topic, so I suggested a simple, seaside location at sunset. Can’s reluctance was determined and, while he never told me why, his attempts to change the portrait location continued until a few minutes before our rendez-vous. Fortunately, it’s not the first time I’ve worked with someone used to being in control of proceedings (see my portrait of Easyjet founder Stelios, for example) and I wasn’t thrown off course.
Megalomaniac… or freedom fighter?
It goes without saying that facilitating negative Covid tests among the unvaccinated doesn’t win any political endorsements at the moment. Dr. Ansay’s company provides easily-downloadable Covid certificates that ‘prove’ a negative test result – to the order of up to 10,000 a day. A self-test at home is supposed to confirm the customer’s negative result, and the certificate assumes this, affirming with a doctor’s signature that the person is not infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. That doctor was, until recently, Can’s (gynaecologist) mum.
Dr. Ansay is first and foremost a lawyer, and, as Die Zeit explains, he operates in a legal grey area (one of his arguments is that the legal responsibility for checking whether a test has actually been carried out falls to the inspecting authority, e.g. the waiter in a restaurant). Authorities and medical associations may be hot on Dr. Ansay’s heel’s, yet while his business structure has changed, court injunctions have neither closed the test service nor dampened Can’s entrepreneurial enthusiasm. “Because of Covid, there are such great opportunities!“. In the face of what he refers to as failed rules & incompetent politicians, Can calls us to arms under his banner: “Let’s fight for justice and freedom with online citizen tests!” One has to admit that he has balls, as well as originality.
If anyone Can…
Can arrived for the photoshoot with a wardrobe of outfit options and his beautiful label-clad fiancée in a large, black Porsche. As he strode over to me, tall and with a winning smile, I saw that the ‘mafia look’, quite trendy in Monaco, was going to be given to me on a plate. With immaculately styled hair, a spotless white outfit and a range of accessories, among which were several pairs of striking sunglasses, Can was all-accommodating. The Porsche served as a suitable dressing room and lovely Luiza didn’t let her Louis Vuitton handbag stop her doing a marvellous job as a stand-in photographer’s assistant, holding my reflector for one set-up.
The setting sun was perfect for this portrait. It offered suggestions of golden opportunities as well as a rapidly darkening, moody sea, and I was pleased to find a glass wall that I could position Can behind, to echo the half-concealed aspects of his activities, as well as his dazzling success.
However, the spot where I’d initially wanted to photograph him, down on rocks by the water’s edge, had been fenced off, and the only access gate was locked. “How do you feel about climbing a fence and going into a ‘Do Not Enter’ area?” I asked. For once, and refreshing to hear for an editorial photographer who sometimes needs to be expedient with rules, I was asking the right man. “I’d love to! Fantastic!” Can’s eyes lit up and he strode ahead, kindly carrying my kit bag. As he perched on the rocks at the water’s edge, the waves crashed and sent cold, December spray up, dangerously close to his immaculate self. But, at ease posing for my camera, Can didn’t seem to mind. It’d take more than a bit of sea spray to keep the aptly-named Can from doing what he wants.
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