Born in 1936 in Leiden, Holland, it was her stepfather's camera that sparked Ans' early interest in photography. In 1953 she moved to Rotterdam and studied at the Industrieschool voor Meisjes. A visit to the international exhibition The Family of Man in Amsterdam, and a book by Joan van der Keukens, Wij Zijn 17 (We Are Seventeen), inspired Ans' first photographic documentation, which featured her fellow students. Ans travelled to New Zealand after graduating in 1957 with a Diploma in Arts and Craft Teaching. A year later she joined the Wellington Camera Club and worked in various local photographic studios.
Her first international recognition came in 1960 when she won a prize from the UK Photography magazine for her work entitled Assignment No. 2. In 1962, Ans began her professional career as a fulltime freelance documentary photographer, working mainly for the School Publications Branch of the Department of Education and Te Ao Hou, a Māori magazine published by the Department of Internal Affairs. This work involved spending the next few years travelling extensively throughout New Zealand and the South Pacific. In 1964 her work appeared in a controversial book, Washday at the Pa, which was withdrawn from primary school classrooms by the Department o fEducation, following protest action by the Māori Women's Welfare League.
Ans received a Certificate of Excellence from the New York World's Fair The World and Its People in 1964-65. She has received several Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council grants for the practice and publication of her work focussing on New Zealand and its society. Māori was published in 1967, followed in 1972 by Notes on the Country I Live In with essays by Tim Shadbolt and James K Baxter. The 1970s and 1980s were spent tutoring for PhotoForum. She was the Pacific regional winne rof the Commonwealth Photography Award and travelled to the Philippines ,Holland, America and the United Kingdom. She was artist-in-residence a tthe Dowse Art Gallery and President of PhotoForum. In the 1990s she taught and tutored, had several exhibitions and residencies and travelled to China, Mongolia, Russia, and around Europe, before basing herself in the Netherlands for a year.
Ans was awarded the Companion of theOrder of New Zealand Merit (CNZM) for services to photography in 1998. She received an Arts Foundation Icon Award in 2007.
View Ans Westra citation, presentation & interview 2007 Icon Awards
In 2004 the publication Handboek: Ans Westra Photographs was launched at the National Library. The publication accompanied a national touring exhibition.
Ans developed the publication Crescent Moon: the Asian Face of Islam in New Zealand with the Asia New Zealand Foundation. This was launched, along with an accompanying touring photographic exhibition, at Pataka Museum in February 2009
Ans Westra lives in Wellington. She continues to work widely today and is now also photographing the landscape. These images use colour to express her concern for New Zealand's destiny, "an island exploited by various waves of settlement".