Inspiration/Photography Finding Beauty in the Details

Photographer Johannes Bauer has an affinity for textures and materials, crafting images that allow us to see familiar objects in a new way.    

Inspiration/Photography Finding Beauty in the Details

Photographer Johannes Bauer has an affinity for textures and materials, crafting images that allow us to see familiar objects in a new way.    

Based in Stuttgart, Germany, photographer Johannes Bauer focuses his camera on details that other people might overlook. Approaching still-life, product, and architecture photography with the sensibility of an abstract artist, he uses his camera and a strong graphic-design sensibility to change a viewer’s perspective on everyday objects.

“Often, people describe my work as looking like something between photography and a 3D render,” says Bauer. “They think they’re looking at a computer-generated image—which isn’t true; there’s no 3D render involved. But I play with this sort of aesthetic.”     

photo of a hard drive in pieces, by Johannes Bauer
 image of male model by Johannes Bauer
photograph of a gel shoe by Johannes Bauer
black and white photograph of sunglasses, by Johannes Bauer
product shot of a bottle, photograph by Johannes Bauer

Specializing in product photography, Bauer has a varied client list that includes editorial commissions. Always, there is a focus on interesting textures and patterns. 

Bauer came to his love of capturing textures early in his photography career—he was studying graphic design when he had his “first contact” with photography, while working on a class project that involved capturing varied types of materials. “It was interesting to find these ‘micro landscapes’ within a texture,” he says, “to see these deep details you can’t really see with your eye or don’t see if you’re focusing on an entire object.”

This fascination led Bauer to a master’s program in photography at Écal in Lausanne, Switzerland (which he completed just a couple of years ago), and then on to a successful commercial photography career that capitalizes on his fascination with minutiae. As a medium, photography allows him to quickly generate appealing, interesting images—which he says keeps his process inspirational and exciting.  

“Often, people describe my work as looking like something between photography and a 3D render,” says Bauer. “They think they’re looking at a computer-generated image—which isn’t true; there’s no 3D render involved. But I play with this sort of aesthetic.”

 

photograph of water, by Johannes Bauer

Only two years into his professional career, Bauer says that he’s seen a lot of benefit from creating distinctive work and sharing it on his portfolio site and on Instagram. When he was starting out, he would create projects, by himself or with his friends, and then post the results—as a way to define his style for potential clients: which these days include furniture and houseware companies, jewelry companies, magazines, and more. “It’s really broad,” says Bauer. “It’s sometimes funny—you do one job, and then people approach you because they want similar stuff.”

Although he’s working with a diverse set of subjects, Bauer always tries to bring his sensibility into his work: there’s typically a focus on textures and materials. Indeed, his unique perspective is part of the reason that companies seek him out—and his background in graphic design definitely serves him well when thinking not only about a photo’s composition but also about what will best serve the context in which a photo will be used.

Bauer says, “My philosophy is always to put my personal ideas into the commercial work…. Sometimes it works really well—because the client wants your perspective as an artist. But sometimes you do have to negotiate and explain.” 

Photo of a Zwilling table knife, by Johannes Bauer
Photo of a Zwilling fork, by Johannes Bauer
photo of a table knife, by Johannes Bauer

A recent commission that required some innovative thinking was for Zwilling, a traditional German flatware maker. The shoot focused on flatware, but the company wanted more than simple product shots; they wanted something eye-catching. Bauer says, “Usually you see flatware in the context of food and people eating—but for a global audience, food poses problems: you can’t use the same kind of food for all countries or regions…. So we came to the idea of using a material that really shows the effect that the flatware has. This gel substance shows the impact of the utensils, and then you have the super-clean, almost abstract lines of the utensils themselves.”    

Photo of Zwilling forks, by Johannes Bauer

Although some of his images appear to have been digitally manipulated, Bauer does not typically do a lot of postprocessing work on his photos—he tries to do as much as possible with his camera (which, these days, is a Phase One model, though he is thinking about testing out a Fujifilm GX 100 soon). His commissioned work usually starts with a brief from the client and some research on his part—Bauer maintains an ever-growing collection of reference materials that he can use to create a mood board that will help him and the client decide on a direction for the shoot. Sometimes, discoveries he makes during test shots of the product may alter the direction that the shoot will take—but when he’s shooting, Bauer tries to create conditions that will get him as close possible to what he wants the final image to look like. Postprocessing is usually a simple matter of minor retouching and color correcting.

In addition to his professional work—and to sports, which is Bauer’s other passion (he recently took up playing American football)—Bauer makes time for personal projects, sometimes teaming up with a colleague and former classmate who works as a graphic designer and art director, and often setting rules or limitations that force him to think more creatively. Bauer says, “Once you realize how you work and find something that’s successful and looks good, you need to be careful not to repeat yourself—at least for me. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck producing the same thing over and over again.” 

He continues, “I don’t want to do the same thing for the next ten years. Every year, I want to see something new, try something new, and surprise myself.” 

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