Following a long and successful career as a lawyer and CPA in his native Hamburg, Axel Breutigam sold his company and moved to Vancouver, BC to pursue his lifelong passion of photography. Despite the brevity of his artistic career, Breutigam has established himself as an emerging black and white photographer with a distinct and technically sophisticated style. Intriguing perspectives, bold lighting and abstract geometric shapes are characteristic of his evocative, timeless compositions.
Drawn to the complex, yet often overlooked beauty, found in both natural and man-made structures, Axel Breutigam’s photographs celebrate the sublimity of our urban environments. His motifs include studies of bridges, structures, and surfaces in urban metropolises around the world. Breutigam credits his acute attention to detail and keen ability to find geometric patterns within his subjects to the rational and perceptive thinking required of him during his tenure as an attorney.
For Breutigam, “photography is always about light,” and this sentiment is evident in his works, which showcase strong tonal contrasts and dramatic lighting. His unique ability to highlight the textures, details and geometric forms that are often overlooked in both natural and urban landscapes empowers his audience to reflect upon the beauty of their surroundings.
While Breutigam hopes to share his individual perception of the world through photography, explaining that the “uniqueness of a photo is capturing the scenery exactly the way the photographer saw it,” he also welcomes viewers’ own interpretations of his photographs. It is for this reason that he shoots his images solely in black and white. He prefers a monochrome palette because, rather than dictate the colors of a particular image to his audience, it encourages them to imagine, from their own unique perspective, how the scene may have appeared at the time of the photograph.
Although Breutigam is autodidactic, his images display an acute technical knowledge of photography. Breutigam’s strong lighting is partly attributed to his patience, as well as his emphasis on the weather. Urban compositions are inherently full of visual distractions but it is his keen sense of dramatic light and ability to compose his subjects with abstraction and minimalism that creates his signature look. The length of his shoots range from several hours to multiple days. Often Breutigam will return home with no photographs simply because of environmental conditions or other challenges preventing him from exploring his subject properly.
While he mostly works in a digital format, Breutigam refrains from employing intensive post-processing techniques. Rather than shooting digitally in color and then converting his images to black and white, Breutigam chooses to photograph on a Leica Monochrom, a Rangefinder Camera that shoots solely in black and white. Using a Leica Monochrom ensures that, much like an analog camera, Breutigam will never see his images in color, and precludes him from manipulating color channels during post-processing.
Although Breutigam uses advanced image editing tools, he limits his adjustments to techniques that were once employed in dark rooms, such as applying filters and burning and dodging to shift tonal qualities. Recently, Breutigam has begun to re-incorporate film photography into his practice. Just as in the digital format, Breutigam strives to work “in-camera” as much as possible. The time Breutigam affords each image is significant. His technique slows down his photographic process and allows him to develop a meditative practice with each image. Upon completing a work, Breutigam hangs the composition in his studio for a number of weeks before deciding if the image is worthy of publication.
Breutigam’s subtle geometric abstractions, aversion to excessive digital manipulation, and penchant for sharply focused, tonally rich, and high contrast photographs draws parallels to the straight photography style pioneered by members of the West Coast Photographic Movement, which included renowned photographers Edward Weston, Paul Strand, and Ansel Adams. Breutigam’s motifs of abstraction and sharply focused forms make his photographs remarkably contemporary, while the traditional techniques he practices imbue his photographs with a timeless quality that recalls this earlier movement.
Breutigam caters to his clients’ desires by allowing them to chose both the size and medium of their photograph. Although some prints remain open editions, Archival Fine Art Prints are available in limited editions of thirty prints.
Breutigam remains unique in his freedom to work unaffected from art market trends and sales. Breutigam explains, “I definitely don’t try to stay ‘contemporary’ by following mainstream opinions, or the latest photographic trend.” Breutigam’s art is not fueled by sales, but rather by his passion for sharing his art and his unique vision of the world.
The high caliber of Breutigam’s artwork is underscored by numerous achievements. As a member of the Professional Photographers of Canada (PPoC) at the time, Breutigam was nominated for the 2014 “Photographer of the Year” in the British Columbia Chapter. He has participated in exhibitions ranging from solo and group shows in Portland and Palm Springs, to Vancouver, Canada, and was also invited to give workshops on his work. However, Breutigam maintains that the biggest achievement of his photographic career is his representation by fine art galleries in Vancouver, BC, in Portland, OR and in Palm Springs, CA, because it offers him the reward of sharing and discussing his work with the public.
Breutigam’s childhood interests are emblematic of his future career as a photographer. Breutigam recalls his father taking photographs on family vacations, and after showing an interest in the medium, Breutigam was gifted his first camera, an Agfa Box, around the age of six. His interest in photography developed into a serious practice around the age of sixteen, when he purchased his first SLR camera and turned his bathroom into a darkroom.
However, his photographic practice was cut short as his career and family took precedence for much of his adult life. Although he practiced photography during any spare moment available, from family vacations to business trips throughout most Western and Eastern European countries as well as Cuba, Mexico, Tunisia, India, Nigeria, Iran, Syria and the US and Canada, it was not until he sold his law firm that he was able to devote his time fully to his art. Following his retirement from law, Breutigam left his native Hamburg, Germany, a country where he had lived for almost five decades, and moved with his family to Vancouver, BC, after falling in love with the city on a vacation there in 1996. For the past eight years he has split his time between Vancouver and Palm Springs, inspired by the two impressive, yet juxtaposing landscapes.
It was during this period that Breutigam began to study under Alan Ross, Ansel Adams’ former assistant, and the exclusive printer of Adams’ Yosemite Special Edition Negatives. Under Ross, Breutigam enhanced his technical skill and was taught how best to use digital processing techniques that emulate the darkroom prints of earlier decades. Both Ansel Adams and Alan Ross have been influential artists for Breutigam, and although he emphasizes that he deliberately does not replicate their styles, he is inspired by the exquisite tonality and quality of their works.
Breutigam hopes that his compositions inspire people to reflect upon their surroundings, and enable them to appreciate the often overlooked beauty found in urban environments and nature. His attention to detail, visual aesthetics, and unique perspective indeed empowers his viewers with this opportunity.