Fredrik Brauer, an Atlanta based photographer, has been capturing what he sees for over twenty-five years. His professional career began in the early 2000s and centers around Architectural, Commercial, and Editorial Photography. With a keen eye for how light can make or break a photograph, Brauer attributes a lot of his best photographs to “time and patience.”
I sat down with Fredrik in his West End studio to learn more about his lifelong love of photography and what projects he's currently working on.
AAR: What sparked your interest in photography?
Fredrik Brauer (FB): I was in junior high in Stockholm, Sweden, and my dad was a forensic detective. They had photographers on staff, a studio, and a lab. My dad was also a hobby photographer, so he had a lot of gear. I started photographing and made a dark room at home. It sort of escalated in high school. I started a photo club. I was the only member. [laughs] I kept it a secret. I got the funding and made a dark room. I spent a lot of time in the dark room in high school, but I graduated, so that’s good. It worked out. Then I went into the Navy.
AAR: The Navy?
FB: The Swedish Royal Navy. I was a deckhand on a submarine rescue ship for a year. It was a big ship with little submarines on it, that could rescue submarine crews.
AAR: Did you do any rescues while you were in service?
FB: No. Sweden is a neutral country. Not a lot of rescuing going on. We’re a pretty safe people.
AAR: Do a lot of people do a year of service?
FB: When I was growing up it was mandatory. Every man had to do it, and women could do it, as well, but they didn't’ have to sign up for it. So, you could pick the branch you wanted to be in and they would put you where you wanted. I didn’t like bugs, so I didn’t want to be in the woods, in the Army. I just wanted to be on the sea. I have always loved the sea, so it was pretty easy for me to just say Navy.
AAR: Did you bring your camera?
FB: I did. We had a lot of fun with cameras. We had a photo lab on the base, so we could work there sometimes. Some of the officers piqued interest in it, so I taught them how to develop film.
AAR: So you had your own photo club again?
FB: [Laughs] Yeah, that’s right. Photography is an art form that a lot people are interested in, because it’s seeing. So people take an interest in it quickly. It’s what people go to. It’s an easy action.
AAR: You said your father had a lot of equipment and access. Was he the one who showed you how to operate a camera?
FB: He taught me the basics and gave me some literature about it. When he couldn’t do anymore for me, he referred me to the photographers in his department. They had a nice lab, so I could do everything there. They always gave me little tasks to do for them, like making contact sheets, to earn my keep. Then I could print my own stuff.
AAR: It was a crime lab, right?
FB: Yeah. It was where they took in evidence and photographed it. It was technical photography, with rulers next to weapons and knives and shoes. They had these dolls, these dummies, that they would dress up with these bloody clothes, to see exactly where stab wounds, or anything else, were.
AAR: Was that weird for you as an adolescent?
FB: Well, I grew up around it, so it was always there. I came into his work once and while and there was always some blood or something. It was fun. I just wanted to do my own stuff, but it was cool to see what they did. It wasn’t really the type of photography I wanted to do.
AAR: You did make the jump to more artistic photography, though.
FB: Yes, I decided to take it more seriously while in the Navy. I applied to some schools and ended up selecting The New England School of Photography in Boston.
AAR: Did you family move to the United States, or just you?
FB: No, I’m the only one.
AAR: So you came over here just for school?
FB: Yeah, just for school. Then I got sucked in.
AAR: Did you always want to be a photographer? Is that what you thought you’d be when you grew up?
FB: Well, I wanted to be a lot of different things. When I was seven, I wanted to be a cook on an oil rig in the North Sea. After that, I was thinking of being a cop, because it was in the family. I was also really into the stock market when I was in junior high. I was part of this youth investors club. I’ve always liked statics and numbers in that fashion, and you could make money.
AAR: Do you invest in the stock market now?
FB: I did then. I bought my stocks and I did pretty well with it. So well that I could buy my first car, which was cool. In Sweden, you picked a major in high school and I had a major in Economics. Then I became a photographer. There was a big shift in my life when I realized that I wanted to do photography for a living. I didn’t know what a big undertaking it would be. It is hard to make it in the arts.
AAR: But you do make a living through your photography. In the many years that you've been freelance, what struggles have you faced?
FB: I think you have to come to terms with how much work it takes. There’s always someone out there that wants it more than you, if you don’t work all the time. So that’s what you do. You work all the time, out of fear, and that kind of sucks sometimes. I’ve been really trying to force myself to take time off, because it’s not good to work until 1:30 a.m. every day. You sit there, and look at your computer and the images, and it becomes addictive. I just don’t want it to be that way. I need to function as a person, and a father, as well. So I think time management is very hard. It’s the struggle of prioritizing where your time should go and when the work should be done. Scheduling. It’s difficult enough to sell something that isn’t really something. I’m not selling healthcare. It's photography. It’s how I see. It’s a way of knowing what you’re worth. What is that worth? That’s a struggle, as well. The sooner you get to know that, the better it is. You might get to know that, but you also have to be able to believe it, be comfortable with it, and be able to deliver it. When you’re comfortable with it, that’s where you should be.
AAR: There must also be a lot of freedom, right?
FB: There is some freedom to being freelance, as well. I can focus some of my time on personal projects, like the one I’m doing right now, which is all about collecting. It does have a lot to do with my day to day operations and what I do as a photographer, and how I see, but I don’t have to convince a boss that I need to work on this to become better. I’m just doing my own thing, and then I can venture out and do something else. Freelance means you can find the time to do that, because it's something you’re interested in. There just isn’t one thing to do. You can do whatever you want, as long as you do it right. You have to go all in, all the time. Otherwise, it’s just a waste of time.
AAR: Do you feel like you waste a lot time?
FB: Sometimes. I feel like I’m pretty hard on myself. I do waste time, but after I analyze it two hundred times, I realize 99% of it is not time wasted. It’s necessary somewhere else in my life. As I grow older, there are less and less of those instances. I think you overthink stuff sometimes and simplifying is the best way not to waste time. That’s how I’m trying to do it. Just simple. Do the work I want to do, and do it well. Do the work I have to do, and get it done. Just be a good boy. [laughs]
AAR: How is living as an artist in America different than in Sweden?
FB: There’s roughly 300 million in this country and there are probably nine million in Sweden. Whereof, three million live in the city of Stockholm, where I grew up. So, it’s a very small country. There is a lot of talent there and a lot of stuff going on in Sweden, with the architecture, which is what I shoot professionally. It’s where I make most of my money. I was home there for a little while and I shot for a couple of magazines and that’s pretty much been it for me over there. I really have no idea what it would be like to work there beyond that. My entire professional career has been in the state: Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
AAR: What camera do you use? Why?
FB: I use three cameras. My primary camera is a Nikon D-800. I use the most expensive lens for it, and that’s where the money goes. You definitely always want to buy the expensive lens. Maybe even buy a cheaper camera, just buy the expensive lens. I also shoot with a Hasselblad. My Hasselblad is a 503CW. It’s a square, Swedish medium format camera with a sixteen megapixel back on it. It’s very nice and I love to work with it. It was my first camera when I moved to the states. I photographed with that camera during school in Boston and for my magazine work in Chicago. It was all film then. It was great to be in that culture, going to the lab and getting the stuff in for a deadline. It wasn’t just sending files.
Someone told me once that the best camera you have is the one you have on you. So, I have to say my iPhone 5s. It’s a damn good camera. I take a lot of shots with my iPhone. Instagram has a lot of options to edit, so you can do almost everything that is necessary on your phone. Although Instagram can sometimes distort the images, it’s such a good tool to play around with. You don’t always want to bring your camera, but then you have this little guy. You always have it.
AAR: What is your favorite editing software?
FB: I use Lightroom to edit my raw files. I use Photoshop for the final edit. There’s just some stuff you need to do to finalize the image.
AAR: On average, how long do you spend editing?
FB: That all depends on what is required. When I give the first edit to the client, I do some color correction, and fix some shadows and highlights, if needed. Sort of a ballpark of what it will look like when it’s finished. Then the clients gets to pick their finals. You just can’t do it all, as it would take forever. I probably spend around thirty to forty minutes per image, maybe less if I did a bang up job. There’s always stuff like power lines and things that you just have to really plan out when you’re shooting. Where are you going to put all the garbage in the picture, so you can actually get it out. I’m no Photoshop wizard. There are people out there that are really good, but I’m not one of those guys. If I get into a real pickle, I’m going to have to call someone else.
AAR: I've noticed a lot of your work centers on the contrast between light and shadows. How do you pull that off?
FB: You have to have patience and time. I’m working on this project about New Orleans right now. I went there in August 2015 for three days, to get to know the city, the structures that I wanted to photograph, and take notes about where they are, what direction they face, which direction I would like to shoot. I like to plan it out, what time of day I’d like to shoot, in sunshine, dusk, dawn, overcast. Overcast can be so beautiful. It’s just patience and planning. That’s it. It comes down to just knowing where the light is and how it’s going to strike. This especially goes for interior shooting, knowing what you can do after to enhance the highlights and knowing the limitations of your shadows and highlights. Exactly where you ought to be where you photograph, what you can do with it afterward, just like in the dark room. That’s sort of how I treat Photoshop, like a dark room. I don’t put on multiple exposures or sew it together or layer it up. If I use layers it's for other purposes, for color or stuff like that. I’m trying to reproduce how I see a moment, and how I want that moment to look on an image. I’m satisfied when it looks real and authentic. There is a certain peace to it.
AAR: Is that the message to your art? What are you trying to communicate with your photography?
FB: I’m just trying to communicate the joy I feel in seeing. I feel so fortunate to see. It’s like I’m at Disney World every day. It brings me so much joy in life, and I want other people to see it. I think every artist is sort of a kid, just playing around. I’m not too based in some sort of intellectual meaning in my work. I’m a very simple person and I try to keep it simple, that’s when I’m happy. I think there’s beauty in that.
AAR: You shoot a lot of buildings and structures. What is it about the non-living and architecture that inspires you?
FB: I think there is something pretty about how structures occupy a space and the relation to its surroundings. A lot of my photography revolves around the time of day, how light strikes it, and reflects off of a building or how lights reflects off of the building next to it, because you can’t really light something that big. It’s a silly feat. So most of my photography is naturally lit. It’s an ongoing relationship with that object that can go on for years. I go past buildings all the time, and it could be an old gas station or an old car shop or it could be a brand new, beautiful, modern structure or a house in the suburbs, but there is something right about the how the particular object occupies the space it's in. I go back and I see it again and I see it again and some days are just different. It could a foggy day that just takes down and mutes all the color and it can be so beautiful. Then you can have a bright blue day, with the sun blaring, and you just wait for that late late afternoon light, when it strikes just the right way. Or it could be nighttime. It’s like I collect these experiences, a little here and a little there, and it’s just beautiful to me.
AAR: Who is your favorite photographer?
FB: I really admire what a photographer like Gregory Crewdson is doing. He uses several images to make this perfect scene. Jeff Wall makes these candid moments. They’re supposed to look real, but they’re completely fake. I love Harry Callahan. When I was young a kid, I was really influenced by the Russian photographer Alexander Rodchenko, and how he used the space within the frame. Especially with these marching crowds of people in Moscow and all around Russia. He photographed youth marches, and Russians don’t march like we do, with signs. Everyone had the same dress, a perfect band of people, almost like they were trying to make typography, like the perfect beginning of an R or something. It was just so pretty and framed from above. He had a real impact on me when I was young.
AAR: Did you seek these images and photographers out or did you have photography books around?
FB: No. I didn’t have that. I found this stuff on my own, by going to museums. I didn’t really grow up in an environment that was artistic. It was a detective and a nurse on the south side of Stockholm. I would say cinema had a huge impact on me, as well. I was just crazy into David Lynch and his work. He also has a very strong visual presence in the way he framed his work. Of course it depended on who was shooting it, but whatever he was directing had a sense to it that has really stuck with me. I was probably a little too young to be into David Lynch, but there was very little censorship in Sweden. There’s really none.
AAR: Do you have a favorite photograph that you're taken?
FB: It’s usually the last one I took.
AAR: Have you ever thought about stepping into the moving aspect of capturing images?
FB: That’s what my new project, Bildsong, builds on. It’s a collaboration between myself and Mark Liebert, who is a painter, and teacher at Georgia State and Georgia Tech. Bildsong is an agency for advertising, and completely geared toward moving images. In the beginning it was an attempt for us to collaborate and to break the boundaries between analog and digital, so we could make a little fusion out of that. We’ve always loved what digital brings, but there is a warmth to analog, and how those things could play together. That’s rapidly grown into short films and very short things for the web. We’re both really into the moving image and that’s sort of what binds us together. It’s very exciting to be a part of it, and get to create a team. We have a team that we feel pretty strongly about, with a composer and an editor. We’re looking to maybe expand on that, as we grow. We’re planning on putting together something with moving images and a score, and mixing voices. It’s always been a dream to do, so more to come!
AAR: In addition to Bildsong, what else is on the horizon for Fredrik Brauer?
FB: I’m working on several projects right now. I’m photographing for Modern Atlanta’s Design is Human, which is an annual book. I have a lot of photographs in that. Then there is my Katalog Project and the New Orleans project. Starting the project in New Orleans has been so much more about the people. That town is really about the people. People are out much more in the open than here. Here people are in their cars a lot and you can’t really see them, because there is glass and metal between them. There was this green little park by the cemetery and this team of youngsters had their warm up practice there. This photograph was taken after their practice, when they were packing up to go to the other, real practice. They packed them all up in the pick up truck and drove off.
The Katalog Project the project I’m trying to get a show with. These are work prints, but the actual pieces will be between 30” x 30” for diptychs and 30” x 40” for the single prints. I’m just trying to make sense of this whole collecting I’ve done my entire life. Categorizing them and putting them next to other things. I think this is a good beginning. This is a mixture of phone photography, the Hasselblad, and my Nikon. This is about that whole thing where the best camera is the one you have on you.
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