Malte Brandenburg’s Staring at Buildings photo series explores the architecture of Copenhagen, Berlin, Katowice, and other cities when it is completely isolated from its surrounding urban landscape. Often featuring just the tops of buildings, or closely cropped sections of buildings, Brandenburg’s careful framing and perspectives removes any outside context of these structures, inviting the user to take them in as completely detached pieces of architecture. It’s a refreshing view, when considering the fact that urban buildings tend to blend in with their already-noisy surrounding environment. Brandenburg’s work allows us to see them just by themselves. Brandenburg introduces this series with a brief statement:
We, as urban society deliberately create housing space to live in. To that extent architecture is a representation of how we think we should live.
Just as society evolves, our view on ideal residential architecture evolves as well and is consequently adapted based on experience, science and life itself.
At the same time these buildings become part of urban dynamics once they are placed among us and in turn affect us as surrounding society as well.
In a sense architecture effectively recreates itself and continues to form and shape our society.Staring at Buildings artist statement by Malte Brandenburg, from his website.
Favoring straight-on angles and perspectives, most of Brandenburg’s photos feature perfect right angles, clean perpendicular lines, and centered framing. Finding the right building, and the right location for the photo often requires prior research, since getting to the right elevation, and guaranteeing a lack of obstructions can be tricky in just about any city.
Brandenburg was kind enough to answer some questions regarding his philosophy, workflow, and other aspects of his photography. Read on below.
Interview with Malte Brandenburg
Boris: How did you first get into photography?
Malte: When I was little my father always brought his analogue camera when we went on holidays. At some point I got interested in how it worked and he showed me. I would play around with the camera and take a couple of pictures from time to time. Then for many years I would focus on other things in order to fuel my creativity: writing, graffiti, sports, computer games, etc. When I was much older, already moved out from home, I bought a camera. Don’t really know why, but I felt it was a good thing to do and from there on, I would spend lots of time to explore both the camera and what photography and art in general had to offer.
Boris: Is there anything particular about architectural photography that draws you to it?
Malte: When I grew up, I was always fascinated by architecture and therefore I wanted to try and capture that feeling. I also like the sociological aspect behind it. Architecture is always made by humans, it can be practical, but it can also be philosophical. It can melt together with its surroundings or stand out. I am convinced that architecture has a certain impact cities and its inhabitants. And its evolving and changing with time, basically a never ending circle. The other aspect is more practical: I want my subject matter close to me. I always lived in bigger cities and was surrounded by architecture, plus buildings don’t go anywhere, so I don’t have to schedule appointments :-).
Boris: Do you have specific shots in mind before you go out and shoot, or do you find your shots more spontaneously?
Malte: Yes, in the beginning I would plan most of my shots and if not, I would still have certain angles and compositions in mind. Lately I am trying to improvise and be more spontaneous.
Boris: I’m always curious to know what kind of gear others are using. What camera and lenses do you most typically use?
Malte: I started out with a Nikon D700 full format camera and used it probably for seven years or so. I had the full range of lenses: tele, wide-angle and one or two fixed lenses. About two or three years ago I switched to a Sony A7iii with only one zoom lens. I might buy a second lens, but that’s it. Gear minimalism is a big advantage In my view. A camera I can always have with me is better than any gear in the world.
Boris: Most of these photos have very clean perspectives, where everything is at right angles to everything else. How do you line up those shots?
Malte: It’s relatively simple: I either try to find a way to be at the same level or I shoot from far away to get a flat angle. The rest you can fix in post processing. So most of my time I spend on research via google earth to find the best (free) angle.
Boris: Can you describe your general post-processing workflow? What kind of software you use, how you choose which shots to publish, etc…
Malte: I import to Adobe Lightroom and make a first selection. Purely based on intuition. I also do the composition / crop in Lightroom as well as toning, sharpening, etc. I only use Photoshop for “cleaning up” the image via spot healing or clone stamping, when there was dust on the lens or an unwanted bird in the frame.
Boris: The whole series has an interesting and distinct color palette. What do you do to achieve this look?
Malte: I mostly shoot in bright sunlight. In post-processing I like reduced contrast and often also reduced saturation, other than that I mostly play with the greens and yellows in order to get those soft colors.
Your biography says you’re a co-founder of Copenhagen Format — a visual arts collective. Can you write a little bit about the group?
As a photographer you are often on your own, it’s not exactly a team sport. So together with a couple of other photographers we founded an art collective, both in order to learn from each other, but also to work on art projects. Together we organized and hosted a couple of exhibitions and workshops, to help other photographers get knowledge and exposure. However lately the group is currently more or less dormant due to corona, but also because we are all focusing on personal projects or simply don’t have the time or funds to do projects.
More of Brandenburg’s Work:
A big thanks to Malte for taking the time to tell us a bit more about his work, and share some of the details of his overall workflow. You can follow him on his Instagram (@maltebrandenburg), and check out more of his work on his Behance profile. He also makes prints of his photos available on his personal site. I look forward to his future projects.