Max Baur: ‘Painter Of Light’

Aug 26, 2016

Contributing Editor

For someone who was arguably one of the most important photographers of their day - particularly with regards to his studies of plants and nature - he’s a surprisingly unsung figure. There exists no English-language Wikipedia page for him (though one does exist in his native German), and one of the top results upon googling his name is for Max Power, a now defunct British magazine that, according to IT’S Wikipedia page covered “the performance-tuning car market, boy racers and soft-core pornography…”

…In other words a far cry from the often haunting, majestic images that Baur captured across a lifetime spanning much of the twentieth century. Born in Gunzburg an der Donau in 1898, he was instantly captivated by the natural landscapes of his local surroundings - in particular the land around the Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam. If you look at the moments he captured in the years immediately after establishing his first studio in 1928, they are quiet moments of botanical delicacy. A single bloom peeking out from tufts of grass, perhaps fallen from its stem but nevertheless radiating a white-light beauty. A scattering of posy-like flowering plants in a sunny glade that softly dance in the direction of a grandfatherly oak tree.

Baur’s first monograph was published in 1937, and after moving his family to the south of Germany in an effort to escape the worst of the war, he opened an ‘atelier of photography’ in 1953. From this point his work grew more expansive, as he began to document German cities and buildings with the same serene eye he applied to his natural landscapes. There is a soft quality to these images it’s true, though they are deceptively dynamic in their artful use of interesting crops and shadows. Elegant, but also modernist. He was unafraid to apply his craft to commercial commissions in the advertising industry, yet he frequently employed influences from the avant-garde sphere, in particularly the German Bauhaus movement.

Ultimately though, it his great love of plant life and nature that has stood the test of time, manifested in great pieces crafted across a lifetime of meticulous attention to the natural world around him. Baur was reproachful of the label ‘photographer,’ preferring instead to describe himself as a ‘painter of light.’ Taking just the briefest look at his work, as petals dance brightly off the surface and trees develop a crisply shadowed frame, it is not difficult to see why.

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