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Hans Martin Doelz: from Graphics to Photography

by Paulo Abrantes 

It's my pleasure to put Hans Martin Doelz in the spotlights today with this most interesting interview that will be published in two parts.  This is the first part - to be followed tomorrow.  Don't miss it !

When looking at Hans-Martin's strong work, one sees immediately that he is a well respected  artist and strong personality in the world of contemporary photography. He began to create art after retiring from his job.  Initially he took photographs and changed their appearance through heavy alienation into mainly abstract images.  He also tried to create images without any camera, only using computer algorithms like “processing”.

Since 2013 however, he focuses more on photography without alteration.  Most of his images are inspired by lines, patterns and shapes that are found in the man-made and natural environment.


Hans Martin Doelz   @Jim Rakete

Can you describe in a short how you did arrive at photography in general? And at abstract and architecture photography in particular?
After retiring from my job I began to create images with the help of self-written algorithms (programming language „processing“). Mainly randomly created simple shapes like circles, rectangles or squares with randomly created colors. It was fascinating to see what the computer created, some images were very pleasing, a lot were not. 



The next step in this approach to photography was using photographs as the basis for alienation to create more or less abstract images. All kinds of manipulation were done, change of colors, deformation of shapes and so on. The most interesting results were achieved by using the fractal algorithm of Benoit Mandelbrot. On one hand it was very interesting to watch the results, on the other hand the process was very time consuming. And in addition the number of pleasing images was very small.


Having learnt a lot of details about structures and colors by creating images through algorithms I thought that it could be interesting to search for similar structures in our environment (both nature and man-made) and show these without (extensive) alienation. That was the beginning of my architecture photography. Nevertheless I continued with alienation in the abstract field but on another level. I reduced reality to the essential information, so that the viewer of an image was immediately able to recognize what he sees, as an extract from reality.



I’m not able to say what I wanted from the beginning. It had just evolved that way. I started with the algorithms and now I’m active in the field of architecture photography and abstract photography, as a „self-made“ photographer without any formal training.

How do you define your photographic flow? And do you see yourself more like an architecture photographer or like an abstract photographer?  How do you see the combination of the two categories? Complementary of each other or each one in his own separate space and not communicating?
Basically, anything and everything that exists under the sun and touches me can be a subject of a photographic idea. However, I suppose that most of my images will be characterized more or less by clearly identifiable structures.

As mentioned above I do like architecture and abstracts equally. Both genres are mainly characterized by structures, lines, shapes and colors, by their interplay, their composition. Even for architectural images with presence of people this issue will still be dominant.

Of course anyone can see your portfolios on the web, but there is just what you choose to show us. Is that all of your shooting or do you also shoot other categories that also have your interest?
Due to the relatively short time of photographic activity I have (so far) no experience in other genres of photography.  I'm interested in many other fields, there are a lot of stunning photography genres to be viewed on 1X, for example nature, creative edit, portrait, street, only to mention a few.  But I can't imagine that I actually would be able to shoot a stunning portrait, so it will be better to leave that field to the respective experts.  The same applies to nature photography or creative edit.  Based on my personal skills, nature photography would come more easy than portrait or creative edit.  But again, entirely judged from my personal skills.

Regrettably street photography probably is a dying genre due to legal restrictions. If these restrictions would have been valid for decades, photography would lack some of its icons. I already tried to gain some experience in the field of street photography, several of my images I would call quite appealing but I won’t publish them due to the legal restrictions concerning personal rights.

About the subjects in your pictures: when we see architecture we also see people in the frame. On the other hand, when we look at your abstract work , including abstract architecture, we do not see people.
Is this separation a conscious decision of yours or is it just a random subconscious result in your shooting?
The separation is a conscious decision. In my images that show the interior of the Stuttgart Library, I wanted to have some people around. On the one hand to make the image not reproducible, on the other hand to show the interaction between building and people. I’m not so much interested in capturing humans as individuals, I’m more interested in showing the humans as a whole and their interaction with the environment.

In my photography, I like to catch this special moment. The capture of these special moments mostly are made by intuition. When I think it’s the right time, I release the shutter.  Since I don’t like to add something (e.g. people) in post processing, my photographs are an authentic representation of reality. Regrettably this often requires some time of waiting until the situation is as I like it to be, but it’s worth it.

In the abstract field, however, the presence of people is often distracting. For that reason you’ll find only abstract images without any human beings.

There is no question about the quality of your pictures. What is the importance of the post-processing workflow in your architecture pictures?
As mentioned above I like to shoot special moments as far as the presence of people is concerned. In these cases the post processing is often limited to some color adjustments, removal of sensor stains (which regrettably is a serious issue) and last but not least the framing of the image. The framing is one of the most important issues to me.
All these post-processing improvements can be relatively easy done with Lightroom.

How do you see and apply color and how do you see and apply black and white – because you use both – and what are your criteria regarding for example aesthetics, mood or shapes. Is this an instinctive/inner process,a trial and error process or an already pre-existing idea about the outcome?
The ability to perceive colors is a great gift for humans. Since a few decades it is possible to create color photographs. The option to work with colors is an advantageous feature which should not be underestimated.

Presently black and white images are very popular. I think in some cases it’s the right choice, in other cases I would prefer color. It depends somewhat on the genre.  Street photography looks great in black and white, portrait photos do too, but sometimes also with use of subtle colors. Everybody may personally decide what is better suited. For my four abstract images of the running tracks in a stadium, it was clear that these should be in black and white (two of them have a mark colored red, though). By the way, one of them („straight ahead“) was my first image published by 1X.




There exists a former version with another format (portrait format), still with minor differences compared to the final version and with blue instead of black color. This version was not appreciated by the curators. So I thought about a black and white version. In reality the color of the tracks is red in most stadiums but there also exist blue ones in the recently built bigger stadiums. But I think this abstraction did need black and white.

However, not all abstract photography needs back and white. Especially abstract color-compositions are often very impressive, as you can see in the images by one of my favorite 1x-abstract-photographers, Ursula Abresch.

Do you have a “method” for shooting? For example, is it pure walk around and instinctive or do you study the location and then go at a specific time and to a specific location?
I don’t have a special method for shooting. Sometimes I walk around with the camera without having a special idea what to shoot. Motifs appear more by chance. A good example for an image of that category is „information overload“. On an early Sunday morning I strolled through the streets of Munich, Germany and, by accident, found a shop of a hat maker. In the showcase I saw a female dummy wearing a hat. A very pleasing dummy consisting of the neck and the head with a very attractive face. I made a shot (regrettably with some mirror effects in the glass) but did not know if I could use this photograph at any time to create a more pleasing image. Weeks, or months later, when I looked through the images on my computer hard drive I discovered the photo and had an idea. I brightened up the photo and thought about a special cropping leaving only a part of the nose and a part of the lips in the frame. I succeeded after a while, especially with regards to the crop at the bottom of the image. The horizontal cut through the lips was the most difficult. I tried about 20 different cuts varying only by parts of millimeters until I was satisfied. The same applied to the cut on the upper side of the frame. Concerning the positioning of the face in the frame (left or right) the decision was also not quite easy.



The final image has not in any way been planned at the time of shooting the original photo.
Sometimes, of course, I know in advance what to shoot. A good example is the image „organ pipes“ that shows an organ inside a church. A tutorial about the image with a detailed description of the „making of“ is included in the LEARNING section of 1X.




But nevertheless there are still things you cannot plan before arriving at the location. For example the Stuttgart Library. In my images from that location you’ll find only very few people, the dominating issues inside the library are the bookshelves and the books with their colored spines. I saw images from other photographers either without any people or with a lot of people there. The more people, the more reduction of the architecture’s beauty because the viewer’s eyes may concentrate on the people.

When I arrived on location, I saw that there were only a few people around. Only the upper floor, the cafeteria, was more populated. Depending on this situation and due to the fact that I was limited with my 35mm lens I had to develop my idea about the images I wanted to take. So I concentrated on a motif with a frontal view of one of the four nearly equal looking walls of that cubic structure.



You are a German and Germany has a strong tradition and history in architecture “schools” with very different architecture philosophies through the past 200 years (actually it was more about a way of thinking and seeing the world with particular and “plastic” development in the artistic world). Looking closely to some of your pictures (abstract or/and architecture), one can see different traces of that heritage.
Do you see yourself inside a particular “trend” (or school) or do you see yourself like an “outsider” of the architecture/aesthetics history-line of your country?
Due to the fact that I have no formal education as a photographer I tried to develop my personal style independent from any style of somebody else. I see this fact of independence as a big advantage. I always avoided to copy the style of anybody else because in most fields of art such as music, copies are very common, with results that are almost always worse than the original. However, during the phase of making my first experiences in the fields of architecture and abstract photography it can make sense to have a look at the different  architecture philosophies to see where to place ones own interest.

What skills do you think are relevant to someone when shooting architecture and abstract?
The most important skill is to develop an idea how to show something in a photograph with the result to be pleasing to the photographer. The next step is to find an answer to the question “how can this be realized?”  This all may sound very theoretical, but I think these are the essentials for creating good photographs. In the phase of realization you have to decide about composition, the special moment when you release the shutter. And then there is the post processing theme. If you already had the final result in mind at the time you developed your idea of the image, it’s ok, if not, there is still time to make up your mind during post-processing.

An example: When I shot the original photo of my image “1 2 3 4 5 6“ I already had in mind to create an image with graphic lines that look somehow like the shape of a swan and could be used on an advertising poster for an athletics meeting.  So I took the photo from a special point of view that no correction in post-processing was necessary. You can see this at the photo “1 2 3 4 5 6 - original“. The only post processing was the elimination of all elements but the lines.





Another example: the image “in the library”.  The camera was not positioned at the center but at the left border of the final image.  The final image only shows approximately a half of the original photo.  If I had centered the camera in the middle of the scene which is visible on the final photo, you would not see the books in the bookshelves on the upper floor, or at least significantly less of the books.  But I wanted to show the books there and not only the sidewalls of the bookshelves.



To be followed tomorrow … Don't miss it !


An interesting interview. In particular, your views on some things are interesting and worth considering.
Great interview and read Paulo Abrantas, thanks for sharing this with us Hans Martin Doelz. Wonderful work and looking forward to the second interview. Have a great weekend ahead and take care! Kind regards, Edith :-)