By the age of 29, Berlin-based photographer Olaf Blecker’s innovative work had already graced the covers of worldwide magazines, and inspired a wave of imitators seeking to mimic his signature “hyper-real” aesthetic. Twenty years later, trends have shifted many times over, yet Blecker remains one of the most respected photographers in the industry, authoring award-winning campaigns for major brands, photographing the globe’s most famous faces for publications like Time, Wired, Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, Zeitmagazin and The New York Times Magazine, and pursuing a myriad of personal projects. Blecker brings together a handpicked team of top artists for every shoot, helping clients realize their vision with iconic photography and video production.
“In 2003, my name was synonymous with a very specific, so-called ‘hyper-real’ aesthetic,” says Blecker, “but to survive in this industry, and remain inspired as an artist, you can’t let yourself stagnate. My technique is always evolving, but my goal of forging a meaningful, human connection between the audience and the subject of a photograph remains consistent.”
Blecker was born in the small town of Wolfenbüttel, West Germany in 1971. Always a highly visual thinker as a child, his future path was fixed when he was introduced to a camera and dark room at age 17. He soon moved to Berlin to pursue his craft, shooting covers and promotional materials for various bands and enrolling in the Lette-Verein photography school. Blecker quickly picked up the technical skills he needed, but opted not to work as an assistant to a more established artist. “I had to learn a lot of things myself,” he recalls, “but I believe this lack of ‘father figures’ helped me in the long run to find my own voice.”
After graduating, Blecker opened an independent studio. He made a pact with himself to throw everything he had into breaking into the industry, handling every aspect of production from shooting to editing and printing himself. What followed was “an almost meteoric career in commercial photography” (Lürzer’s Archive). He received much attention for the boldness of his approach: high contrast, desaturated portraits with minimal makeup and very clear shadows. The results, typified by shoots with the likes of Neil Young, novelist Philip Roth and German Vice Chancellor Joschka Fischer, stood out on the page, and amid the contrived style of the day.
As The F-Stop magazine once noted, “People like how Blecker shoots skin, but perhaps that’s because of his constant search for what’s beneath it in his subjects.” In an interview with the same magazine, Blecker noted that, as widely influential as the technical aspects of his photography have been, it is „Menschenkenntnis“ (German: “the knowledge of human nature”) that is most critical to capturing a powerful image. Watching Blecker at work, those on set have noted his particular skill at communicating with his subjects, guiding them gently into genuine displays of emotion for his camera.
“Style can and should vary from project to project. In portraiture, for example, I am often trying to take the subject as they are, whereas in commercial photography, I think the challenge is more akin to illustration,” says Blecker. “You’re making the client’s ideas and opinions about the subject legible - emphasizing this, erasing that. What they have in common is that ultimately a photograph needs to hold the spectator’s attention. I don’t believe that any of my work is easily dismissed, or ignored.”
In his quarter century as a professional photographer, the likes of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Samuel L. Jackson, President Donald Trump, Donatella Versace and the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman have stood for Blecker’s inquisitive camera. Audiences are as likely to encounter his work showcasing high-end luxury brands like Mercedes Benz as everyday products like NyQuil, while he maintains a reputation as a top tier editorial photographer. To those who know what they’re looking for, Blecker’s touch is always present.
“I suppose when it comes to quality I feel very German at heart,” he says. “Every detail is important for me. I like to oversee hair and makeup, styling, props, lighting and location, which is why I’m so selective of the contributing artists I work with. Because I prepare so thoroughly, my collaborators and I have the freedom to improvise and create in the moment during the shoot. Only in this way can I ensure that the images I capture have something truly alive in them.”
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advico young & rubicam, aimaq rapp stolle, amalgamated / ny, bbh / uk, blood actvertising, bbdo, germany, concentrichx, colnaghi & manciani, italy, cosette, nc, ddb needham,, ddb new york, ddb london, fcb wilkens, goodby silverstein & partners / sf, gsw worldwide, usa, heimat , heye & partner, integrated communications, new jersey, usa, jung von matt, j. walter thompson, karmarama, uk, lgf / brussels,, leagas delaney, lowe / ny, m&c saatchi, uk mccann erickson,, mcgarry bowen / ny, merkley newman harty / ny, mortierbrigade / belgium,, ogilvy & mather, ny, publicis, ny, quiet storm, uk, scholz & friends / berlin, start ag, stöhr ddb, germany, thjnk, tbwa chiat day / ny, young & rubicam, wieden+kennedy etc.
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