Manfred Baumann was born in Vienna in 1968. The Leica photographer has since presented his works worldwide in the form of exhibitions, books, and calendars. His photographs are displayed in museums as well as in international galleries. Over the past years, Baumann has taken his place among the most influential photographers of our time.
He lives in Austria and L.A., and works worldwide, having already photographed such greats as Sandra Bullock, William Shatner, Jack Black, Natalie Portman, Tony Curtis, Lionel Richie, John Malkovich, Bruce Willis, Juliette Lewis, Angelina Jolie and Evander Holyfield, as well as many international top models.
We spoke with Manfred to get his personal take on portrait photography and find out why he loves shooting with the Leica SL.
How did you first get into photography?
I received my first photo camera from my grandfather when I was 10 years old.
Having grown up in Vienna, when did you make the move to Los Angeles? How does working in these two very different cities compare?
I live and work in Vienna with my wife and muse Nelly Baumann, although our sojourns to my second home, Los Angeles, have become increasingly frequent and of longer duration. Vienna is my retreat, whereas Los Angeles is my land of adventure and work. My clientele, however, come from all over the world.
Which photographers and artists have served as inspiration for your work?
Too many to mention all of them here, but some recurring sources of inspiration for me are: Yousuf Karsh, Richard Avedon, Man Ray, Helmut Newton, Herb Ritts, Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
You shoot in both black and white and color but which of these mediums do you prefer for studio portraiture? What do you see as the biggest differences between them? How does your process differ?
I love to take pictures at different locations and always bring a studio setting with me so that I have several options. Studios in themselves are boring. On location I can incorporate the surroundings, such as hotel suites, castles, houses, villas but also garages, attics, warehouses or simply the outdoors. A black or white background I can then hang anywhere.
You’ve been shooting celebrities for some time now. How is it working with some of the biggest names in Hollywood?
The first international star I photographed was Sir Roger Moore. I was very nervous at the time but there have been so many now. I’ve stopped counting them anymore. As a professional photographer, you’re also a director and in some ways a bit of psychologist. So I’ve learnt how to talk and work with them. I know now how I have to behave towards my subjects to get what I want – A great photo!
How does your approach differ depending on whether you’re shooting models for editorial or celebrities?
I have always tried to tell stories with my photography. In some ways, photography is like my second language. Whether I work with models or celebrities, everyone has a story to tell and by listening to them I can get the best images possible. Only then do I start to take pictures. Sometimes there is more time, sometimes less, but I see no real difference between the two. I also love to create a family feeling on set with my wife and muse, Nelly.
Looking back over your career to date, which shot are you most proud of? And which shoot really sticks in your mind?
Of course, that shoot with Sir Roger Moore was special but there are so many stories to tell by now. For example the photo shoot with 101-year-old Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas; An unforgettable evening with Jack Black; The last ever photo shoot with Tony Curtis; At home with Gene Simmons. Having said that, I’m also very proud of all my other projects, such as my series on the wild mustangs of Nevada, my project with homeless people and my photo book from Death Row.
When did you start working with the Leica SL? And how would you rate the camera system for studio work?
I have been working with the Leica SL since 2016. It’s a truly great camera. I love it dearly and use it on all my shoots. I also really appreciate the Leica M system, especially the Leica M Monochrome but the Leica SL offers me a fast and reliable workflow. Above all, it delivers results that I love so much, whether it’s for advertising, fashion or editorial photography.
Could you describe your favorite studio set-up?
I love mixing things up and I really like to work with available light. I like working with a big Octa box, which stands behind me, whereas in front of me I’ll have a big brightener with a silver coating, such as the California Sunbounce. This set-up is something I like to use often and then vary things either with or without back lights.
What do you consider the biggest challenges to capturing professional studio portraits?
For me, the biggest challenge is always to get the person in front of me into the right mood. I have to gain their confidence, if I want to capture a glimpse into their soul. Once we’ve achieved this, it’s all about recognizing the right moment to reveal something, which would otherwise remain hidden.
You’ve also shot a number of other projects including documentary, landscape and wildlife photography. Can you tell us a little more about this work?
To make visible that which others have not seen before has been the objective of my exhibitions and other projects, such as END OF LINE, in which I documented the final journey of death row inmates in Texas. For my project ALIVE, I photographed homeless people on the street for one year. While my SPECIAL series, showcases portraits of intellectually disabled people. My ambition is to break with tradition and the conventional perspective. The viewer of my photographs should discover the soul and history they embody, and recognize that photography is the only language that can be understood all over the world.
As an ardent animal welfare activist, vegetarian, and goodwill ambassador for Jane Goodall, I also ventured into the world of animal photography for the first time with the project MUSTANGS, which was shown at the Natural History Museum in Vienna.
What one piece of advice would you offer to your fellow photographers?
Just take pictures of what you love.