Jens Krauer’s images are packed with so much emotion and stunning light – and composed so precisely yet with breathtaking spontaneity – that they appear both sculpted and alive, vibrating with raw energy.
In fact, his personal credo is “share emotions not pixels.”
A high contrast shot of a glass of water against sunlight, shot on film with a Nikon F that he developed in his friend’s bathroom at age 14 as part of a school project is the first image Krauer, a Swiss Fujifilm-X photographer recalls making.
“The graphic nature of the image and what the element of light added to it has been etched into my mind ever since,” he said.
But it would be two decades before Krauer returned seriously to photography and longer still to hone in on street photography as his preferred genre.
Begin at the Beginning
Returning from a long stay in Eastern Europe in 2012, Krauer shared some travel snapshots among his peers. A co-worker gave him constructive feedback on composition and the elements of a good frame.
“I learned that I was photographing colors rather than composing consciously,” Krauer said. “After this feedback session, I returned to my hotel and the same night, converted my whole Lightroom catalog to black and white and deleted 80 percent of my images. A lot of things suddenly became clear to me.”
That clarity led to a deep dive into street photography, a natural draw for him, Krauer said, because it demands components of self-awareness such as personality and intention.
“These two key points made me realize that the camera had become my artistic aggregator and that street photography gave me a platform to communicate through images in a language I had learned much earlier in life.”
In September 2013 all bets were off and Krauer truly hit the streets.
“I started to obsessively consume everything that was available online to learn about street photography and in parallel, started obsessively training on the streets. That’s when it came full circle for me.”
Observing the Patterns
As a child, Krauer spent hours listening to music and drawing. Later, the music stayed and pens were replaced with aerosol cans.
“To this day,” he said, “drawing, street art, art of any kind plays a major role in my life. Graffiti taught me to walk the streets in search of a canvas and to observe the patterns of life in cities.”
Painting and drawing taught him the dynamics of space and framing. He credits Hip Hop culture for also playing a big part in his creativity and his attitude towards self-development.
“That hunger to improve and create has stayed with me to this day and fuels my dedication to artistic activities. I also believe that photographers can learn a lot from painters. Photography is in itself a method of creating images, so the content and approach need to come from somewhere else.”
What the Street Gives Back
As someone who loves travel, Krauer appreciates what the streets – and their cities – give in return. New York City with its strong, diverse and welcoming street community is currently his favorite “daylight” city. He loves Paris for night shooting. He also loves the excitement, richness and diversity of Istanbul.
“Street photography gives me lust for life and motivation to move on in search of meaningful images that represent what I felt or experienced in a place,” he said. “Since I started shooting street I rarely ask myself where I’m going but rather how much time I have to explore and how much ground I can cover. To touch down at a location and to have the time and privilege to go deep gives back a lot outside of photography.”
Krauer also said he appreciates the fact that photography can be a lifelong pursuit.
And street photography, specifically, demands the kind of attention and acceptance that perhaps the world needs more of in modern times.
“It requires taking everything in without prejudice and what crosses your path always remains unpredictable. The only thing I’m sure of is that the longer I go, the higher the chance that I’ll come across a good picture. That’s fascinating to me and something I see myself doing my whole life regardless.”
What the Street Teaches
Be yourself, be honest to yourself and enjoy the process more than the results.
Krauer said those are the most important lessons he’s learned as he’s gone from taking casual snapshots to serious street shooting.
“It’s the process that motivates me,” he said.
Looking at the world with an accepting view, he added, and applying “a good amount of healthy ethics to street shooting” is also critical.
For Krauer, being in tune with intentions and clear about what one wants to communicate makes the path much more defined.
“Find your voice and be patient,” he advises. “Patience is massively underrated in an environment of instant gratification and recognition. My concept is never about what I shoot right now but a stepping stone to where I want to get to in the long term….Specifics such as your technique and how far you feel safe to go evolves out of these things.”
Embrace the Evolution
Krauer doesn’t wring his hands over technological changes or popular culture when it comes to contemporary photography.
Instead of seeing technology as a threat, he finds it exciting.
Pointing out that Henri Cartier-Bresson founded Magnum photos to work around industry structures at the time and Ansel Adams was likely one of the first photographers to hire a full time public relations manager, Krauer said he is certain both luminaries would “embrace today’s change and try to put their
spin on it.”
In his view, what’s happening now in photography already happened a decade ago in the music industry.
“Structural changes leave a lot of space for those who innovate outside of established paths. In essence, it is key to be on the forefront of innovation and change as a creative, embracing diversity and discovering new identities.”
What’s next for street photography?
“I don’t know how street photography will evolve,” Krauer said, “but I am convinced that it will be exciting. Change is inevitable and I prefer to be a part of it rather than being a spectator of the evolution.”
Krauer is preparing to embark on two intense documentary-style street photography projects this summer. Both involve complex subjects and narrative-driven graphic storytelling. Keep an eye on his pages as the projects emerge and evolve.
From that simple image of a glass of water that he made a teenager to complex street portraits that speak deeply to the human condition and how we navigate the world, Krauer has at last come full circle as a successful, productive artist, his work gaining worldwide attention.
Yet he remains deeply committed to staying true to himself and the basic elements that got him here in the first place.
Water and light, after all, are the building blocks of life.
More about Jens Krauer:
A documentary and street photographer based in Zurich, Jens Krauer speaks three languages, making it easy for him to travel between countries, which he does as much as possible. For nearly two years, he lived in Kiev, Ukraine, watching the 2014 Revolution unfold. He was in Hong Kong during the Umbrella Revolution.
Krauer’s work has been widely exhibited in Europe. He became a pro Fujifilm X-Photographer in 2016, with a love of black and white street portraiture. He also writes about photography, teaches workshops and co-hosts a photography podcast in German.
Learn more about him and his work via his website and social media pages: