Josef Schulz Tweaks Photos, Turning Architecture Into Abstract Art

In erasing defining features, the Dusseldorf-based photographer transforms reality-based imagery into virtual renderings.

Take a drive along a major highway and you’ll see the fodder for Josef Schulz‘s photographic oeuvre: nondescript industrial factories, office parks, and clusters of hotel and restaurant signage bidding you to take the next exit. If you squint your eyes, you’ll get an even better sense of Schulz’s work: visual noise reduced to abstractions — architectural structures and signage stripped of their defining features, including lettering, entrances, and windows, as well as function and wear.


Schulz is the opposite of photographers aiming for realism, via fake subjects.

Schulz developed his penchant for architectural photography as a student at Kunstakademie Dusseldorf, where he encountered the legendary Bernd Becher, who, with his wife, Hilla, created series of photographs that captured the variations of single types of industrial structures. But the budding artist realized the potential of digital manipulation through Thomas Ruff, who has used digital technology to alter, among other things, Mies van der Rohe’s iconic buildings of the past. Combining the two influences, Schulz photographs various industrial typologies and then digitally erases their tell-tale signs of individuality.

For his “Sign Out” series, Schulz traveled along U.S. highways, photographing pieces of signage, whose lettering and logos he then erased, leaving them floating against a blank sky like empty thought bubbles. Similarly, in ‘Formen’ and “Sachliches,” Schulz presents industrial structures distilled down to pure form; buildings appear as mere blocks of glass, steel, and brick, and there are few hints of location, surroundings, or age.

In doing so, Schulz transforms realistic renderings of physical structures into virtual blueprints — the opposite of many photographers Thomas Demand who use artificial constructions to create realism. Describing his former student’s work, Ruff writes that Schulz’s process allows him to distance himself from the “?objectivity? of photography,” reminding us that “pictures are always the construct of the visual power of imagination of the artist.?

All images are by Josef Schulz/courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York


About the author

A former editor at such publications as WIRED, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Fast Company, Belinda Lanks has also written for The New York Times Magazine, The New York Observer, Interior Design, and ARTnews.