German photographer Thomas Brenner explains what is special about his kind of photography

Thomas Brenner warns you that his English is not too good. But this German photographer does not really need to hone his verbal skills for his pictures speak a thousand words, and ever so articulately.

Showing you his collection of photographs on his laptop, Brenner says his photographs are not realistic reflections of his surroundings but are his takes on society, politics, religion and economy. “My photographs,” he says, “are my impressions of the world.”

Looking around the garden at Goethe Zentrum in the city, Brenner says that if he were to take a picture of the surroundings, it might not be that of the building, the garden or the coconut trees. “There are different ways of visualising the same thing and I might take a snap of the light falling on the coconut trees or even of the tea cup in which I am having tea,” he says.

Each frame in his collection of photographs is composed of carefully arranged scenes that sum up layers of meanings that gradually become visible to the viewer. Lighting, background, and models wearing different costumes and, in some cases, no costume at all, are carefully placed to create each photograph.

The photographs abound with symbols; a symbologist would have a field day deciphering his photographs. There are collections that revolve around food, on the subject of child abuse, religion, urban decay, militarisation, and so on.

“I am a foodie and photographer who wanted to do medicine. But a few months in medical school convinced me that I was not cut out to be a doctor. I worked as a cook too. When I discovered that what I wanted to do was to be a photographer, I enrolled at the prestigious multi-media school in Essen. It is a six-year course but I liked it so much that I spent 10 years there,” laughs Brenner. Now, he also teaches at the Technical But University in Trier, Germany.

But Brenner does not want to simply click pictures. He paints with light and his creative ideas are turned into finely composed photographs. One of the most sought-after professional photographers in Germany, Brenner focusses on the fine art of photography.

Food for thought

For instance, his series titled ‘Bread and Circuses' blends his interests in food and photography. Different kinds of bread have been used to depict raw and sometimes, disturbing pictures of the contemporary world. “I enjoy bread of all kinds and bread is a common food in most parts of the world. Its rich symbolism and the many images associated with bread tempted me to build a series around it,” says Brenner.

Baguettes, rolls, crumbs of bread, loaves, slices of bread… are artfully arranged in the photographs that convey many ideas. Pointing to a snap of men and women sitting around a table with empty plates, Brenner explains: “Governments must see to it that there is food on the plates of its citizens. Instead, we end up sitting around tables and talking about everything else but the need to solve hunger. So, I have shown the models under a structure made of loaves of bread.”

Then there is a dark, chilling series on child abuse in schools and places of worship. None of the models' faces is discernible but the menacing effect convey the stark message.

Another series zooms into the ammunition depot near his home. His protest against nuclear weapons and militarisation are captured with humour and insight. “I don't think the faces are important in these photographs. The light, the location, the costumes, and the posture of the models tell all. Every photograph takes a day to compose. My friends and family pose for the pictures,” he says.

Brenner is in the city as part of an effort to build cultural bridges between his hometown Kaiserslautern and the city. “The mayor of Kaiserslautern had visited the city last year and that is how Brenner's visit came about,” says Syed Ibrahim, Director of the Goethe Zentrum in the city.

An exhibition of Brenner's select photographs is on at Museum Grounds. It concludes on November 28.