"On Wisconsin" captures the spirit of the state with incredible photos


To Minnesotans, Wisconsin may seem like the land of raucous Cheeseheads and Sunday beer runs, but photographer Mark Brautigam sees more than that in America's Dairyland.

One day Brautigam picked up his large-format camera and hit the road in search of the real Wisconsin beyond the stereotypes. His photographs -- from sweeping landscapes to candid portraits -- capture moments in time that many people may overlook, such as the quiet tranquility of horses grazing in a snow-covered field or the unflinching candor of a few guys catching a tan with the help of some reflective lighting. Brautigam's eye for bringing out a unique and honest look at our neighbors to the east is stunning.

As a former officer in the Marines with a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Minnesota, Brautigam may seem an unlikely artist. However, his time spent at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design and his photography work prove that he's well on his way to a long creative career.

We talked to Brautigam about his inspiration behind "On Wisconsin" and what's his lens might be focused on next.

See also: "On Wisconsin" shows the real faces of Wisconsin

Wisconsin is your home state, what kind of perspective do you think that gives you into the people and the landscape that outsiders wouldn't have looking in?


As a native Wisconsinite, I can look past the stereotypes associated with Wisconsin and the areas that are overly touristy and kitschy. It's too easy to be influenced by the media into thinking that Wisconsin is a flatland state populated by beer-drinking Packers fans. I was looking for the subtler, quieter beauty within the state, and looking for people who had a sense of honesty and authenticity about them -- often people who were archetypical in nature.

How receptive were people in posing for portraits for this series?

Everyone was very receptive! Which was surprising. I told everyone exactly what I was doing, and I think my personality is conducive to a certain level of trust. I was using an 8x10 camera for this project also, which lent a sense of credibility to the whole process.

Would you consider doing a series of solely portraits?

I wouldn't necessarily be interested in doing a series of only portraits. I'm more interested in landscapes. Even in my portraits, I consider the scene around the person to be just as important and revealing. In a sense, my portraits are almost landscapes with a person in them.

What's your favorite shot that you've gotten in the "On Wisconsin" series?

It would have to be the photograph of the inner tubers floating down the river -- Little Wolf River in New London. It was just one of those moments where everything came into place for a very short period of time. [That favorite] would be followed closely by the farmhouse at dusk in Aurora.

Would you be interested in exploring other states in a similar manner?

Not at all. I wouldn't have the connection to any other state like I do with Wisconsin.

Check out the photos Brautigam shared with City Pages from "On Wisconsin."