About Axel

Axel Bahnsen Self Portrait


Born in Auburn, New York on May 21, 1907, Axel Bahnsen moved to Yellow Springs, Ohio, in 1924 where he attended Antioch College and began his photography career. Axel entered his first exhibit in 1926, and by 1930 he was ranked among the top 50 photographers in the world. At one time he was ranked the fourth best in international circles.Axel Bahnsen with Ansel Adams and Siegfriend Weng

Bahnsen’s first studio opened in Dayton in 1936; later moved it to his home at 117 Glen Street, Yellow Springs, Ohio. At the time of his death, he maintained this studio where he held famous Sunday morning gatherings of local amateur and professional photographers. According to contemporaries, he thrived on competition and seemed to enjoy bringing other camera buffs to a high degree of proficiency.

Axel Bahnsen Studio in Yellow SpringsBahnsen’s concept of photography was that a camera was a “third eye” which allowed the creative artist another option with which to view and record life. He believes the photographer, in order to create art with his camera, must get inside the scene to the degree that all was sensed and intellectualized. To illustrate this concept, he often told an inquirer who wanted to take better photos to read a James Joyce novel or one of Shakespeare’s plays. He felt that gadgetry was not the answer to the artistic photograph but insight into the subject of that photograph.

He was an artist of such quality that he seemingly could get a gold medal at will. He was a five star exhibitor in the pictorial print division of the Photographic Society of America of which he was elected a fellow. Also, he was the youngest member ever elected to the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain. During his life, he exhibited over 2,000 photographs in national and international competition.

Wright State University Special Collections and Archives