Eric Oxendorf, an internationally recognized architectural photographer, recently celebrated 50 years in his field and reflected on the journey to where he is now.
As a U.S. naval aviation veteran from the Vietnam War, Oxendorf graduated from Layton School of Art with a degree in art. He traveled worldwide for a career in visual arts and worked collaboratively with architects and engineers on a variety of subject materials. Oxendorf provided architects with an international platform to display their work and has been recognized for his impact on the architectural community.
Oxendorf said the childhood walks he took through Milwaukee with his mother and siblings are what sparked his interest in architecture.
“We would walk around town and [my mother] would point out, ‘This is a column, it’s holding up the roof. It’s a doric column. This is an older building that was built in 1890. This building was built in 1950, you can see the difference,’” Oxendorf said. “I just got this information all the time.”
Oxendorf joined the Navy in 1967 and served in the Vietnam War for 22 months in a rescue helicopter squadron. After he returned, he went to a Veterans Affairs facility for advice on what career path to pursue.
“The counselor told me in short, ‘You are very independent-minded, you have a very creative bent to the way you figure things out, [and] that's why you were in that squadron,’” Oxendorf said. “He told me that I needed to be self-employed and go into a creative field.”
After graduating from Layton School of Art, Oxendorf said his photography took off around 1974. With this growing recognition, he established an office and began traveling internationally to capture architectural photographs for both self-fulfillment and clients.
His parents are what inspired him most throughout his career, he noted.
“My father was very strict and regimented, but he was still loving,” Oxendorf said. “My mother was very creative, and they showed me the world. I was always encouraged to do whatever I wanted to.”
Now, with five decades of experience in the field, Oxendorf is continuing his work at 75 years old.
From homes spanning the globe to rotundas in each state capitol building, Oxendorf aims to use his photography to showcase beauty in all types of architecture.
Lisa Kennedy, the executive director of AIA Wisconsin, explained her relationship with Oxendorf and her appreciation for all he has done for the architectural community.
“We’ve been friends for a long, long time,” Kennedy said. “I just really appreciated what he has done for our profession and how many of our members he has worked with over the years. The architects are our members, so why not celebrate his work as well?”
Kennedy noted the exhibition celebrating Oxendorf’s 50 years helped make architecture more accessible to the public and allowed individuals to gain better recognition of how they are surrounded by architecture daily.
Despite having a background in art rather than architecture, Oxendorf’s creative vision and ability to capture the perfect photograph have contributed to his reputation for creating award-winning and widely published photographs.
“My job is being happy,” Oxendorf said. “This makes me happy. I am at peace with this. We live on an incredible planet and I love life, especially after you could’ve lost it several times.”
Ellie Bourdo is the features editor for The Daily Cardinal. Ellie previously served as associate news editor, where she specialized in breaking news and University of Wisconsin-System news reporting. She also works at WisPolitics. Follow Ellie on Twitter at @elliebourdo.