How did you choose your means of expression?
I feel my means of expression, photography, found me, rather than me finding it. I studied painting and sculpture as a student, and coming out of school, I mostly did box art, collage and watercolor. It was only after a lifetime of working with other forms of art, as well as coming through the humbling experience of selling antique Chinese, African and Tibetan art, that I slowly ventured into photography. In photography, especially night photography, I found a less egotistic medium which draws the viewer in, sharing together, the romantic visions the camera gives us.
Is this medium secondary to or closely-linked to your subject?
The camera is to me, something I hardly think about while shooting. It is a tool which the subject passes through, and the less the machine disturbs the image the better.
What material do you use and why?
I need to be mobile for my work and so mainly use a Nikon D850 DSLR camera on a tripod, and an electric car to silently slink around the neighborhoods. The D850 is small enough for the mobility and has a good night sensor. For output, I use a Bartya satin paper, which has deep colors, bright whites and a not too glossy surface. I make my own framing, which is solid wood and use Tru Vue Museum Glass. The framing gives a unity and a sculptural quality to the exhibits.
How does a work session take shape?
I prefer to work between 2 AM and 5 AM. I am actually not a night person though, and so I often wake at 1:30 and change my mind. Once I do get out, I get excited quickly. I really don’t follow any particular plan. I may go to shoot something I passed during the day, or shot before but wasn’t happy with; but more often than not, the best shots happen when I go to shoot one thing, but look behind me and shoot another. I work very quickly. I usually pre-set my ISO and shoot with the shutter, but occasionally change both. I love rain for the reflections, and all seasons are wonderful. I prefer cloudy days to clear nights, but both have positive attributes. Fog is overrated, and I like a sweaty old Toyota maybe more than a classic old Cadillac. The enemy is wind and bright lights which wreak havoc with long exposures and the dynamic range. I tend to go
home when the people start to come out. I generally process all of the shots as soon as I return, but then fine tune a little each day, putting in many more hours on printing and presentation than I do on the actual shoot.
Can you explain to me how your work has evolved since starting out?
My obsession with night photography was never planned, and so technically, I have improved a great deal. The printing is the greatest challenge, and that has seen the greatest improvement. The most important change in the work has been the movement from treating the surface as two-dimensional object, to seeing it three dimensions. My earlier day work treated the image as a flat surface, which goes back to my painting days and Clement Greenberg “the world is flat” mentality. The lighting of the night landscapes, suggests the total opposite, being all about a three-dimensional world that draws you in. I still have a split personality in my daytime shots, half the time shooting a flat composition, and the other venturing into a third dimension, but my night shots have evolved into three dimensional worlds you want to enter, and walk around in.
Do your origins and culture play a role in the works that you produce?
I spent most of my upbringing in white middle-class suburbia. Then college in the mountains of southwest Virginia, on the New York City in my early 20’s. I feel my younger years were a culture of boredom, and have produced my fascination with any place having personality and character. The Lehigh Valley has surprised me in these terms, in that what I originally thought of as a depressing place, turned out to be a museum of Americana having different a rich variety of that character which evolved in a sort of small-town sprawl, taking place over several centuries.
Which events have influenced you most?
My major life events were studying landscape painting in the mountains of Virginia with our now lifelong friend, Ray Kass, Coming to New York City in my early 20’s and experiencing the vast variety of people and cultures while studying with great artists, Working as freelancer in many fields with many different creative people in my 20’s, Meeting my wife, Mei li, and opening a gallery, Arts du Monde in Soho, with the help of our other lifelong friend and Belgian art dealer, Marc Leo Felix, having great kids. A great deal of travel to Europe and all over China. And now enjoying the surprising success I am having in photography, still learning, and still finding amazement in what there is to see everywhere.
What are your sources of inspiration?
My greatest sources of inspiration come from the unpretentious American Modern Art period. Arthur Dove, Charles Burchfield, Charles Sheeler, Georgia O’Keefe, Marsden Hartley, and from over the water, Paul Klee. I also draw a lot from 18th and 19th century Romantic writers such as ETA Hoffman and George MacDonald, who created worlds and invite the reader in. I never followed photography, though always appreciated it and had many photographer friends. My lone inspiration in my photography beginnings was and still is George Tice. A poet with the camera.
Are there any anecdotes that enable the genesis of your work to be understood?
There is one short story that has always stayed with me with regards to persevering in my art. When first stating out as a painter/sculptor, I had a studio visit by Pop Artist, Alan D’Arcangelo. I was living in the East Village of Manhattan, and was given a studio in the local library in return for teaching art to children. I was making very large quantities of small oil paintings on paper, mounted in wood. They were invented imagery, often arranged in patterns or series. Alan came to the studio, and made a number of comments about texture, imagery, color, etc… and finally in conclusion, he said to me: “You know Peter, this is poetry….” and then added, “…but your audience could fit in this room”. The studio, the room my audience could fit in, was a converted closet. Alan was a pioneer in Pop Art, and mine was almost the opposite of his approach to art, but at the same time, his love of art prevailed. This, and a few other similar incidents guided me early on, that the drive to create is not based on approval or popularity. Art is a conversation, and you never know who will respond and talk back. And so, I always listen to everybody, expect nothing, and appreciate and enjoy anyone who responds.
Are current events taken into account in your production or on the contrary do you distance yourself from them?
I think current events find their way into my work, especially in the signage, but I do not pursue them deliberately. They are more a natural by-product of urban landscape photography.
ON A MORE
Are your works more of a dialogue, a trace or a denunciation?
I consider art to be a conversation, but with imagery more than words. My works would be considered a trace as well, but never a denunciation, more a celebration.
Do you wish to make viewers wonder or do you prefer to question them?
Wonder, …together with me.
How do you view human beings, and consequently your work?
My work, without people, is all about people. These are the worlds we create together, and reflect a Romantic view of the mundane. I am fascinated with people, and though I work alone, have always worked with an optimistic and positive view of human beings.
How would you compare your last work with the next?
I don’t spend much time comparing works. I work in volume, and let results rise like cream to the top. I tend to group work at a later date, mostly by subject, but sometimes by technique, I try to not impose my own ideas onto the work, but instead let the series grow naturally.
Is art poetry or social intervention?
Poetry is social and intervention is a harsh word. I would call it more a social collaboration.
How do you view your own work?
I consider my work to be a Romantic view of our world, full of love for the places we all create.
What are your current and future projects?
Most of my energy is now going into the exhibition of my work. I make my own framing, and I am putting together a more sculptural presentation of my work with frame arrangements, floating frames and two-sided framing. I am also working on a series of video montages which will be part of some of the exhibits. I currently have four exhibits scheduled, COVID-19 permitting, Three at institutions, one at a private gallery. I would like to continue to have the exhibit travel, including abroad.
Do you have anything else to add? I’ll let you have the last word…
Art is sharing; a form of visual conversation. It is my hope that people can see through my work, the same beautiful world I see. Unpeopled, my work is all about people, and not the horrific world of a John Carpenter film, but more the surreal and fantastic world of Guillermo del Toro. I only hope it does not come across as being about me, but about us; and that I act as a medium which helps to present the wonderful places we create.