Well established and respected analog photographer Vincent Peters, born in Germany in ’69, operates in and appreciates environments which encourages intuitive & accidental ‘happy shots’ with soul. Although he doesn’t describe himself as a fashion photographer, with his fashion, beauty and celebrity photography he has contributed to the majority of major fashion magazines like Vogue, Numero, Arena, GQ, Dazed & Confused, Ten and The Face.
He was inspired and influenced by early American cinema from which his signature personal and what can be called traditionalist style evolved. He has a healthy skepticism towards digital development and how it impacts the social and professional fabric around him. In his opinion it sometimes results in less truthful work which does not really come from the heart but instead complies with a set framework of rules & regulations which strive to determine beauty but in reality often ends up in what seems mass produced standardized imagery. His message to aspiring photographers: Believe in photography, stay true to your inner self, be authentic and aware that it‘s a journey of self-discovery and it‘s not about doing what others expect of you.
To quote from another great article on Vincent: “As a young photographer, don‘t fixate on ways to get famous or how to amass millions of followers, which photographer you should be copying or what kind of lighting to emulate on a shoot. Think about your characters and the world they are living in. You‘ll develop your style out of that train of thought. If you are good, you will shine and people will notice because there really aren‘t that many visionary photographers out there right now.”
I was thrilled with the opportunity interviewing this obvious master of photography and hope you are as excited to read, absorb and follow-up on this inspiring article.
You are German but moved away from the country in favor of the US in your late teens. In hindsight are you glad you did, due to a possible lack of ambition, creativity, spontaneity or other such reasons?
It was for me just a possibility to start again in a country and a system where I had no history. I got thrown out of school, Germany was a difficult upbringing for me where in New York City (NYC) all this didn’t matter since there I was like everyone else.
The majority of your publicized photographs are of mostly beautiful women and some men. To what extend do you rely on erotic aspects and sexual attraction in your work to please your customers and their audience?
I don’t think these two elements matter to me in that sense. There is more a vulnerable, fragile and conflicted woman I’m interested in. For sure there are basic character elements I look for or create in my portraits but I never try to base my pictures on the obvious. To take a sexy picture of a beautiful woman seems meaningless.
Many of your works are shot black and white where the others seem to use only a narrow band of colors. Is there an underlying personal and/ or professional reason to shy away from bright and plentiful colored photographs?
Photographs are a lot like music where you choose your melody with its emotions and I prefer one instrument. Black and white for example simplify the melody but also intensify the feeling of light. I don’t like a loud orchestra, I don’t mind it from others but I look for something different.
Having studied fashion I know the unusual culture and entourage of the business. For yourself, was it a struggle to cope with the personalities and borderline drive of its actors to run away from the “normal” in order to prevent boredom?
I can’t define ‘ normal ‘ very easy because since I left Germany at age 19. Not being part of a basic social system in the ‘normal’ sense, I travel and try to get my work done while having food. This lifestyle leaves little time for boredom. Also I don’t feel that I’m ‘inside fashion’, since I merely take pictures of women which can be used in fashion and that’s my main connection. Other than that in my personal life or imagination, fashion plays no role at all.
Everything has a repetitive flow over time in an either small or large elliptical fashion. Do you ever find yourself fighting repeating processes and having difficulty finding motivation for recurring events?
I do regularly go back to my own ideas, which obviously are limited, but I believe that’s important to understand to confirm my vision. I think we are all the result of conditions and experiences which define our ideas and method of communication, there is no escape. People all have their own story and when I photograph them, it’s never a preparation process but my mind always tries to imagine them the way the picture should show them.
You indicated in earlier interviews that you had to play some tricks while relying on your drive and fearlessness to establish your place in the photography realm you work in. To what extend do you still use your “street smart”, hustling capabilities and reliance on social network?
I think it’s in me, not just in work or how I think. Hustling is a cognitive reflex that’s hard to loose and it has good and bad sides..
Your work shows a focus on symmetry and perfection often of female bodies and faces with similarly perfect romantic backgrounds. Do you ever crave refocusing on the more mundane imperfections in an attempt to beautify it with your artistic gift?
I don’t focus on beauty and creating perfection is no ambition for me at all. The history of beauty and the image of desirable women is always an interesting guide of a culture and it’s very intuitive with a need for harmony. I don’t think forcing a provocative ‘ugly ‘ vision makes work more interesting but quite the opposite since it often seems desperate to me and most of all could exploit the subjects in front of the camera into simple voyeurism. Beauty is never superficial, it’s a interesting cultural definition of who we are because of what we want to be.
Is your personal life every bit as interesting and exciting as your professional life seems to be from the outside? If so, do you ever desire a more “normal” life and if not, how do you deal with the contrast?
That’s hard to judge since to me it feels normal. It’s what I know and I made peace with it. In the end my pictures are a theater of ideas which have little to do with my life. No matter who I shoot, after the studio I go have some tea and call my wife so quite normal .
You have stated that your work is your life and it carries you places unknown to you before. How much gratification do you still find in your work today and are you at moments still surprised by new places, cultures or people?
Yes it’s my marriage to life! There are good and bad days but with attention and love it’s all I really need. All the time I see and experience places or people who I thought I would never meet and who open themselves to my camera. I learn a lot and I’m very selfish since I only work for myself. I need to like the picture and see something inside, just me.
Are you able to formulate answers to your personal philosophical life’s questions through your work and does your work leave you the time, opportunity and room to be spiritual in your chosen way?
That is the ambition to express all in photographs and light. Its exchange from me to them and them to me.
Being as recognized and accomplished in your line of work as you are, do you still have ambitions left? If so, can you tell us a bit about it?
Yes of course! Again it’s an ongoing relationship which is fluid and in constant movement like life itself. Ideas come and the pictures have to be done. This month I do exhibitions and books where the galleries open new possibilities to me and change the photography.
Do you ever find it hard meeting the ever increasing expectations of e.g. fine arts critics, fashionistas or moreover people you are trying to please; considering you elevated that bar very high over time?
The hardest to please is myself.
Can you describe your emotional feelings for analog photography, your involvement in the developing process, passion for the hardware and memories of these you cherish?
It’s just what I know and love in photography, the same as loving music played on instruments so I do pictures on film. While both can be done on computers, it leaves me with no emotions in process or result. People take good pictures on their phones but for me it’s not about a quick filtered result or effect but instead all about a process that comes from within.
Have you honestly never been impressed with the developments and results of digital photography and editing by fellow photographers you respect?
Honestly more the opposite. I do digital work for some commercial clients and every time I’m surprised how limited the results are and the many technical problems and limitations I have to deal with.
At times, do you develop personal relationships with the people you professionally photograph and do you end up socializing in their circles?
Never! It’s just a picture relationship.
With who, how and where do you escape from it all, if ever?
With Sara my wife and our cat Rosemary to our house in the fields of Ibiza, which is always a good escape combination for me. Having tea in Santa Gertrudis, my small village next door.
When you go on vacation, do you bring your camera and do you feel like you are missing a limb when it is not with you?
Never! I don’t take pictures like that, since my work is theatrical and created.
Although we have many more question, I do understand everything has a limit so I will end with an open one. Is there anything we forgot to answer to frame the story you just told us through your answers?
The process of photography starts years before you push the button, because the reasons you choose photography and how it is a slow development of experiences inside. That’s the interesting part since every picture is a long look into a rear view mirror in which you try to find yourself in its reflection and you are in there somewhere.