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Friday, 04 December 2015


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I'd say that there's nothing very "random" about Anders Petersen's quality. I've glimpsed his work several years ago. To me it's somewhat similar to Ralph Meatyard's work, sans masks. There's a slightly sinister creepiness to many frames, accentuated by overcooking to within a couple of stops of their existence and bear-hugging grimy grain. The heavy, close-cropped vignetting also contributes to creating a somewhat claustrophobic dark enclosure of creepiness.

But aside from his renderings, which I find a bit too heavy, the guy just has a good knack for timing and putting his camera where it needs to be to get the images he wants. I'd love to see some of his contact sheets!

Thank you for the call-out, Mike.

If I was reviewing my images after taking a series of pictures of this little girl playing on top of the box, I would have deleted this one. "Damn, I got the mother's hand in the way. Can't see the girl's face."

I guess that's why I have no books published.

His retrospective, Anders Petersen, is one megathick retrospective with enough photographs for several lifetimes. Mr. Petersen lets the shadows go dark and the corners vignette for drama. It's intense, and makes each and every photograph demand attention- not a bad thing, just not so great when they're so crowded together, seemingly competing with one another. Highly recommended nonetheless- just Do Not attempt to take it all in in one sitting. Apparently he shoots with a diminutive Contax T3, a camera as unassuming as the man himself.



"I've never taken one picture that looks like an Anders Petersen, and I wonder how he does it."

Hmm... must be the gear.

[That's surely part of it, but not all of it. --Mike]

Speaking of Swedish photographers who do grainy black and white; are you familiar with Martin Bogren? I'm not a big fan of the whole grainy, gritty black and white thing, but Bogren can even pull that off with a Holga, as he proves with his series Lowlands. Both Lowlands and Tractor Boys are available in book form and well worth a look.

Hello Mike, I think this quote by Anders Peters sort of sums up his way of shooting:
"Please be horrible!
Tear down your photography into pieces.
Don't bother about glamour,destroy the surface,take care of your innocence. Your fantasy is more important than reality.
Remember, your pictures are jumping like rabbits into your camera when you understand photography is not about photography"

It's all a matter of personal taste, but yeah, that example is an out-take, not a keeper.

[As Ctein is wont to say, I could not disagree more. --Mike]

Very interesting photograph. I'm intrigued by the look too.
Lighting wise it almost looks like a bit of flash on a vertically held camera, with the hard shadow under the mothers arm, but a much more diffuse shadow of her body coming from the opposite direction,
Although I don't see evidence of that in his other pictures,so probably just two sources of light one hard and one soft.
The print seems to have the 'edge effects' or ' adjacency effects" of a pyro type developer.
Some of his other older pictures almost look like 2475 recording film from back then, but not this one-- maybe Tri-X pushed.
I'm intrigued by the look too.
Anyone out there have any insight about this?

One of your other correspondents mentioned Martin Bogren and I too feel that there are similarities, although Bogren's work seems calmer, less edgy. Tractor Boys is a slim book (published in the UK by Dewi Lewis) and on first appearance I have to admit to a degree of disappointment. However the more I look through it, the more I get from it and the more I want to go back to it. Surely that is a sign of greatness in a photobook rather than something that you get less from each time you look through it. Petersen is the same as is Klavdij Sluban,

Addendum to my previous comment: to a North American photographic audience it may be of interest to know that Nan Goldin has more than once publicly cited Anders Petersen as well as his mentor Christer Strömholm (the doyen of modern Swedish photography) as her most important photographic influences. They met on several occasions and she seems to have been particularly taken by their approach to living life through photography.

Continuing on Swedish photography, JH Engström (winner of the Leica Oskar Barnack Award 2015) is now the photographer of the next generation following in the steps of Strömholm and Petersen (his mentor), in his own very personal way.

Anders Petersen is why I'm interested in photography since I was 12 and found the Cafe Lehmitz book at the public library in 1980. Anders is also the reason I know that interesting photography isn't about writing with light (physics) but about writing with emotions (important)

That Gaurdian article links to a YouTube slideshow of his work from a cafe. Interesting stuff. I,be seen a couple of the images before, but most are new to me.


No, it's got nothing to do with camera gear. These days he mainly uses a couple of T3s, but he has used other cameras. His mental hospital series was shot with a medium format camera, so again the typical gear excuse just doesn't hold.
Basically you can sum it up as having a need to "say something", having an opinion and needing to express it photographically. Seriously, honestly stop and think about it. We all have opinions, don't we? However how many of us need to express it photographically? Most of us are satisfied with expressing ourselves with speech or written words. It's has nothing to do whatsoever with taking a photo to remember the moment. It's about creating an image to express your view.
"I take a picture when I want to say something, not when I want to save something". Sally Mann
This is what makes the difference between the big guys and the rest of us. That's why Anders Petersen says photography really nothing to do with photography. It nots the lens, the camera, the film developer, the film or anything related to gear.
Turning off the brain, shooting from the stomach and saying something photographic.

Although reluctant to dispute with the eminent D D-B, I would concur with Mike. While the design and style of the image are arresting, I find the content intriguing in that the suggestions inherent in the position of the hand are ambiguous: could it be the instant before a passing caress, or a dismissive thrust? Could it be indicating something else entirely, or nothing at all? Neither of the subjects is clearly revealed, and the consequent speculation quite fascinating.

I was discussing how Petersen managed to get the highly personal shots he gets with a friend of mine and he replied "to get those kinds of shots you have to live that kind of life". The thing about Anders Petersen, J. h. Engstrom, Stromholm, Nan Goldin, Jacob Aue Sobol and others who do highly intimate somewhat gritty photography is that their personalities are such that they are driven by a kind of curiosity to inject themselves into the lives of strangers, transcend the interpersonal boundaries which stop most of us from getting too close too quickly and at the same time very skilfully and intuitively manipulate a camera. That their best images are both powerfully disquieting is a mark of their gifts as image makers.

(My comment of Friday seems to have been lost. And I even kept it family-friendly! Here's a redo.)

Anders Petersen's work reminds me of Ralph Eugene Meatyard's work (sans masks). He doesn't just embrace, he bear-hugs grain and grime as an integral part of his shtick. I'm always very suspicious of work that's so dressed-up, much like my leeriness overdone people. What's being hidden?

But when I take away Petersen's often overly-oppressive grime and claustrophobic vignettes I see some excellent reflex camera work. (And by that I mean human reflex, not single-lens.) He's clearly been getting the camera to the right places and pushing the button at the right times for a very long time.

I understand some people's distress with the sample Petersen image, and likely others. Many people's expectations of photography is that of a detailed descriptive medium and anything that interferes with disclosure and fidelity just ain't soup. That's most especially true of amateur photographers who crave what they consider to be accuracy above all else. That's fine with me.

But for a photograph to be an artistic expression it must not just describe; it must express. Petersen's work plays the best role that a photograph can play as art: it expresses the photographer's impression of a real moment, not simply a figurative depiction of what was present. Many of his images present more questions than they answer, a property I crave in photography.

Honestly, I find Petersen's work just a bit monotonous as he applies the same "impression" to nearly everything he shoots. Nevertheless, I do find much of it quite engaging and thank Mike very much for the call-out. (I'd never heard of Anders Petersen.)

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