Leica Liker is honored to have Ed Peters, a New York Street Photographer as our #9 guest.
I’ve written much about how street photographers try to capture the decisive moment, sympathizing with life of others on the street. This time I would venture to say that we are looking at quite the opposite: we are looking at the emotions of the artist/photographer, Ed Peters, expressed in an artistic way.
Ed is drawn by color. His compositions are impacted by the advertising and commercialism surrounding our environment. His images imply that everything and anything, including a colorful plastic bag, every day objects, can be seen as art. Even pure advertising, whose sole goal is to lure in a customer to spend, can be seen as art. Something to be celebrated and enjoyed as well as function as a thought provoker.
When you look at Ed’s photos, you can’t help but think: pop, poetic, lyrical. Some of his images are like metaphorical mirrors of our own creation. Others stir something intangible in us. Perhaps it is the juxtaposition of a simple and grounded life against the complex and superficial quality of our society as demonstrated in billboards, graffiti and advertising.
Ed’s images have one thing in common though, they spark our existential imagination. Opening our minds to new ways to look at our world, color, and anything else that comes to mind. This phenomenon help add a kind of authenticity to our busy daily lives. What a wonderful gift of a man from Patterson, New York.
Here’s my interview with ED PETERS:
Nick Name: None
Currently living in: a suburb of New York
Why do you like the Leica M9? I am not wedded to the Leica, and other cameras intrigue me. When I shot film, I used the Contax G2. I do, however, like the viewfinder of the M9. With it, I can often zone focus, and get the camera to my eye very quickly. The sensor is also good, but you start picking up significant noise when you get past ISO 800. The Canon 5D Mark II is cleaner.
Favorite back up street camera & lens: Canon 5D or Ricoh GR2 (taken only when traveling)
Favorite photography gadget: Plastic freezer bags (purchased in supermarkets). They’re great for organizing everything.
Favorite street food: Nothing special.
Do you listen to music while shooting? Never
Favorite Music When Shooting and/or Editing: My tastes are varied, but unrelated to photography.
Favorite photo software: Lightroom. When I first began working with digital images I used Photoshop. A few years ago I purchased Lightroom, and can’t remember the last time I used Photoshop. I just upgraded to Lightoom 4.
3 Favorite Master Photographers: I couldn’t pick only three.
3 Favorite Contemporary Photographers: I have to give the same answer, but would like to elaborate on both questions. It’s possible to “name names”, and round up the” usual suspects”, but I think it’s important for photographers to see their work as part of a broader visual tradition.
All too often, photographers mention a handful of well known photographers that they admire. I too have been influenced by many of the same people, but I’ve also been influenced by the work of other artists. Anyone, for example, who wants to see color used in a masterful way couldn’t do better than viewing the paintings of Henri Matisse or Pierre Bonnard.
Which three photographers prints do you own? I don’t own any, but I do own a ridiculous number of photo books. They seem to pile up everywhere. One day I’ll have to organize the chaos.
Color or Black and White? It’s been color for a long time, but I don’t know what the future will bring.
Shoot Film or Digital? Digital. For many years I used film for my professional and personal work. I’m not the most technologically sophisticated person, and it took me a long time to adapt to digital. Once I shot digital, I never looked back. It’s so much more flexible, convenient and inexpensive (no film and processing costs). I know that some photographers are still fans of film, but I’m not one of them.
Is there a special time of day that you like to shoot or is any time good? My preference is for early morning and late afternoon/evening light. Harsh midday sun is the worst.
Do you ever shoot on non-sunny days? Yes, to some extent, but if the weather is really terrible, I probably won’t go out. When it’s sunny, and I can set a small aperture ( to achieve great depth of field) I like to use the M9. If I have to slow things down, because of low light, I prefer the Canon. It’s a shame the rangefinder doesn’t have auto focus. I know that would be a heresy for some, but I just don’t think that a person can manually focus as fast as a camera that has autofocus. I know I can’t.
Why did you choose street photography and not another form of photography like stamp collecting? I find it enjoyable. Otherwise why bother? I like the process of walking, the challenge of making successful images, and the element of gamesmanship involved. If my circumstances change maybe I’ll practice another form of photography – or take up stamp collecting. Perhaps I’d love it.
What motivates you to photograph the streets? Read my previous answer.
Is street photography an obsession? That depends on what you define as an “obsession”. When I look at the work of a photographer I don’t usually care what their state of mind was when they made their photos.
Are you a lone shooter or do you like shooting with friends or groups? I’m a lone shooter. I can’t photograph on the street while socializing with other people. There are too many distractions. Yesterday, I was at a parade with some friends, and felt like putting my camera away.
Favorite street photography city: I live in the New York /metropolitan area, so I do most of my street photography in Manhattan. It’s a great place to photograph, but ( like Paris) is one of the most photographed cities in the world. There’s a history of great photographers using New York as their subject, so I sometimes feel that I’m walking on all too familiar ground.
I also think, however, that photographers can approach their subject matter like a jazz musician interprets a familiar standard, and through improvisation, create unique images. The other city that I’d like to mention is Oaxaca, Mexico. Whenever I go there, I always return with images that please me.
What inspires your photography? I guess it’s primarily an interest in the visual arts. I’d also describe myself as a voracious reader, and that’s probably also influenced my choice of subject matter.
Since you look at a lot of photo books, then obviously you’ve seen Constantin Manos and Alex Webb- were you influenced by them or did you develop this high contrast imagery by yourself? I think I saw Webb’s work first, and admired it very much. Maybe he was an influence, but a lot of other people were too. By the time I got to Mexico, where there’s always this dramatic light, I guess there were parallels developing .
That raises an interesting point about the influence of place. The location itself is important. If you look at Alex Webb’s work in Istanbul, the photos have a different quality than those taken in Cuba, or Mexico. And for me? I’m very curious about India. It’s a high energy place, and I’m curious about the contrasts of traditional culture and modernization.
Is there a philosophy or aesthetic behind your compositions that you apply to your photos? I wouldn’t call it a philosophy. We all have particular strengths, weaknesses, and subject matter that we’re interested in. I think my work is quite graphic. That’s not a philosophy, it’s just a quality that it possesses.
How does journalism affect what and how you see? I always practiced street photography. I appreciate the work of many photojournalists, but I don’t see myself going back to that.
What do you look for in a photograph by others and by yourself? That’s not a simple question. It depends on what the purpose of the photograph is. It wouldn’t be accurate to say that I just appreciate photos that are well composed, timed, etc.. I also appreciate photos that function on more diverse levels. If you look at a book like Walker Evans’ Many are Called, the individual photos look like haphazard snapshots. In a way, that’s what they are. Evans made those photos with a hidden camera, and didn’t even look through the viewfinder when releasing the shutter. He later sequenced those photos for the book, and it’s in that context that they took on power, meaning, and relevance.
How do you go about shooting a street photograph? It varies. Sometimes I raise the camera to my eye quickly, and there’s only a brief opportunity to take one or two exposures. At other times I can be more deliberate, frame my composition more carefully, and wait for events to unfold.
How do you go about composing a shot? See the above answer.
Best three tips for shooting the streets:
1. First study your camera, it’s potential, and limitations.
2. Be ready for the photo. You don’t want to be fumbling with camera settings, focus, etc. while taking your shot (unless for some reason you have that luxury). Most good street photography requires being quick.
3. Be patient. If you think that there’s a potential for a successful photo at a given location, but that extra something hasn’t arrived yet, hang around.
Do you shoot a lot? When I’m traveling, I shoot every day. At home,, my schedule varies.
Can you give some advice on creating a series or photo essay rather than one off photos? I usually don’t photograph with a fixed agenda in mind. What separates street photography from photojournalism is a certain “open ended” quality. In photojournalism, you photograph a previously defined subject matter. It’s more explicit than street photography. Some people have compared the two genres to poetry and prose. Prose is more specific in it’s meaning; poetry is less precise. This ambiguity invites viewers to more freely interpret an image.
At the completion of either type of project, it’s important to edit photos. I think a good place to start (at least for street photographers) is to look at Robert Frank’s The Americans. When he published the book, he was very aware of how each image related to the others, and what their collective meaning might be.
Best Single advise on how to improve your work: Study the work of photographers, and artists, in various media. As I said above, we’re part of a long tradition. This is one of the most important things that a person can do. An ignorant photographer is probably a bad photographer.
Best single advise on how to edit your work: Look at a lot of photo essays and books.
Best single advice for someone who wants to get into street photography: Do it if it gives you pleasure, but don’t expect to make much money from it.
What’s the best moment in your street photography career? Nothing stands out.
What is the worst moment in your street photography career? Once again, nothing stands out, and I’m reluctant to use the term “career”.
What projects are you working on? Besides my day to day practice, I’ve begun photographing in Calcutta, India, and I hope to return there before the end of the year.
Where do you want to be in 5 years with regard to your street photography? That time frame is too distant.
Are there exhibitions planned in the future? Not at this time, but I might put together something with my colleagues at Street Photographers.
Leica Liker thanks Ed for sharing his experience and inspirational advice with us. We look forward to checking in on him in the future.
You can check out Ed’s gear in “Liker Bags’n Gear” here.
This is Ed’s self portrait.