Peter Sutherland Interview
Photographers in this day and age are a dime a dozen. Anyone with a decent size budget can buy into the idea of being a photographer, but not many actually have the skill to capture beautiful imagery such as New York based photographer, Peter Sutherland. Not only is his work best described as such, it is safe to say that his photos are some of the most authentic depictions of showcasing life through a lens, as he applies traditional documenting techniques to capture the hidden beauty in ordinary objects of everyday life. While sustaining a pretty impressive client list in the photography world, he has also had a hand in directing films, exhibited works in galleries all over the world, and produced an array of publications as well as being featured in other publications such as Vice, The New Order, and Dazed & Confused to name a few. We were able to catch up with the Colorado-bred artist and talk about his humbling beginnings through to the admired artist we know today.
Adrian Carter: To kick things off, let’s hear a little about your childhood and your transition into the artist we know today.
Peter Sutherland: When I was very small my parents took me to the movie theatre to see “The Muppets Take Manhattan”. I vaguely remember an awkward looking shot of Kermit riding a bike in the movie. Half way through the film I got up to use the bathroom. Someone had spilled a large bucket of popcorn on the floor in the bathroom. I started trampling the spilled corn, I loved the sound of it and the way it felt I crushed it under my feet. I did this for several minutes before my parents wondered where I was. I guess since then I’ve always trampled popcorn in the bathroom while the movie is showing and that is sort of what making art is about.
AC: While you’ve been a resident of New York City for sometime now, I imagine that a great deal of inspiration comes from your life prior to moving. Do you ever find any bits of inspiration from your home infused in your work? If this is the case, how so?
PS: I hope I can see the good bits in everyday life and NYC has plenty. As I’m writing this I’m on a plane and just took some cell phone shots of midtown while we were taking off. It looks like another planet. All zoomed in and pixely! Haha. I think it’s important to live and have experiences outside of art making. Sometimes NYC can be a struggle and it’s exciting to be away but when you do everything can be exciting. I feel lucky to be where I’m at doing what I’m doing. I think sometimes I get interested in the past and others I can focus on what is right in front of me. I had a pretty cool childhood and was surrounded by some interesting folks while I was growing up so that stuff definitely appears in my work. I’ve explored a lot of the Western United States, I think this was a way to look deeper into my youth growing up in Colorado. Many of the themes I mess with are based on feeling I had as a youth; freedom, exploration, psychedelia, cross sections of civilization and nature, graffiti, Jane’s Addiction, mountains, dirtbags, etc.
AC: At what point in the beginning of your career did photography as a career become more of a reality to you? Was there a particular project that pushed you to persue photography and film full-time?
PS: Photography has always been a struggle to make a living, I have managed to do it for over 10 years but there have been some very lean times in there. I think I’ve always approached taking pictures as art but only a few people really see it as such. When I started, my brother gave me a film camera and taught me how to use it. I just wanted to take funny pictures, and I liked the challenge of it. Then I had the idea to do a book / portrait project called autograf. That is, the project became a real learning experience in photography. Since then I’ve discovered other photographers work and taken thousands of photos. I think now I’m excited about adding in other elements with my photos, sculptures, drawings, etc.
AC: One of many facets of your work we admire is the grassroots ideology of working with what you have to your best abilities to produce an authentic rendition of a captured moment in time. Taking what most would consider “ordinary” and showing its beauty from your perspective. What are your thoughts on photography today and those thinking that picking up any old camera makes you a photographer?
PS: I think one thing that is exciting about photography is the scope of what you can do with it and how people can use the medium how ever they want. I have never been interested in taking technical photos or into special gear but I think it’s good that some people are. I love recording the bits in life that are interesting to me and maybe if you put them all together they mean something but I don’t know how they will hold up over time. There are so many images now and photos are less precious than ever but there is still something exciting about pulling an image out of thin air. Photography seems to be a bit of a scene now and I think there will always be the very awful up to the most epic (Eggleston). All play a role in the scene. I encourage people to give it a try, maybe they will be good at it.
AC: Most of today’s culture is heavily influenced by the Internet; specifically speaking, social networks. What are your feelings about social media’s strong involvement with today’s photography community?
PS: I like social media so far. We are a few years into it so it’s difficult to tell how it is actually changing photography. I’ve posted thousands of images on the Internet. It’s been interesting to see how images are viewed in different ways accross social media platforms. I think it shows us what is a stand alone strong image and what isn’t. But I do think it’s a bad way to archive work. It’s almost like it turns to dust when you put it online. Instagram is my favorite of all of them, it’s mainly about fun and keeping in touch with friends, it’s also quick and easy.
AC: You’ve released countless publications along with producing lookbooks for some of the top brands in today’s fashion industry, what are some the essentials you bring with you into these projects when you are summoned? Anything from a specific frame of mind to the type of tools you always use.
PS: I really like to be with good people when Im shooting. A lot of my favorite stuff has come when I was shooting with my brother Andrew or my gf Maia present. I think I’m sensitive to other people’s energy so it’s cool to be with people that are close. As for gear it is always the same, 35mm style cameras, film or digital and flashes. I don’t do anything with large light kits, this is partially out of laziness and partially because I think I can get a good photo without that stuff.
AC: With an extensive photography portfolio, many published works based on documentation and work in other mediums such as film, we see a lot of variety in your scope. Are there any films in the works or in the future?
PS: I’m slowly working on a documentary about Richard Prince. I’ve been lucky enough to film interviews with him over the past 4 years. I’m in early edits now. I started off making films and slowly became more interested in photography in part because it is so much more immediate. I hope this film will be done within 2 years.
AC: You’ve expressed admiration for directors such as Werner Herzog and inspiration from Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin’s “Gimme Shelter” film. Are there any other published works that inspire you?
PS: There are so many. I have a lot of respect for film directors as artists because they are able to manage so many moving parts at once. Sound, picture, story, etc. a lot of the stuff I like is not obscure or high art. I like to watch TV series like Breaking Bad and TV shows like The Office. But other films that have made a big impression on me are by Terrance Malick, John Hughs, Oliver Stone, maybe there are too many to mention. For the last few years I have been more excited about TV series, Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, Breaking Bad, and currently Game of Thrones. I think it’s interesting the way characters can develop so much more in this format vs. a 2 hour movie.
AC: Growing up in Colorado and moving to New York City to find you have such an amazing talent to document moments in time in a way that is now praised by fans, do you think you’d still gravitate to working in photography if you were still at home?
PS: I think it took coming to NYC and being out of my comfort zone to help realize I could do it. I didn’t have any sort of direction in life prior to 1999 when I got a camera. And being in New York it’s easier to find ways to make photography relevant. I have a good friend I grew up with that became a successful outdoor sports photographer from my hometown so I know it’s possible. I don’t know what I would have done, I used to think I would be a mailman, they work outside, that seemed like enough to me.
AC: Are there any other mediums besides photography and film that interest you?
PS: Yes, a big part of making work is entertaining myself in the process, to achieve this I have to use other mediums. I am determined to make something using spray paint. So far it hasn’t happened but I will keep trying. I also like making human sized sculptures. I think the most important thing for me is the idea and the medium is the way to explain it. I like artists like Mike Kelley and Richard P that seem to mess with all of the mediums. It seems like a cool way to live and not limit yourself.
AC: Do your parents have a good understanding of and support what you do for a living?
PS: I’ve been lucky to have parents that were both hands off and supportive at the same time. I don’t think they fully get it but they can see that I am trying hard and having some level of success with it. Both of my parents are good at art, my mom’s focus is playing the banjo and my dad’s was carpentry.
AC: Anything to look forward to in the future?
PS: Yeah always. I like making art because it allows the artist to generate a body of work. This allows you to look forward into the future while you also look back on your own work. Some old projects become interesting again or overlap with new ones. I’m planning to do a Blog book, basically printing my whole blog. I want to do some more projects that use art for positivity, outreach type stuff, and of course the RP doc. Thank you guys for this article.
Photos: Clément Pascal
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