Colorado-raised and NYC-based, Peter Sutherland is what you call a humble and collected person and he definitely has his own way of photographing and creating. Although he has been working as a commercial photographer, he’s never compromised his outcome. He employs techniques of traditional documentary style photography to capture the hidden beauty of ordinary objects and everyday situations. Sutherland’s favorite director is Werner Herzog, and his own film work has been influenced by both Herzog and Albert & David Maysles’ Gimme Shelter. In addition to Tierney Gearon: The Mother Project (Zeitgeist Films) a film he produced with Jack Youngelson, Peter also directed Pedal (powerHouse Books DVD) and is working on a documentary about Richard Prince. He’s published several monographs and exhibited works worldwide.
“I love those lawless zones where kids build bike jumps and adults have camp fires and drink beer.”
Peter, you started out as a photographer, but now it seems your interest has shifted a bit to fine and plastic art - how did you come to this progression?
It’s true, I started taking pictures about 15 years ago. Of course everything about photography has changed since then, and I embrace that change. I felt like I went as far as I could with making books or doing jobs for brands or magazines, I travelled and even met my wife because she liked pictures of mine she saw in a magazine. So in a way photography is everything for me, I still use it in my work but I’ve started more of a studio practice. I take my images and try to create objects or mixed media works with them. I like working this way, it’s more hands on and less about using the computer. Much of my work now - is almost like using photoshop but with an analog approach.
What do you expect from the art world?
I don’t have any expectations, but it’s always been something I’ve wanted to crack. When I came to NYC in the late 90s Ed Templeton and The Gonz were having shows at alleged gallery, I would go to the openings, get excited about the work and really feel the energy. I think from then on I always wanted to make work that could live in that type of context. It took a long time for me to really get my work into the art world, I had a solo show in NYC in 2008 but didn’t really get any momentum from it, only recently it seems to have started rolling.
Is the image itself still the main outcome of your oeuvre?
Yes, I think about my work in terms of scale, material, composition, all that stuff but at the end of the day it’s still mainly about the image. I enjoy posting images on tumblr and instagram, and I like the way that doing that and seeing others’ work influences the way we all think about images. Right now I think images are more effective than anything else (music, sound, text) for getting an idea or feeling across. And images refresh so fast it’s almost like they have no value, so it’s that clash of images that means everything and also nothing that is interesting to me these days.
Could you explain a bit about this photographic journey you are showing in Lodown?
I tend to take pictures of things I’m excited about or find funny, poetic, or meaningful. And I’ve had enough time shooting every day to really know when I have an image that works for me and with the rest of my work. The problem is that sometimes I get lazy and shoot too much with the phone which is not really a solid way of getting some types of images. All of the images below were taken with real cameras. If there is a theme running through them it is that I am looking for that energy or that place that makes you feel like you can do whatever you want. I love those lawless zones where kids build bike jumps and adults have camp fires and drink beer. I love the materials you find there, random sculptures, graffiti, car tires, etc. So that is just a feeling I’m always trying to create in my images, and it doesn’t have to literally be about that but it if gets close to it, it’s going to work. A lot of it is about shooting and also about editing, so what I show is just the stuff that makes sense. Most of these images were taken in the Western United States, I think it’s familiar because I grew up there and have never really lost that connection.
What does documentation mean to you?
For me, it’s using photography or recording something in a way that is not meant to be art, but a way to create a record of something. Maybe there is a shift for me also - that at the beginning of taking pictures I was interested in documenting and at some point after a few projects really worked - I wanted to start making art. The line between art and documentation can be blurry, some of my favorite work is sort of unplanned documentation. Like maybe you have to move to a new apartment so you just decide to take some pictures of it before you leave. That time capsule can be interesting, but that is only after you had some years, not when you are like 23, haha.
Mind over matter?
Yeah maybe. Any success I’ve had over the years has had to do with some sort of determination that usually doesn’t make sense financially or for my “career”. There is also a bit of luck and timing with everything. But yeah I really think positive thinking or just believing in what you are doing is 90% of it. The rest is out of your hands as far as how people will react.
How do things shape our spirit? For example, outdoor activities and creation?
For me there is not a lot of difference between work and life, I feel lucky to have created that situation. And it wasn’t always this way, I’ve had minimum wage jobs and tons of roommates and eaten all the pizza slices I can take, but eventually it has evened out. I get inspired when I’m out on my bike or by things I learned as a kid from skateboarding. I love camping, snowboarding, surfing, all of it. All of these activities create situations and take me to places I might want to photograph. I often operate without a plan and just know when I see something I should photograph. I grew up with snow and skateboarding, both are very expressive and creative sports, so I guess what I do now feels like an extension of those days.
What does travel mean to you - some photographers like to go to awkward places to find
I like to travel but usually to places that are very familiar (Colorado) or very exotic (India, Nepal etc.). I guess I like the familiarity of home but I can see how things I like cross over into or appear in other cultures. I think for me the main thing I like about traveling is seeing people/ places/ things for the very first time. That is almost how photographs work anyway, that distance you have from images might make them feel new or exciting. One of the most inspiring places I visited was Nepal. There is really an edge there and it’s exciting. I am least inspired by really clean, perfectly maintained cities, I won’t name any of them : ). I think we are lucky to be able to travel around and see other parts of the world and I always try to approach new places with
respect and curiosity.
interview by mrk