Barbara Peacock on How to Make a Living and Be True to Yourself

David J. Carol


Barbara Peacock exemplifies the type of photographer I love. She manages to take photographs to please herself, while at the same time maintaining a successful commercial photography career. As you can see in the photographs illustrating this interview, she is equally adept at both. I'm a fan of her personal work and am impressed with her commercial work. I asked Barbara a few questions about the life of a photographer that can successfully straddle these two worlds.

I think it's fantastic that you have a commercial career in photography and yet still take time to shoot for yourself. What's the difference between your "mindset" doing commercial work and personal work?

"Mindset" is the right word. Let’s put it this way: I became a "Lifestyle" photographer and that means I recreate reality, even though it is a "heightened reality." All the client is trying to do is create a moment that looks and feels "real." That’s where I come in.

Few clients know this but I came from the world of "street photography." It's another story, but, suffice it to say, when I was a kid I was the one with the Brownie camera and when I was given The Family of Man, in one heart beat it changed my life.

A lifelong pursuit of attaining "The Decisive Moment" began with a formal fine art education. What I have been taught over the years makes a great street photograph is this. Within your frame (and that means crop in the camera) try to get the following: access, strong composition, tension, ambiguity, expression, complexity,  "a moment," and impact. Get all of this without the subject being aware of you, with no direction or communication from you and within a 60th of a second. It is a tall order and I have always thought one of the highest forms of photography.

In a commercial shoot, I have an colossal team of people, sometimes 25+, gathered to get two or three still shots in a day. The entire shoot is completely directed-location, lighting, wardrobe, models etc. It all comes down to the expression or the "moment" of the subject. That is ultimately what the client is looking for. That is what sells the product, be it cereal, shoes or laundry detergent. That is what I have learned to do very well, in large part due to my work on the streets.

What is the difference, besides two scenarios that are polar opposites? In the moment when all things are perfect, when I am clicking the shutter for the capture, the mindset is actually quite similar.

You can spend a year on the road shooting where and what you want, describe your journey.

OMG! Are you serious?  Well, let’s make it a road trip, with a group of my closest shooting pals who love shooting, coffee and good food–they know who they are– and you can come, David.

It starts in Cuba, a magical place I have to go back to, and a quick stop to Haiti to visit my kids there (I have a non-profit that teaches art and photography). Then to Brazil in the Salvador Bahia region where Ernesto Bazan has discovered his new Cuba, then off to Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala and back to the States for a road trip across the country West to East–sadly, I have never done it–off to India, back to Cambodia to visit kids I worked with there and a jaunt to Laos, Thailand, and the Philippines, a visit to South Africa and we'd end up in Europe, starting in Prague. Finish the trip in Paris with a pastry and a cappuccino. That’s all I ask.

What motivates or inspires you?

I am inspired by first and last light, love and gentle kindness, the smell of roses or an apple pie, the extraordinary beauty of a child, the sound of rain, laughter, a tenor’s aria, figure drawing, nature, smiling eyes, a soft evening breeze, painting, tears and raw emotion. I love the feel, the sound and the smell of a new country beneath my feet and I am forever inspired by the non verbal communication with the people I met there and the relationships that are made, even if for a few moments.

What object or objects have you owned the longest?

That’s a great question. I have a Jack and the Beanstalk wooden puzzle with all the pieces still intact, a few Hummel figures, some of my early drawings, my Dad’s camera–a Kodak Retina Reflex–that I begged to borrow as a kid, some of my Mom’s watercolors and the copy of The Family of Man.

Dogs or Cats?

I have both...but I really love dogs. They make me laugh and they are so much better than we are.

And a final thought from Barbara.

Just a funny thought, you often hear photographers from my era say they started with the Brownie camera. I realized that we will be extinct at some point –just like the little Blue Haired Ladies–and the new generation of photographers will be saying they kept stealing their mom or dad’s iPhone.

You can see more of Barbara Peacock's work at: http://www.barbarapeacock.com



PDN August 2016: The Fine-Art Photography Issue



Tout VTS


Tout VTS


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