Well, it was time for a new Facebook photo contest. I wanted to do something different this time. I wanted a contest anyone could enter. So, I put out a call for people to submit their favorite photograph that they have ever taken. I figured everyone has one of those. Next step was to get a special "celebrity" judge...I asked Aline Smithson of Lenscratch to help me out. She's fantastic and was all for it!! Thank you Aline, its a pleasure to work with such a smart and passionate person like yourself! We both put out the call and the pictures began to roll in...A Lot of them! It was awesome. So many talented photographers submitted their images. Aline and I took quite a while to agree on the winner. In fact, after hours of deliberation we finally selected two winners! The winners are Mike Peters and Deb Rouse Schwedhelm. Now lets get right to it! This is Part 1 of "Your Favorite Photo" contest. Here's the winning photo and a short interview with Mike Peters. Enjoy...
Obviously Aline and I both really liked your winning photo. Tell me about the people in the picture.
The photo is of Gabrielle and John with Charlie McCarthy at Coney Island, NYC. Some may wonder about Charlie, I know I did. I was on the pier when I first saw Gabrielle in the surf with Charlie sitting on his little red chair which you can see a bit of off on the right. I went down to the beach where I found Gabrielle was now with John and Charlie. We talked for a bit, shared a bit of rum and I shot some photos. They just brought him on a lark, and I'm still not sure why, but I'm glad they did. The photo was made during a lull in the conversation.
What was the first photo you can remember taking that got you hooked on photography?
The very first photograph that felt significant to me was made outside of Penn Station on 7th Avenue at the top of the escalator. Off to the left side there was a spot where there was an old homeless woman sleeping and swaddled in blankets, surrounded by all of her earthly belongings. It was 1976, the city was a mess, the homeless were everywhere and the police were scarce. I was on my way to the train back to NJ after visiting 47th Street Photo one day after school with a friend who had just purchased a lens. When I saw the woman I just picked up the camera and made the shot instinctively.
I shot in black and white, tri-x pushed to 1000 and developed in Acufine. Needless to say, it was grainy and very flat. It was pretty soft too as I was using a 2x extender on my 50mm lens and shooting wide open in low light. At that time, and for a long time after, I was still afraid of photographing people up close, so the extender gave me a bit of space between my lens and my subject. That photograph seemed to resonate with many people. I would be complimented on it many times, and that made me feel good. And, it was the first photograph I ever sold. I realized how powerful a photograph could be, and how much people could read into what they saw. At the time, and again for some time after, I was pretty shy and very unsure of myself. That photograph made me feel as if I maybe had something with photography. I've always said that photography saved my life. Up to that point in my life I was undistinguished in all facets of my life. Photography gave me something that I could do, a way for me to interact with the world and all of the people in it. I was very lucky to have become so single minded about it at an early age and to have never faltered over the years. I've always made my living as a photographer, and during that time have also always worked on personal projects. Thirty-seven years later, I'm even more passionate about making images than I was at 15.
Do you have a favorite pair of shoes? If yes, can you please describe them.
My favorite shoes are Ecco Track boots, which I've been wearing in various forms for about five years. I wear out a pair quite completely in about nine or ten months. They are waterproof, comfortable, durable and can be worn anywhere. I couldn't do my job without them as I make my living on my feet, which are very flat. Before I got these I tore my plantar fascia in my right foot. Every step was quite painful for eighteen months. Now, I'm good.
Name your top three movies of all time.
When it comes to my top three movies of all time, I'd have to say that number one is Frankenstein with Boris Karloff. That movies scared the hell out of me when I was a kid, yet I couldn't tear my eyes from it. The lighting and visuals were just perfect, Karloff was sublime, and the story is as relevant as ever. Number two and three would be Citizen Kane and Manhattan by Woody Allen, great story and great cinematography. Oddly enough, they are all in black and white, and I shoot only color.
What advise would you give a photographer just starting out today?
I currently shoot on staff for a university in NJ that has photography as a major, so I am often asked for advice from interns and when I speak to classes about what I do...
- First of all, you need to know who you are and what you're all about, as this will allow your work to be authentic at some point after you've synthesized the influences of your heroes. You need to develop your own point of view about the world.
- Read books, essays, short stories, go to the movies, visit museums, listen to conversations, watch people, learn to see the world you live in, study Rembrandt and Vermeer paintings to see how light can feel, find art that speaks to you and loose yourself in it.
- If you're going into commercial work, it is imperative that you assist other photographers and learn about what they do, how they run their business, how they organize shoots, the way they speak to clients, and the details of their technical expertise and creative vision.
- And if you do commercial work, always work on personal projects that you feel passionate about and that engage you in a way that is different from your professional work. This will keep you fresh and connected to why you picked up a camera in the first place. It's easy to get burned out on commercial work, but it's important that you don't let that happen. Ever.
- You will spend the rest of your life learning new things, so better to stay on top of technology and not get left in the dust and have to catch up the the pack. Read everything.
- Never ever give up and get a "real" job. When your friends and family ask if you're still doing the photography "thing" say yes and ask them if they are still doing whatever "thing" they are doing. Making a living at this can be difficult at times, especially when you see your friends working in finance or some other field doing well, buying things and going on vacations, and you may be struggling a bit. Don't let this get you down. In the long run your life will be much more interesting and rewarding than any desk jockey. Doing what you love every day makes up for a lot.
- Take what you do seriously, it's hard work and you only get better when you work at it constantly and regularly challenge yourself creatively and technically. There are no coaches who will prod you on and make you work harder, it has to come from deep inside. You have to want it and be willing to move out of your comfort zone as often as possible. If you're not completely exhausted mentally and physically at the end of a shoot, then you're not working hard enough. And you can double that on jobs that you think are boring. There are no boring jobs, only boring pictures. If it was easy, anyone could do it.
- Be fearless, but not foolish.
- Never mistake style for substance.
Thanks so much Mike and congratulations on your win!
See more of Mike's work at www.mikepeters.com