Interview with Peter Liepke
# 1 Please introduce yourself
Hi, my name is Peter Liepke.
I grew up in St. Louis Park, a suburb of Minneapolis Minnesota, and moved to Los Angeles in 1979 to attend the Art Center College of Design.
After College I operated, and owned a commercial advertising photography studio in Los Angeles. In 1988 I decided to make a complete change in my work, and moved to New York City to specialize in editorial portraiture. At the present time I live with my wife, and 2 sons an hour north west of NYC in the beautiful Hudson Valley.
#2 How did you get interested in photography?
Photography was introduced to me in my junior year of high school by a fantastic teacher. Not only showing us technique, he also inspired the class in history by showing us works by all of the early photographic masters. As a truly gifted teacher his unbridled enthusiasm for photography became contagious to me and just about every kid in our school.
#3 Do you have an artistic/photographic background?
Yes, both of my parents were professional artists.
#4 Which artist/photographer inspired your art?
In regard to artists or painters I would say a small handful would be Whistler, Wyeth, and Hopper to name a few.
In photography Steichen of course, followed closely by Irving Penn, Lewis Hine, Bernice Abott, Leonard Missone and the Pictorialist movement.
Often times, however, what I also find equally inspiring are studying classic films with amazing cinematography, the work of great directors such as Martin Scorsese, and wonderfully written and performed pieces of music, or musical scores. All of these things come into play for inspiration in my photographs.
#5 How much preparation do you put into taking a photograph? Are you planning every step or is it completely spontaneous?
I never contrive images or plan them in advance. My current series ABOVE & BEYOND is an attempt to portray New York City through the eyes of an optimistic first time visitor, and based upon my introduction to the city many years ago. So on a certain day depending upon the weather, time, and quality of light… I may have a general idea as to what area or aspect of the city I’m going to portray that day, but that’s about it.
What is very common with the way I shoot, however, is that when I finally find an actual location in the city that moves me in some way, I’ll often wait there literally for hours until the right person enters the frame, or just the right momentary random circumstance occurs. Of which I’m usually able to get one frame of film exposed, and then the image is gone forever.
#6 What fascinates you in the places you shoot?
Emotion, light, timing, beauty, our relationship to each other, and how wrapped up we become in our own little world. At the same time while observing NYC from high above, wondering in the grand scheme if we’re each nothing more than a spec of sand on the beach. I’d like to think we’re more than that, but it’s all fascinating to me.
#7 We can see your photographs mainly in black and white, why have you chosen to present them in this form?
Challenges are what make life fun, and to photograph in Black & White I believe is far more difficult to do effectively than in color. As opposed to having the advantage of the complete color spectrum to work with… let’s face it for B&W the palette is pretty much limited to white, different shades of gray, and black. But with a strong subject or story to tell, effective composition, and light that’s really all you need.
My artistic philosophy is always that the final image dictates the process. New York City is a place that lives in Black & White so it was a decision that came fairly easily in its application to my series.
#8 Could you please tell us about your technique and creating process?
During my years spent in commercial photography I would look to the fine art masters for inspiration, and continually found that I was always drawn to the photographer/printmakers such as Penn, Weston, and Steichen etc. who always did their own interpretive print making. Through their sense of craft, and emotion they made the final print as important as the image itself.
As I entered into the arena of fine art, it became my mission /obsession to teach myself the time consuming 19th century Alternative Processes of Gum Bichromate, Platinum/Palladium, and Bromoil print making. So I spent a little over 2 years doing nothing else but that all day long 7 days a week practicing constantly, and with an enormous amount of failure.
All of my work is shot on conventional film ( Tri X) and then scanned into Photoshop to make enlarged digital negatives which are needed to produce prints using the varied contact processes mentioned above.
As opposed to film negatives, I prefer the look of my prints being produced via a waxed paper negative process that I researched and developed many years ago. The combination of different Gum Bichromate layers coated over the Platinum Palladium in contact with the added softness of the waxed paper negative is the best suited approach for my style of work, and the feeling that I wish to convey.
#9 Could you tell our readers how to reach such excellent results in photography?
Sure…. Having a thick skin helps, followed by a large dose in equal parts of hope, tenacity, hard work, practice, and don’t ever give up.
#10 What do you do in your life besides photography?
For most of my life I’ve had a passion for woodworking.
But my biggest passion, and most rewarding of all, is spending time with my wife raising our two teenage boys.
For me it doesn’t get much better than that, and doesn’t leave too much free time left over either, but that’s OK.
#11 What future plans do you have? What projects would you like to accomplish?
Through some temporary unforeseen obstacles with my health, at the current time I’m behind in trying to finish up with shooting the final portion of my series ABOVE & BEYOND. Upon completion of that, editing images for the book, and then making prints for exhibitions with my galleries.
Peter Liepke Official Website: