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An Interview with
Pete Turner
Chris Maher and Larry Berman
Featured in the November 2001 issue of
Shutterbug Magazine
Contains additional content
not in the magazine

Pete Turner Portrait by Doug Kuntz

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Pete Turner African Journey Introduction:
In the 42 years since he first visited Africa, Pete Turner has continued to search for unique relationships between graphic design and bold color that have enabled him to create a photographic style that is still recognizable today. In his latest book, Pete Turnerís African Journey (Graphis Press ISBN: 1888001992) you can see how some of his earliest images reflected that famous style and have remained classics for all these years. Additionally, his web site PeteTurner.com has over 130 images.
Chris/Larry: Let start by talking a little bit about how you started out. You studied photography at Rochester Institute of Technology, graduating in the class of 56. There were some great photographers in your class, people like Paul Caponigro, Bruce Davidson, and Jerry Uelsmann. How did this formal education in photography affect your vision, your ability to create the amazing color pictures that you are known for?

Pete: Our class was called the ĎGolden Classí as I recall. A lot of people studied with Minor White and Ralph Hattersley, wonderful teachers. In fact I was talking to Weston Naef, curator of photography at the Getty Museum and he said Ďyou know, somebody ought to come up with the idea of doing a group show of all you peopleí. It actually stuck in my mind that we are all kind of different disciplines. That kind of says something for RIT back in that period that there was a very opened minded group of teachers. So you can have a Jerry Uelsmann, and a Bruce Davidson, and a Ken Josephson, and a Carl Chiarenza, and a Pete Turner, all working together, however, all going in very different directions and being encouraged to do so.

Chris/Larry: Well you had, as you say, some great teachers. In addition to Minor White and Ralph Hattersley, you also had Les Strobel and Robert Bagby. There had to be quite a difference in the way Les Strobel approached reality then Ralph Hattersley.

Pete: Right. Bagby was wonderful with color and he came from like a very commercial New York background. Theyíre just really great people, Dick Zakia was also in the class.

Chris/Larry: Can you trace in any way the influences of those people on your work? Did they impart anything unique or any kind of world vision that you were able to work with later?

Pete: I canít really think that it worked like that. I looked over at what Bruce was doing, and went on to do, and I liked it very much but it really wasnít my style. Jerry Uelsmann was photographing very subliminal type of images that were about things we dream of, kind of surreal stuff, and that wasnít really where I was going. Everyone was a little different. Carl Chiarenza was into his graphic, black and white rich type of thing. Paul Capronigro didnít actually go to school there but he was studying under Minor White at the same time so he was around. Peter Bunnell was also in that group that we graduated with. Heís a historian and a curator. It was a diverse group.

Chris/Larry: Well, what about influences of other people? There is a surreal edge to your work. Did you study the work of Rene Magritte?

Pete: Absolutely, our teachers made it a point. They said you have to go to museums and study paintings as well as photography. Study the visual arts. And Magritte was also a wonderful influence. Maybe the person that really influenced me the most was Yves Tanguy. I just loved his paintings of these very weird and exciting shapes on the beach and things. Some of my composite work definitely drew from his arena I would think.

Chris/Larry: After school you had other opportunities. You went into the military after RIT, is that correct?

Pete: It was compulsory. Back then we got drafted and they didnít waste much time. I remember graduating, and soon after getting my notice from the President of the United States. Having a degree, I could have become an officer but I decided to be an enlisted man, a private, because you got out in two years. If you elected to go the other route then you had to keep going to meetings forever and you could get yourself shot at more frequently. I was lucky because I didnít have any wars to fight.

Chris/Larry: We read somewhere that there were some famous people in your Corp in the military.

Pete: In the Army Pictorial Center, yes. There were some celebrity types because they got into pictorial center. I was lucky. I was stationed in Indianapolis as a photographer on the base. One of my assignments was to photograph a General over there next to a sculpture. And he really loved the shot, called me over to his office, and said you should meet this Major Briarley over at the pictorial center in Long Island City. In fact, you should be working over there, not out of here. He picks up the phone and calls his buddy in the Marines and the next thing I know, Iím on a train going to New York. The Army Pictorial Center was unique. We were in the Second Signal Combat Team, which was joint services. That meant we could work with the Marines or the Army. They could use us on an as needed basis. I got to run a type C color lab when it had just got invented. So Iím making all these prints and its part of my on the job training. My assignments would be to take a subway ride into New York, shoot a lot of pictures, come back and print them to keep the mechanism going. Meanwhile Iím building a heck of a portfolio.

Chris/Larry: That sounds like a tremendous opportunity to work in color when color was very expensive and pretty rare really.

Pete: Incredibly rare at agencies. They only got to deal with dye transfers. Here comes a kid who walks into an advertising agency with 120 color prints under his arm. That got some attention.

Chris/Larry: What were the initial responses when you went out looking for work at magazines?

Pete: You know, amazingly well. I had done a respectable shooting at Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden right after I had gotten out of the Army. I had used some new high-speed color films that had just come out. It was real fun and I brought them up to Alan Hurlbert and he liked them and said lets hold onto these. And then the Africa trip came but when I came back they published that circus story. All of a sudden Iím getting a lot of promotion real quick.

Chris/Larry: What magazine was that published in?

Pete: In ďLookĒ.

Chris/Larry: Thatís certainly starting at the top.

Pete: Well, when I was a kid my father always said, Ďdonít be afraid to aim high, you can always aim lowí. So I knocked on some doors that I thought were pretty high. Some of them I got kicked out and others I got embraced. I was really lucky to meet Harold Hayes and be invited to work for Esquire Magazine. He was one great editor. You wouldnít have dared go off on a shoot and not come back with something spectacular.

Chris/Larry: When you did your Africa journey in 1959, you certainly came back with some spectacular things from that. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got that assignment? It sounds like a real plum.

Smiling Woman by Pete Turner
"Smiling Woman"

Pete: Well, it was really the big break, the seminal break of a lifetime. I was a kid who had just gotten out of the Army and I was approached by the people from Airstream Trailer. I had been doing some stock work through FPG at the time, the Freelance Photographers Guild, with Arthur and Hennrietta Brackmen. They introduced me to Pat Terry of Airstream. They said Ďhere is this kid, he just got out of the Army. He doesnít mind about going to Africa for half a year. That would be fun for him. He doesnít have anything to hold him backí. Itís true. When you get out of the Army after a couple of years of living in barracks with fifty or a hundred people mopping toilets and whatever, itís not a big deal to get in a trailer. So when I got approached it was good deal and I said, gee, Iím gonna get wonderful subject material. I really got excited and I guess my excitement caught on because the next thing I knew I got hired. When I got that assignment I went to Geographic and told them what I was about to do so they assigned me to do a story to shoot some of the natives. The funny thing is the story never ran, but they offered me staff afterwards.

Chris/Larry: And did you take them up on this?

Pete: No. I thought about it but the real estate of Geographic was kind of small in those days. You had ďLifeĒ and ďLookĒ and I liked to see my pictures big.

Chris/Larry: Lets go back to Africa. Camera equipment in 1959 was a lot more limited than it is today. What kind of equipment and how much film did you take?

Pete: I took 300 rolls. All Kodachrome. Some high speed Ektachrome. All 35 mm. I brought three Nikon SP cameras, rangefinders. Because other than that you were into view cameras but Nikon had the best glass. As a matter of fact, I still use Nikons today.

Chris/Larry: Speaking of glass, what were the lenses that you had for your SPís?

Pete: I think there was a 35. A 50 and 105 for sure. And for a long lens I had a 135.

Chris/Larry: Of the 300 rolls of film you brought to Africa, how much did you actually shoot?

Pete: All of them.

Chris/Larry: Did you run out before the trip was over or did you pace yourself to the end?

Pete: I worked it out pretty good, but I think I had to still had to get a few rolls sent. Geographic is really good about that and they had ways to do it. But itís not easy to get film shipped to Africa.

Chris/Larry: Especially in í59. How did you store your film?

Pete: The Airstream Trailer company built a special vehicle for me. The drinking water tank in the vehicle was somewhat like a vertical basement water heater, except this laid horizontally under my bunk. They arranged for me to have enough room on either side and on the bottom so I could pack my film. The water kept the temperature cool so when we got into the equatorial regions of the Congo my film wasnít burning up.

Chris/Larry: You have an interesting juxtaposition of two images in your African Journey book, one of a Ndebele womanís brass rings on her leg shot in í59 and another of some brass rings around a ladies neck that was shot in í95. Thereís interesting similarities and differences. When you intentionally revisited that subject what were you, as a photographer, thinking?

Pete: I went back three times to the Ndebele people. The first time was in 59 and I lived in the village for about a week and there is a little story about it in the book when the chief made me invisible. The second time I went back in 1970 and the chief had died. Most of the people no longer existed. Instead of straw roofs most of the roofs were corrugated tin. They had lost their charm. In 95 when I went back to the same general area near Pretoria where the Ndebele people live, there was no longer a village. There were a couple of ladies who kept the Ndebele wall painting tradition alive and one of them had really nice rings and I photographed her neck.

Chris/Larry: Itís interesting to see the how strong and clean your technique was in 59. You had a real grasp of using the material because I think either image would be comparable to anything anyone with skills could create today. I think the combination of seeing how you approached it in both ways is very instructive. Speaking of other things that you shot in Africa, that was still very formative point in your career. In the book you speak of an epiphany, a moment when you discovered the difference between finding a photograph and making one. You specifically mention your Rolling Ball photograph.

Rolling Ball by Pete Turner
"Rolling Ball"

Pete: That's as clear as yesterday to me. It happened in the middle of the Nubian Desert, where there isn't much to shoot. You go on and on and there's little shiny black rocks and sand, and little textures when the wind blows. And I had seen this hut with a triangular roof on it and thought, oh gee, that would be great to shoot because it was something where there's endless nothing. So around 4:00 in the afternoon, sunset would be around seven. It was still about three hours early I stopped there. I said, well I'm going to set up here. This is where I'll hang out tonight. And I'm going to shoot this place cause it looked kind of graphic and nice. The story is in the book. I walked around it and as I walked around it at different distances I realized that the sphere of the sun as it was setting would move. I could make it move visually along the edge of the triangle of the roof. And all of a sudden it was like the birth of an idea. I mean it was so simple. All of a sudden I'm saying whoa, I mean I'm not just finding things, I'm now making the photograph different by moving backwards and forwards. I was using a 105 lens, and positioning the sun in different ways and it's something I had been doing intuitively but I hadn't really realized it. But this evening when I was working I realized that this for me was the way to go. I don't have to just say, well OK this is it, and walk away, that there's always the opportunity to develop the idea further and make photographs better in my mind.

Chris/Larry: When youíre making pictures like this are you using a tripod or just walking around?

Pete: Just walking.

Chris/Larry: Youíve said youíre not a purist in terms of reality, that making a picture is the way you do it. That even includes moving things around, introducing unexpected objects. Like the tin cigar tube you shot in the Maasaiís ear in 1970, or that wonderful cannonball shot in Mozambique in 1980.


Pete: The cannonballs were really great because Iím leaning against them and they actually moved. And I said, Ďoh my Godí, because Iíd been to a million forts and I hate forts because theyíre boring. But my guide kept saying you have to see our fort. It was gorgeous, all white washed and everything. But then the cannonballs moved. I could pick one of these guys up and move it around and all of a sudden it was like a chess set. A visual chess set.

Chris/Larry: Was it filtered in any way?

Pete: Yes. I always like to carry a few rolls of incandescent film with me, type A or type B film. Especially at dusk because it enhances the blueness.

Chris/Larry: When you are shooting now do you still use that technique, or do you shoot with the knowledge can carry it further digitally and therefore shoot regular film? Is your choice of film as critical now?

Pete: No. I usually stick with daylight film. Digitally you can do anything afterwards and I would rather have the picture neutral. Like if I were to shoot Cannonballs today I probably would have shot it strictly with daylight, Once you change a picture to blue it is pretty hard to bring back all the colors again. The colors disappear.

Chris/Larry: Is there any limit to the way you can recompose an image in reality? Does this extend to the way an image can be digitally altered? Are there any limits in terms in manipulating the image? There are some photographers who are purists and feel that there is a certain point where they should not go beyond. Do you have any points that you have should not be passed?

Pete: Sure, I think that thereís a certain point that you should not go beyond. Like, ďPete Turner African JourneyĒ I decided would be a real book in terms of non-manipulation of reality. People might say that I manipulated color here and there and intensified things, yes. But there was a certain degree where I stop. I have other African pictures, many of them which are, youíd say are digital, or composited. None of those went in this book because I wanted to keep the book pure. To be real photographic, because you know weíre living in such an age where it is so easy to make photographs that are not real but are like composites in our minds. I kind of like to buck that trend and say hey hereís a book of real pictures, so these are real.

Chris/Larry: In your studio work youíve got some wonderful pieces with geometric shapes with color fields and such. Were those created in camera?

Pete: No. Most of those were done on a Maron Carrol optical printer or prior to that using an old Repronar with a Nikon body and lens on it with a souped up strobe system, to do compositing.

Chris/Larry: Have you ever been tempted to pursuing that kind of a vision digitally? Just starting entirely working with polygons and various computerÖ

Pete: Sure, you know it is always interesting to play around and my work has a lot of different facets to it. But in the African book I wanted to keep pure photographic. And not get into manipulative digital work.

Chris/Larry: In the past youíve done some intriguing in camera double exposure work. The image you took of the Statue of Liberty with the aircraft in 1962 comes to mind.

Statue of Liberty Double Exposure by Pete Turner
"Statue of Liberty Double Exposure"

Pete: I used to do a lot of in-camera multiple exposing and I used to use different filters when I was doing that. Like maybe trying a red filter, a blue filter, an orange filter. And maybe making two or three exposures on the same frame. Marty Forsher was a really good camera repair person and he had created this device where I could make double exposures on my Nikons before they built that feature in. What I liked about it was that I could do it after the fact in a duplicating machine. But I really liked the idea of the surprise when you got the film back (laughs). Lets say there was a lot of risk involved but there was really a thrill involved at the same time because you never really had it nailed down like after the fact in post where you can use grids and you can position things absolutely where you want. I did have some tricks though. Sometimes Iíd run the roll through the camera a couple of times, and sometimes Iíd do it on a frame by frame basis. But one of the things Iíd do, like with the Statue of Liberty, is go in tight on one exposure and then pull back and go wide on another so that allowed these different color fields to build up on each other.

Chris/Larry: And then when you were working in this way, when you were doing sequences and trying it, it must have been pretty exciting to see the stuff on the lightbox afterwards. That must have been the point of discovery right there.

Pete: It was total experimentation without any guides or grids. Just instinctive feeling that, well if I make the Statue of Liberty in this part of the exposure, and make the next exposure smaller, and positionedÖ I did drawings actually. I had a rectangular notepad with me and I make notations.

Chris/Larry: Were you using a grid screen in the camera?

Pete: No that was before that. They didnít even have them then.

Chris/Larry: Then of course there was the happy accident or the serendipitous moment when a jet plane would fly into the frame as you were shooting and then that would be juxtaposed. There were probably a lot of elements that appeared and ended up as part of the process.

Pete: Well yes, a bird or a jet, those were always welcome surprises.

Chris/Larry: Digital cameras, of course, donít allow double exposure but Photoshop makes the combining of images practically into childís play. How has this allowed your creativity to explore new realms? Or is that the ease of creation now taken some of the mystery or chance out of it?

Pete: Itís taken the mystery and chance right out of it. I made a decision a few years ago not to actively pursue composite work simply because there are so many people playing with these tools, that I just didnít really want to be in that lineup. And with the work that Iíve done earlier, some people call me the pre-computer photographer, the guy who did composites in the pre-computer era.

Chris/Larry: Tell us about how you shoot, how you relate to a subject, about your state of mind or the energies that you feel.

Cheetah by Pete Turner

Pete: Well, usually Iím pretty selective, especially on a personal project. Iím pretty selective about what Iím going to shoot and Iím going to go and Iím going to do that. Like with the Cheetah picture which is very green and rich and there is a lot of motion to it. I wanted to photograph a cheetah that day and when we did find that cheetah it was walking along a path and I was in a Land Rover. In between the path he was kind of walking and the Land Rover was an incredible bamboo, whole masses of bamboo that seemed to go on forever like along a stream or something. But you could see through them partially. So I had the driver match speed with the cheetah and the cheetah was kind of just walking, you know, doing what Cheetahís do, staying the same distance, which was great. So Iím just shooting like a 500th and Iím shooting and Iíve got half roll already and Iím seeing bits of pieces of him, and Iím saying thatís really interesting.

Chris/Larry: With the 105?

Pete: Probably a 105 or a 200 or something in that range. You know, after I got a certain amount of film in the can so to speak, you start saying what do I do now? The motion is really great and we had something going on between the driver and the cheetah. They were really locked in to the same speed and I said lets take this down to like a 125th, and I shot a few frames. I said, why not try a 60th and I shot off a few more and then I said the hell with it why not go to a 15th, you know (laughs), Iíve got enough pictures. I shot that roll off and I reloaded and I kept right on going. I straddled the exposures around a 30th, a 15th and an 8th, which was too blurry. But I shot another whole roll.

Chris/Larry: Just experimenting with the possibilities.

Pete: Right, and youíve got to realize that I am in Amboseli Park, in Kenya, in Africa. And it is 1969. So, Iím shooting this and I shot it, and thatís the way I work, sort of intuitive, winging it a bit. Get back to camp, forget what I shot that evening and the next day Iím shooting something else I donít remember. I forgot all about it. It wasnít till like three four weeks later when Iím back in New York looking at the processed film and here come up two rolls of cheetah. First frozen looking pretty static. And then all of a sudden there is some liquidity going on and then all of a sudden itís like, Ďoh my Godí, the motion, look at the feeling. A lot of time would go by. Things are quicker today especially for digital, people using digital, instantaneous. But back then a month might go by, and you might even forget what you had shot.

Chris/Larry: Itís interesting too, to note the color of that particular shot, I saw it published in your Pete Turner Photographs book (1987) and of course you put it in your Pete Turner African Journey Book.

Pete: The reproduction is awful in the first book.

Chris/Larry: In the first book it is extremely green. It is bright green. I think the information in the first book says you used a cc30 green filter to push it towards the green, where is in your African Journey Book the cheetah is much more tawny. Would you say that is just a reproduction issue or was that more your vision?

Pete: That was the reproduction. In the Pete Turner African Journey book the picture was reproduced exactly the way that I intended it to be. In fact I was on press for that book. On the other book I was not on press. That picture was probably the worst reproduced picture in the Turner Photograph book, the picture of the cheetah. Every time that I see it I cringe. Cause it looks like printerís ink, you know.

Chris/Larry: Letís talk a little more about the way you approach your color work. When you are working with a colorful subject how much is pre planning and how much of that is spontaneous reaction to your subject?

Pete: Well, it depends. When I have the opportunity Iím usually excited by color. Color is what attracts me. I think the reason Iím successful with color is that itís a level of taste. Itís a little bit like Christmas tree lights in Los Angeles. In LA youíll see Christmas trees that are done in silver with all sorts of lights on them and it will yank your eye open to it. And once you look at it you say, my god this is ugly. Color is hard to control. There are very few people who can really control it. I donít know if Iím answering your question. Iím talking more about color.

Chris/Larry: Knowing the difference between strong colors that are gaudy and strong colors that have impact and tell a story. Thatís really your hallmark, thatís what you have accomplished so well, yet, as to describe it and how that vision has come to be is something I think people would be very interested in.

Pete: Itís a matter of taste. Itís a matter of what feels right to me and I donít like gaudy things. I advise photographers not to put a polka dot filter on their lens simply because it would be a wild color and people will look at it. You might get their attention but theyíll look away because it has no content, it wonít hold you.

Chris/Larry: We also noticed that you used shadows to create a lot of black negative space.

Pete: I like mystery and I think mystery is an important part of what I can give a picture when I am working.

Chris/Larry: Lets talk about your shot ďNew DawnĒ, the shot of the volcano in 1973. That is a phenomenal image. Thereís of course the negative space and the incredible color in the sky. Can you tell us a little about that when you were working with that subject? What lens you chose, did you filter the image? How did you come up with such an amazingly dramatic image? Obviously a volcano erupting over the town is a dramatic event, but your handling of it was astounding.

New Dawn by Pete Turner
"New Dawn"

Pete: Well, it was luck. Favoring a person that was well positioned. We were pretty battle weary, I had been on the island about 20 hours. We were in a house covered with tin with pieces of lava raining down all night long. People were trying to nap. I had taken enough night shots and was just starting to doze off when somebody shook me and said you better get out there, itís incredible. I ran around the backside of the house and hereís this incredible arc of lava spewing, going off to the left side of the volcano. I loaded type A film, I was still doing that, because I wanted to enhance the color of dawn. That was where I was lucky. It was first light so it allowed me, it was the same thing that I had done with the Cheetah, to crank down the shutter speed and let her rip. I had enough density in the sky so that I could stop down, and go for 15, 20, 30, 45 second exposures.

Chris/Larry: Are we still talking hand held?

Pete: No, no, Iím on sticks. The volcano was pretty close, I was using a 50. I went back there, itís on my web site www.PeteTurner.com and people should check it out. I went back there and as you can see I wanted to get the same view. I went to the same house and none of my lenses would cover that angle. I went to a camera store and said to the guy, Iím a photographer from the states. Do you have a Nikon camera? He said yes, I have a real old one. I said what do you got? So he showed me and it had a 50 on it. I said, can you let me borrow that lens? He said sure. And I said, well listen, you must want something down, a deposit or something. I said, hereís an F5. I said Iíll loan you this to look over. His eyes lit up and I had the same exact lens and I was able to do it. And I have those Aíd and B/d on my web site. Which also features pictures from African Journey. Thatís www.PeteTurner.com.

Chris/Larry: Itís a very nice web site. I think I counted over 130 different images on there that people can come and look at. Itís beautifully laid out. Do you sell prints off of your site? Is there some way that people can buy Pete Turner originals?

Pete: You can click on it to order books from Amazon or Graphis and there is a place that they can call me if theyíre interested in prints.

Chris/Larry: As far as the whole purpose of your web site. Did you see the web as a marketing tool or another publications medium? How did you approach your web site?

Pete: Well, my approach on the web really is to have a presence on the web that I can refer people to. Itís a resource for people that want to know about you or what you do. Itís great because itís not like a magazine that comes and then goes. Itís up for anybody anywhere. And I realize that. I really havenít tried to use it as a heavy marketing tool in any way. But itís always there if I want to do that.

Chris/Larry: What kind of equipment are you using now? Youíve used Nikon all your life.

Pete: I use a Nikon F5 and a complete assortment of lenses.

Chris/Larry: When you go out and when you shoot on a personal assignment, do you take a large compliment of lenses, or do you carry a minimal kit?

Pete: I really like the Nikon 14mm, itís a beauty. And I like the 18Ė35 and 70Ė300 zooms.

Chris/Larry: So you do use zooms as well as fixed focal length lenses.

Pete: Yeah, I never used to but theyíve gotten so sharp and they are so light.

Chris/Larry: What about digital cameras? Do you work with the Nikon D1?

Pete: Yes. I have a Nikon D1. Itís a lot of fun. It saves you the trouble of scanning.

Chris/Larry: I know you used to be a big Kodachrome shooter and weíre all grateful that you were because Iím sure a lot of the pictures of African Journey wouldnít be with us this many years later if you had shot them on a less permanent media. What films do you shoot today?

Pete: Iíve been shooting Ektachrome VS, and Fuji Velvia but unfortunately Iíve not been shooting that much Kodachrome.

Chris/Larry: Do you see much difference in the scans you get from your shots you do on your Kodak and Fujichrome transparency materials versus the tonalities and colors you would get out of your Nikon D1 camera?

Pete: Oh theyíre different.

Chris/Larry: Is that something you think is a positive difference? Or do you find that the differences are notÖ

Pete: Theyíre just different. Itís like TV versus film. I donít know why. I mean, I could be wrong. Remember the old days where theyíd say oh thatís shot on video and thatís shot on film.

Chris/Larry: And you can see a difference in the tonality or the dynamic range?

Pete: Thereís different things going on. Like when you go into adjustments in the curves and levels. Youíre going to go in and do different things with it in order to get it to where you want it.

Chris/Larry: I remember reading an article that quoted you saying that you photographed with an optical printer in mind. That was about 20 years ago. Now that youíre using Photoshop, do you shoot with Photoshop in mind the way that you were said to have shot with an optical printer in mind?

Pete: No. I think that PhotoShop is wonderful. I think that the digital darkroom is great. And there are so many more things that you can do with it than you could in a conventional darkroom. The only thing that I have to complain about is that your eyes get tired looking at a monitor. You know itís one distance all the time. I think everybody could relate to that. I miss the movement in the dark room youíre actually moving around and doing stuff. Your digital darkroom is basically your screen, your keyboard, and your tablet or mouse.

Chris/Larry: Do you do all your own Photoshop work?

Pete: I do most of my retouching and stuff. I work with Autumn Color with a fellow by the name of Mark Doyle, who is a wonderful digital artist and helps whenever I have problems. Weíve been printing using Fuji Crystal Archive.

Chris/Larry: I actually spoke with Mark. He explained about the Light Jet prints he is producing for you on Fuji Crystal Archive paper, and that they are really beautiful. Do you have any upcoming shows that you will be exhibiting them at or any galleries where your original prints can be seen?

Pete: Not right now. Weíre currently working on gallery representation. And weíre building an archive of my best work, which is something that I havenít done for many, many years because when dye transfers stopped, well thatís a whole other story. You have to pick your process, and a lot of people are being seduced by the ink jet process. Iím personally using an Epson 3000, but Iím using it for proofing, because I still like photographic prints.

Chris/Larry: Iím curious as to your advice that you would give to young people today. People who are starting and wanting to get into a photographic career?

Pete: Donít get in the business (Laughs) stay out of the business. Iím just kidding. I think that photography is a wonderful, wonderful profession. I do think itís gotten tremendously overcrowded though. Thereís a lot of schools and everything. It was a lot simpler when we went to RIT, and itís not as exciting in terms of magazines and outlets to market your work. So it has to have gotten tougher out there for people.

Chris/Larry: Would you recommend that people follow a formal education path of a school like RIT?

Pete: I definitely would. Especially schools like RIT where they can learn to use the computer and maximize their abilities on it. Going forward, the camera and the computer are one basically. Theyíll be spin-off people who might want to do processes like daguerreotypes or things in the old way. But, thereís no getting around it that digits and pixels have taken over grain or if they havenít already they certainly will. They have for a long time in the advertising world where the separators and processes have been digital for years. There were Hell and Crossfield scanners way before Photoshop. I used to use them.

Chris/Larry: And now you have it on your desktop. What a difference. When you are out shooting, you say that you do not create specifically with Photoshop in mind. Do you still proof on a light box? Do you still look at the transparencies?

Pete: Thatís the one thing I miss with digital imaging. I like to handle chromes on a light box. I like to compare exposures and different colors. I like to look at a roll of film. I like to handle it and spread it out on a light box. And I like to, if Iím submitting for something, select things. I like to put them on a real light box, look at them, group them together. And itís different doing that on your computer. Does it make any sense to you?

Chris/Larry: Absolutely. You can look at hundreds of slides in a minute, while reviewing that many on todayís computer equipment can take much more effort. Sounds more like itís an emotional rush you get from viewing those transparencies.

Pete: Yeah, itís much more exciting.

Chris/Larry: Are you archiving or digitalizing your film with archival permanence in mind? Your earlier slides, particularly the stuff you shot backÖ

Pete: Thatís one of the things Iím doing with Mark. Weíre scanning and printing and basically building a digital archive of my best work.

Chris/Larry: And from that archive then you will make prints on a selective basis for your gallery shows?

Pete: Thatís basically the idea. We actually have a plan. It took a while to get around to it.

Chris/Larry: Things are changing all the time. The possibilities that exist today are far different than the ones, when you were working with a Repronar and were experimenting with saturated colors. You have to push the limits wherever they are.

Pete: We needed to use the computer because Pete Turner African Journey contained images that were fading. Given a few more years, some of them would have been absolutely been useless. We brought them back from oblivion, from fading oblivion. The things that were shot on high speed Ektachrome in Africa in í59 were on their last leg.

Can Earring by Pete Turner
"Can Earring"

Chris/Larry: I see also that there was a shot in the 70ís of an Agfa film can in one of the nativeís ear. Was that one of your Agfa film cans? Were you shooting Agfa back then?

Pete: Oh no, these people actually use these things. Their Masaii, and they actually used to use rocks to enlarge their earlobes, and the rocks are heavy and uncomfortable. They liked anything hollow that they can stick in there. Thereís a guy who even has pineapple can stuck in his ear.

Chris/Larry: Itís a very colorful shot with the pineapple can.

Pete: Yeah. That was his can. It wasnít mine.

Chris/Larry: Iíd always read that you have always been a science fiction buff and now that we have had our first tourist in space, Dennis Tito, have you ever had dreams of going to space yourself and creating art and photographs in outer space?

Pete: Yeah, itís wild. I mean you can just imagine the things that have to be out there to be seen. Iíve seen these Hubble shots of the pillars of creation and can only imagine what the rings of Saturn can look like. Itís very humbling.

Chris/Larry: You certainly would be working with some dark shadows and some long dynamic ranges.

Pete: The good news is, in the digital world Iíll be able to transmit data and people will be able to see what is going on.

Chris/Larry: Right. You wonít have to worry about keeping those 300 rolls of film cool when youíre in outer space.

Pete: Just as long as you rotate them a little bit.

Authors Note: After we finished the interview, we called Pete Turner back and asked him to describe a few more of his images

Boat Wake

Boat Wake by Pete Turner
"Boat Wake"

Pete: Boat Wake is really an interesting image. It was done in Scandinavia in one of the big Fjords. I think it was Geiranger Fiord. Fjords are like lakes that are between mountains that are really tight. So you have these walls on either side of the water. They go up pretty high and so they act like natural shading devices, or what we call gobos, on either side of the water. And that allows the sky itself to reflect straight down on the water and not be washed out by other things. Even if these mountains were in shade youíd get a perfect reflection on the water. I noticed like ripples when the boat would turn. This boat made a sound. Its engine was going putt, putt, putt, putt, putt. You know engines sound like that. And Iím looking out the back and Iím seeing, visually, the sound of the engine in the water making these wonderful little rippling, you know parallel tracks of ripples. Itís probably a double engine boat. Am I making sense to you?

Chris/Larry: Oh yes, and actually Iím looking at the picture on the monitor as youíre describing it. So, thereís almost a synergy between the sound waves and the water waves and the way in which you caught the light waves. The way it all wrapped together. It came off as a wonderful abstraction. It has the energy of the waveform through it.

Pete: An absolute visual documentation of the way the motor was pulsing.


Push by Pete Turner

Pete: I was down in Florida, on the West Coast, taking a break. I was sitting by a pool at like a hotel and I saw this trash can, and it was yellow and red. And I said wow, I had never seen a trash can like that. It was great color and I said, boy, that would look terrific but not against that wall. And then I look over to the right and I see the Gulf, which has this beautiful water and a wonderful blue sky, a clean sky, you know nothing in the way because itís the beach. So I said, well, what the heck. Having shot in the studio quite a bit, Iím used to moving things around, Iím not a purist, and I just went and grabbed the pail and brought it down to the beach. And then I had yellow red and blue sky and even a touch of green in the water that doesnít really show up. Then it became an architectural. I like to shoot to please myself. I mean that basically I am a photographer who always liked to go and shoot things for fun, and I always have a camera bag or something with me. So I dragged the thing over to the beach and right away I noticed that I could have fun with the horizon on the water which is a perfectly straight line. And I can either line it up with the top of the yellow.

Chris/Larry: Itís like the Rolling Ball.

Pete: Yeah, itís done after Rolling Ball. Right, Iíd learned. Or I could get down lower and maybe cut the yellow and red. It became a really fun exercise in graphic design and color.

Chris/Larry: Interesting, so then when you had shot that, did you, at the time you created it, seeing those colors, have a good understanding of how it would come out, how the slides would reproduce at or was that also a discovery on the lightbox?

Pete: No, no, no. I knew, I knew what would happen. I mean, thatís a single exposure, youíre making a picture, and you have a very good idea of how things are going to work.


Texascape by Pete Turner

Pete: I was driving along. I show this at lectures and talks. Usually the people will say where did you find those great antique cars. It was 1968 in Texas, and I drove by this car lot, it was getting to be a beautiful sunset too. And all these lights were on it. And I hit the brakes. And Iím a wide angle, I like wide angle lenses anyway. I pretty well set up right there. I did few variations but thatís the one I really like. 

Chris/Larry: So just as you were driving the possibilities grabbed you. You saw the light on the cars and saw how it all could come together just as you went by.

Pete: That was a find, it was a situation that you knew was interesting. And then you go up to it and make the picture because itís just shouting to say, you know, photograph.

Road Song

Road Song by Pete Turner
"Road Song"

Pete: I think it was Kansas City in 1967 and I was on assignment for Life Books working in some museum photographing Chinese artifacts. As the airplane was landing I noticed this white fence just went on forever along the side of the airport runway. And I said gee, that would be interesting to photograph so I have to try to get here. So anyway, Iím in Kansas City shooting this museum. Itís very stuffy and after you work in there for a few hours you want to get out of there. So anyway, at the end of one dayís shoot I left a little early and said Iím going back to that place where there might be a picture. And I followed the road, and I knew right away, basically I really like wide-angle photography and I kind of see wide angle, kind of like a 20mm guy. Fell naturally in love with the 18, even now the 14. Straight-line wide angle lenses are incredible. Anyway, I knew that graphically this was the beginning of a good picture. So I set up there, hung out there and waited for the day to finish, the colors to get rich. The cars were going back and forth. And I figured Iíll get a car to get some interest, you know, along the road. The funny thing is you donít really see the road anymore but you do see the taillights of the car. Actually, I have another version of that where a car is coming at the camera with two headlights, but I like the red lights.

Chris/Larry: Was that your car?

Pete: No, no, actually there was traffic that was going back and forth. As the light changed I just shot different vehicles.

Chris/Larry: Did you shoot that with tungsten film?

Pete: I did a mix, yeah, a blue one would be tungsten. The other version would be daylight, a warmer version.

Pete: You know, just as an aside, a lot of times in this world of photography people, art directors like to dream, and with people using key words itís a real problem, you know what I mean?

Chris/Larry: Sure, how are they gonna know the feeling and essence of something by putting a key word in.

Pete: Theyíre not, and itís the same thing with like Push.

Chris/Larry: Right, you wouldnít be satisfied if you were just looking for pictures of trash pails and the Gulf of Mexico. Neither one would describe the image that you created.

Pete: I think you know, thereís a real area to be solved because key words are not enough for people who dream and like Roadsong has very little to do about roads.

Chris/Larry: Itís more of a mood, a feeling and a mood and an essence that you managed to capture.

Sand Dune with Tree

Sand Dune with Tree by Pete Turner
"Sand Dune with Tree"

Chris/Larry: The image, actually itís a sequence of images that you managed to capture, in your African Journey book, and that is the sand dune and tree. The sand dunes are so massive and yet you handle them with such elegance. Can you tell us, when you were shooting there, how you responded to that situation.

Pete: Well, Iíd heard about the sand dunes. Theyíre in a special place in Danebia. And I knew they were huge, and they donít go forever. Itís just one section. But what does happen and whatís really exciting about them is the way the light changes in a period of a day. Sand dunes, you can look at them at 8:00AM and you can look at them at 10, thereís a change. And then of course in the afternoon you get a whole different light. The contours of the sand dunes are in continual change. Itís a little hard to articulate this because in nature the change is kind of slow, I mean you just donít stand in one place for 12 hours and watch the sun go across the sky. But I think to see the biggest change, you have to go away and then come back. Like you go away maybe shoot some place in the morning and come back in late afternoon you really can remember big changes. But those sand dunes are like, they evolve like, I donít know how to articulate this, itís just that theyíre always changing so because as the light moves you get different shadows and forms and different texture. I donít know if Iím making any sense. Thatís why thereís a series in the book to kind of show how the light does different things. Thereís one picture and then there are four smaller ones.

Chris/Larry: And each of the smaller ones has a whole different graphic feel and of course the larger one has such impact because of the size of the tree is giving it an amazing scale to the sand dunes.

Pete: Yes. But itís still the same place, itís interesting.

Hot Lips

Hot Lips by Pete Turner
"Hot Lips"

Pete: It was a period where every magazine you picked up, especially the womanís magazines, youíd get these perfect contoured lips with all these beautiful shades of colors and with a glosser over them. You know, typical Revlon, typical makeup. And I thought it would be fun to do a more primitive look. So we got a makeup person and we actually painted the lips with red paint. We didnít try to beautify her. But they are beautiful. But I mean theyíre just kind of raw, you know. We wanted a kind of raw look as opposed to this super sophisticated slick look that everyone was doing in Vogue and Bazaar.

Chris/Larry: And so when you shot this you were working with those rich deep shadows to add to the rather raw, or as you say, the lips in Vogue and such are so perfectly lit and they show so much of the gloss. So your feeling was to go for an earthierÖ

Pete: A look that didnít look so refined. This was just the opposite. It was done as part of a series, Iím not sure, I think it was actually done for a record cover.

Hawk in the Tree

Hawk in Tree by Pete Turner

Pete: A wonderful place called the Ngorongoro Crater just adjacent to the Serengeti Park. When you go down in the crater you have a wall behind you and youíre able to get interesting colors. Instead of just the sky itís really like a mountain, itís not rally a mountain because youíre inside a crater but itís like a mountain behind you.

Chris/Larry: It looks like blue hills.

Pete: Youíve got these wonderful greens and blues that work together. That was what intrigued me about that.


All Images on this Page © Pete Turner 
Pete Turner Portrait © Doug Kuntz
Contents of the Interview © 2001-2002 Chris Maher and Larry Berman
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