He was born in Stockholm in 1944. He was educated in photography and cinema. He started photography at a bar named Café Lehmitz in Germany in 1967. He opened his first exhibition consisting of the photos he took in the bar. He published his first book, Gröna Lund, in which he pictured an amusement park in Stockholm, in 1973. He published his book, Café Lehmitz, in 1978. The first volume of his work consisting of pictures of people living in a prison, a nursing home and mental hospital was published in 1984. He lectured about photography in the School of Photography in Sweden and about cinema in Göteborg University in 2003 and 2004. The works of Petersen, who organized workshops in Europe, Asia and America, are exhibited all over the world. Petersen was elected the ‘Photographer of the year’ by International Photography Festival in Arles in 2003. His exhibition dubbed Exaltation of Humanity, received ‘Special Prize of the Jury’ in the International Photography Festival in Lianzhou, China in 2007. It was also given Dr. Erich Salomon Award by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Photographie in Germany in 2008. Arles Contemporary Book Award went to J.H. Engström and Anders Petersen’s collaborative book From Back Home in 2009. The artist was a jury at BMW Prize in 2010. He has published more than 20 books.
I Put my Brain Aside When I Shoot
My photography is simple. It comes from my heart. I put my brain aside when I shoot. I don’t believe in objectivity in photography. Pictures are not good or bad in themselves; they are either more or less persuasive. A bad picture can be extremely persuasive. Our task as photographers is not only to record what is in front of the camera – our photographs have to show the traits of our personalities and temperaments. That is what makes a photograph more persuasive.
It is as if when you look at that tiny window of the camera, you also look back and watch yourself. A strong photograph is a product of a dialogue between the photographer and what is being photographed. This does not mean busying your mind with yourself; this means to lose yourself in the situation. This is both the strong and the weak side of my photography; occasionally I lose myself more than necessary. The trick is in trying to keep one foot inside the situation and one outside. Most of the time, I fail in doing this.
My platform is back to basic and primitive; We are members of a great family, with different cultures and traditions, with many different believes and religions. It’s up to me as a photographer (and as a man) to pay respect to that fact and try to understand the differences between people. But much more important, is to understand that we are brothers and sisters; that we are relatives to each other. I don’t look for the differences in people. I look for things we are sharing, which brings us together.
A photographer is a photographer together with his friends. During my short stay in Istanbul my friends reminded me of this fact several times. Without the help of people like Silva Bingaz, who generously invited us to hospitals, weddings and a home for old people, Halil Koyutürk, Erhan Akbulut, Yusuf Sevinçli, Gökşin Varan, Serkan Taycan, Burcu Göknar, Aylin Ünal, Süren Bingaz and my most talented and patient photographer-guide Mühenna Kahveci and the photo editor on Zaman Selahattin Sevi, I wouldn’t be able to shoot the picture of time in Istanbul.
I TAKE PHOTOS BECAUSE I LOVE PEOPLE
I worked on ethnic-religious groups in Turkey. I take photos of people. Photography is meeting people; getting to know them and approaching them. Actually a photo isn’t a photo; music isn’t music and art isn’t art. Here a camera has a meaning. I use my camera as an entrance card. I use it as a ticket to get into jails, mental hospitals, I mean as a ticket to get into somewhere. I feel myself privileged. It gives me the opportunity to meet with many gorgeous people and to learn something from them.
WE AREN’T ALONE, AS WE ARE A FAMILY
I produce my photos in order to be more humanitarian. I never consider myself alone. I am not alone. You may see photography as a family tree. There is someone on each branch of this tree. I can define myself there. I can see my roots on that branch. Swedish photographer Christer Strömholm (1918-2002) is a photographer who died at the age of 84. He opened a school of photography in ’60s and he raised nearly 1500 photographers in this school. The name of the school was “Christer Strömholm School of Photography”, I mean, many renowned Swedish photographers were raised at this school. To me he is the greatest international photographer. Ed Van Der Elsken is a Dutch photographer. Boris Mikhailov is a Ukrainian photographer from former Soviet Union. Now he isliving in Berlin. And of course there are Daido Moriyama from Japan, Danish photographer Jacob Aue Sobol, Lisette Model, Diana Arbus, Nan Goldin, Michael Ackerman from America. There are some photographers from France that I feel myself close such as Antoine D’Agata and Henri Cartier Bresson. There is Alberto Garcia from Spain. These people are my parts on my family tree. Do you know why I mentioned all these? Photographers may feel themselves bad and lonely while they were working outside. These photographers must have felt in the same way. I mean we are a family and we are not alone.
I THINK BEFORE AND AFTER I TAKE A PHOTO, NOT WHILE I AM TAKING
Photography gives me confidence. It is trying something and moving away from my intellectual side and approaching something with my heart. I am talking about returning to basis. Therefore, I close my intellectual perspective. I think beforehand. I don’t think while I am shooting a photo. Afterwards I think about it again. When I have a look at contact prints and when I am ___selecting the photos something starts to preoccupy my mind. I take one photo from there and one photo from here and I try to combine them and to build something on this basis. While shooting a photo, I try to use my heart, soul, and instincts rather than my brain. I prefer photos that put forward emotional side rather than intellectual side as I was ___selecting and sequencing the photos I took. I am trying to get to know myself and to establish a relationship between me and the person or object that I am shooting. In a way I am taking a portrait of myself with all its faults and merits. Therefore, I am a very bad photojournalist. I can only express myself. I don’t receive any work orders. I fund my project and afterwards I make money by this project.
I AM NOT CURIOS ABOUT ANSWERS BUT QUESTIONS
Since I rely on my feelings in my attitudes 1 plus 1 makes 3. I applaud backgrounds. In recent system we applaud knowledge. Beside intellectual background in my burden basket, I am trying to figure out life by behaving childish and silly. I want to approach a photo by alienating myself from information and knowledgesociety. I am curious just about questions not answers. I want to behave a little bit insane. I am trying to be faithful and I believe in people. I believe that everybody on the world is relative of each other. That isn’t made up. I believe in this way. This approach towards people opens new doors into anywhere. Then a person may feel at home in Sweden, Japan or Marseille. If you can see people in this way, you feel at home anywhere you go. That is a fact that facilitates taking photos for a photographer. It is a benefit of believing and trusting people.
THERE ARE MORE COLORS IN BLACK AND WHITE
Although there are different approaches in photography, your style is more special and genuine. In which category would you like your works to be evaluated?
- To me what is of primary importance is whether a work is convincing or not. Photography has nothing to do with bad or good shots. It is all about being convincing. Here we come up with the question, ‘but what is convincing?’. To me persuasiveness can be attained by being as convincing as possible behind the camera and by reflecting personality and temperament. Actually I don’t define my style. I don’t think I have a special style but I can tell that I have a special approach. I love people. You can see this distinction in all of my projects from my first project Café Lehmitz to the project I am going on in Soho, London in UK nowadays.
Are you completely independent while you are exposing your genuine language and style?
-Not actually. Rather, it would be more correct to define it as personal documentary photography. I think this is something else. I think documentary photography is very important. Actually this is exactly where my roots are. For instance, just like Ed van der Elsken and Christer Strömholm. We may define this style as composition photography, too.
What are the qualities of personal documentary photography?
First of all it has a personal working style, of course. In terms of personal documentary photography, it is an issue mostly about me. Here what I want to emphasize is my own personality. I don’t believe an objective truth exists. To me everything is subjective and that is what I mean when I say personal documentary photography.
How do you evaluate the differences between working as a freelance photographer and photography conducted attached to a certain media organ?
-One of the most important things that make a photographer working attached to a certain foundation advantageous is of course a fixed income. It is a fact that it is sometimes quite boring although sometimes it offers a very good and active working style. Actually I don’t think a freelance photographer has a big freedom. It’s because such a person firstly needs to have an income enough to sustain his or her life. He should be able to pay rent and bring home the bacon. It’s because if he was left alone the only person that could help him would be himself again.
Could you please evaluate these differences in terms of productivity?
-A freelance photographer must be more productive because his working style pushes him to be more productive and he needs to work harder. Most of my photographer friends don’t consider their occupations as a job. They adopted it as a life style in such a way that they keep their cameras with them even in bed.
Do you feel a sense of responsibility while you are taking photos? What kind of a responsibility is it?
-Of course, I am definitely driven by the sense of responsibility as I am shooting a photo. As I mentioned in the beginning, that is the ABC of this work. I can’t take photos unless I feel responsibility. I firstly act responsibly towards myself because I think if I didn’t act responsibly towards myself, I couldn’t be responsible for others. The only things that I think of while I am working are person or people before the camera and myself. I never think of other issues apart from these two main topics. I establish a balance between the person whom I am taking a photo of and me.
According to what do you _______select photography projects? How do you determine the topics?
- The most important feeling that triggers me is firstly curiosity. Besides are what I need, egoism, and finally my free will. I determine my projects and prevent myself from restraining myself as much as possible while I was producing my work.
What makes a photography project strong?
-I think the most important point is approach. An approach makes a photography project strong or weak. It would be correct to define approach as the basic and the ABC of this work. This should be the main platform of a photographer. Maybe several other factors may be mentioned. However, approach underlies them all.
Could you please tell the process in the aftermath of taking your photos?
-I process my photos by means of contact sheets. My photography has nothing to do with brain. When I start working I leave my mind aside and take photos with my heart. What matters really too much for me is that the work I am doing should be completely intuitional. I only undergo a thinking phase as I am starting a project. After completing the project I reconsider the topic of the project again as I was working with contact sheets and I behave very careful. That is one of the points that relates to the responsibility we mentioned.
You are one of the photographers that sustain black and white photography tradition. What is the main reason of it?
-I can say one of the leading reasons is habitude. Another reason is that I think there are many more colors in black and white photography than in colored photography. A black and white photograph doesn’t confine you to a certain color like colored photography and it enables you to _______insert your own colors into the photo by using your personal experiences, knowledge and imagination.
You use a compact camera while you are working. May we learn why is this?
-Maybe it is about my being a little bit foolish (!) because I have a kind of lazy point of view. I don’t want to go out of the topics I am familiar with because I think a camera should be simple and amateur. My ultimate aim and what means a lot to me is to get in touch with people and to show myself as realistically as possible to people across me. Besides, a camera is just a tool and I don’t think it has a big importance.
What is your opinion on “Türkiye’deZaman/Time in Turkey” project of Zaman Daily?
-I think this project is a very good and a nice work. It is a very pleasing work for me and other photographers that are invited. Hereby, I would like to thank you. The work you did is really worthy of commendation.
What kind of a work did you conduct for this project?
-I focused on people and groups from different religious origins.
Do you think of bringing all your works together in a book?
Yes, I do. I am collecting all my retrospective works into a book right now. The book will be on the shelves by 2013. There will be an exhibition in National Museum in Paris in addition to book. Additionally I have some other book projects but I can say that that is the biggest one.
You have some workshops and they attract a great attention.
Yes, I evaluate every possible workshop opportunity and I can say I learn a lot in this way. I can follow what is going on in terms of photography around the world via these workshops and I really like it. Also it is a great source of inspiration. When you get closer to my age, you need to have some stimulators that will stimulate you. For me stimulation comes from these workshops.
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►BEING PROFESSIONAL IS AN ENEMY OF A PHOTOGRAPHER
To be able to believe in your feelings… There are photographs that were thought over and fictionalized a lot. You may easily become a control addict. The biggest enemy of a photographer is to behave like a professional. I met many skilled people that behaved in that way all over the world. There is no harm in behaving ridiculous and in taking photos in the way you feel. I take photos of people left out of the society and that are trying to live under difficult conditions and I feel like them. I myself don’t want to live under the welfare shield offered by the society because it makes one feel a fake security. This security feeling existing throughout the society actually doesn’t reflect truths.
►A PHOTOGRAPHER ISN’T A NIGHTTIME THIEF
While I am taking photos, first of all I introduce myself and tell what I want to do. There is no need for deception and hollowness. No need to walk around the main issue like a cat, I directly ask. You need to be as direct and accurate as possible. I stand behind it and take its responsibility. I can share my photos with them after shooting. Except for the ones I met on street I, almost all the time, deliver the prints of photos to people that I took photos. I don’t want to approach people like a nighttime thief. I want to be able to look at their faces when I encounter with them again. I share something with them. If we behave in this way and persist on this attitude, biases of people against photographers may change. Above all is self-honesty and approaching a photo with heart.
►EACH PERSON IS SPECICAL
A photo must be psychological. I means more than one person’s getting closer to another person. You need to make a person feel special as you are approaching to that person. You need to make him or her feel unique. Doing so is up to us as photographers. You need to focus on that moment and there. For instance, in the mean time a plane may fall down but you won’t think of the plane. The only thing that should be focused must be the person you are taking photo of. It’s because he or she is your everything. What should a photographer realize when the work is done is he or she just started and that he or she needs to work more. Everyone has a personal accumulation, feelings and character. You make use of these as you are shooting a photo. You can succeed if your accumulation, thoughts and feelings work in cooperation.
►REVERSE PYRAMID OF KILLER
While I was conducting my project regarding a jail in Sweden in 1983 I took photos of the most vicious killer of Sweden, too. I asked the prisoner, ‘How did you become so famous?’ “Very simple” he said and added: “I sharpened the pyramid.” That sounded interesting to me but I didn’t get his answer. He tried to explain what it was: “You are on the base of a pyramid. This base consists of your family, your faiths, your friends, phone, Internet, television, drugs, alcohol and delicious foods. This is where your comfort is. You can’t do and produce anything when you are among these. You can’t develop a gorgeous thing there. You need to peel them as if you are peeling a banana. You need to stop seeing your friends and family and communicating with cats, dogs or your kids. You don’t need to speak on the phone and don’t watch TV. Don’t drink alcohol but drink water. Eat less and less. Cleaner and cleaner… You will reach to the top of the pyramid. Finally, you start thinking what to do at the top the pyramid. Then it appears what you will become. Then you start being dangerous. Then you start beating and attack. Then you become sharper just like a razor blade because you have to cut. Then you start cutting just like doctors do in surgeries. Under such a condition we need two tools, brain and heart. You need to reveal your ego so that you can carry out things that will impress others. In short, you sharpen your pyramid. Don’t believe in truths too much. Try to create your own reality. If you don’t expose your ego, you can’t create your reality. Then you won’t have any experience. “
►BE CURIOUS, ASK QUESTIONS, DON’T BE SATISFIED
You need to ask questions. You need to be curious. You need to be a little bit insane and you shouldn’t know the answers. Look at me, I am 67 years old and I am nutty enough. I am happy to define myself in this way. If one can’t be childish then there is no use in being old. In this way one can see events, people and the self in a different way. Japanese photographer Rinko Kawauchi can look at with the eye of a child and a woman. She is a great woman. Sometimes I make advices for myself. I have a black notepad and I write my advices on it. Some of these advices are, ‘Ask questions all the time. Work harder. Never be satisfied.’