Interview with Vincent Peters | Part 1
A few months ago, we sat down with genius photograph Vincent Peters at Joe Allen’s in Paris and since then, we kept secret our conversation with him. We kept his fashion intel for us. We kept his view on fashion, his tips, his lessons. We kept everything. But eventually, we thought the world would be a better place with everyone being inspired by so much experience, talent and unique approach to fashion photography. So here it is, the retranscription of our interview ! Read it ’till the end and next week, we’ll deliver the second part !
Hi Vincent ! How are you today ?
We’ll start with the basics : where are you from ?
You miss Germany ?
You know what, it’s not as bad as it reputation is. I think it’s not a very ambitious place but it’s very clean. I left in 88 before the war came down so you know, I was 18-19 yo and I don’t even remember anything.
Can you tell us a little bit of your childhood ? if it’s not indiscrete !
Ah my childhood ! My childhood was a mess. I got kicked out of every school I’ve ever been to and one day I discovered you can make money… uh no, that I liked photography and that kind of saved me. But until I found a camera, it was only Starbucks, McDonald’s, Quick… I had a big choice of career chances !
So when and how did the breakthrough happened?
Yeah, you know, I mean, for me, it was different because my mom and dad are art teachers so when doing commercial work, you’re not gotta get invited for Christmas anymore in my house, so I was a little, I basically wanted to be an artist and I tried to do that until I was almost 30. So I was in NY, I was an assistant, but I was really poor until I was 30 and I started to starve of it. But until then, I tried to do galleries and I did hum you know le “Mois de la Photo” in Paris, and then I moved to England and I was trying to do just pictures and I never thought to actually really make money with it so I thought you know what, if you pay your coffee then you have a good day ! Then at some point, I was… I really needed money, I was really broke so I started doing tests for the agencies. Because somebody told me if you shoot models you gonna get paid for it. So a friend of mine gave me pictures that weren’t my own and I went to an agency and said look I shot all these and they were like “oh pretty nice” and they gave me some girls and I started doing some tests and it didn’t really worked out because nobody wanted to work with me and some times, at some point, a make-up artist said “look I’ll do this with you be you got to be serious about it” and I was oh the motherfucker. And then you know that’s not like there is no breakthrough but uh, it’s true to say that in the end, it worked pretty quickly. It was a very different time for photography but at some point I was… I has a really good agent and then I had this season where I worked for Miu Miu, for Saint-Laurent, for Botega Venetta… I mean honestly, I did more work than I do today. In that particular time, it was a boom you know and I think it’s also a little… excessive you know. You feel like the trendy god is throwing everything at you. And then you got to deal with it.
Was it always photography ? because you said you wanted to be an artist.
I have no other talent. You know what ? Seriously, my mother can draw, my sister can draw and I couldn’t do that at all so I’m lucky I could get my hands on a camera !
I actually read about the day you met Giovanni Testino. Can you tell us about it ?
Yeah ! Funny story ! I walked into his office and dropped off my book because that’s what you do in NY and the next day I went again and I picked it up and obviously they were like “thank you for coming” and I was like come on tell me something, look I came here, just tell me something. And she was like “well, you know, (I was standing next to the door) this is a very high end agency and you’re a kind of young photographer but you know we are very commercial, it’s a lot about money”. And then, true story, Giovanni walked out of his office and asked the girl I was talking to “Do you know Vincent Peters ?” and she was like “That’s him !” and he told me to come into his office. And you know, meeting Giovanni Testino it’s like meeting Marlon Brando in The Godfather !! So I don’t really know how this happened but suddently… I think I worked with an art director because it was right time, right place. And he was like what do you think. And then it somehow didn’t work out and he came back to me and then I worked in Paris. And then he came back again, that was like six months later and he says “well you know, I think some women in this agency was like he’s too young and he’s kind of weird so don’t take him so then he said fuck that I’ll do it”. And back in the day they were three or four photographers, there was his brother and it was really small. And that was it! Suddently your on the other side of the river you know. That was really impressive.
What’s your routine to prepare for a shooting. I mean what do you usually begin with ?
Hum I think I start by thinking I don’t know what the fuck to do with this job, it is so ugly what they want me to do, uh. And then I’m thinking okay let’s find an angle. I have this huge library I invested millions in books, I mean thousands but I have a lot of books ! I was really not afraid you know and it’s true that I had no education and in fashion there is a lot of culture to it. You know it’s like which photographer did what at what time, especially today when fashion is more defined by stylists and they like to reference it all so you got to be aware for example when someone says I want to do it like Bianca Jagger at Studio 54, you can’t be like “uuuh ?” ! If he says you know I want to do it like nouvelle vague or like an Italian Monica you got to be prepared to take the ball and play it back. So I think especially when I started off, you got to be really aware of references. So it took me a while to educated myself and in the end photography is a really interesting field. I mean I really like it. And I surrounded myself with every reportage… But fashion is also, in any means, a parasite, because I think it has nothing on its own. It constantly feeds itself, it’s like a vampire, it feeds itself on others, it feeds itself on other crafts, images, visuals you know. Because, in itself, it doesn’t have anything to say. It’s an interesting part of fashion because it constantly needs to digest food from other tables you know. Because it doesn’t produces anything. It produces fucking shoes and bags you know.
Apart from personal projects, almost everything a fashion photographer does is commissioned. What’s left really for you to express what you want in a picture? Do the artistic directors leave enough space to photographers today?
I think the problem is different. I think the problem is.. When I started off we really wanted to do something you know. Maybe it was lame to burn some bridges but you really wanted to piss people off : do something that hasn’t been done and I think it was really conceptual. Definitely for the Face, which was really like the bible back then, you could only work for them if you had something to say the other ones didn’t do so I was really wanting to do something new. And I think today it degenerates : if I look at editorials, every photographer only looks like he’s trying to get an advertising job for he’s work. He’s only trying to please, instead of thinking like I did : “How far can I go with this magazine ?”. And I’ve definitely gone too far because a few kicked me out but I was always trying to keep the line without calling any names and thinking what would they print and a lot of times you find that your ambition to cross the line is too… you know today no photography schoolboy throws a rock at their teachers.
I don’t even think there is room for… I think that time is not really there and I’ve seen what young photographers do and they do what has been done before, they do it really well. Everybody wants to be Mert and Markus. They do what others do. And they just do it better. And I think it just became a photography process. It happens in historical tendencies : most haven’t invented anything. They did better than the other that’s all. At some point I think it becomes a very tiring process if you only do what others do and you try to do it more or less as good. You can’t do it better because that’s not even your ambition because you want to please and you don’t want to close doors, cross lines or break anything.
So how do you explain for example the success of Terry Richardson ?
Hum. Terry Richardson’s success I don’t know. I hate to talk about other photographers. But his success is based on the fact that the whole teenage sex thing is kind of exciting in one side. On the other side I think it’s a very American thing. I don’t think Terry is much related to the American culture and this kind of like “Oh my god it’s four naked models!” was maybe very necessary but I think it’s a very controlled enfant terrible fashion likes to have to feel. You know the biggest monster in fashion is boring. Because everybody is fucking boring. The fear of boredom or to die is the greatest motivation to make it to the next day and I think Terry, to a certain point, provoques people and doesn’t really hurt anybody you know. I think Juergen Teller is a really good photographer and I think he is really going far. Helmut Newton at his point really brought something in. I think Terry kind of does what they do and it’s like a TV-show when someone calls somebody a bitch everybody is like “oh!” but it’s nothing very radical there anymore. It’s like all the producers approved. It’s like MTV. It’s like Jackass. You have to go there to keep a certain audience but the point is the audience not the expression you have.
Can you tell us about your material, which camera and lenses you mostly use?
I never changed my camera since I was 17. I have a Mamiya RZ medium format. I always shoot film you know. I have some clients that say “you don’t shoot digital we don’t work with you” and I’m like okay no problem. But I don’t like digital. I think the whole process did a lot of damage to the industry and there isn’t a single photographer I spoke to who didn’t agree with that. So far I get away with it. I can hardly imagine Peter Lindberg’s career in digital. Or Mario Sorrenti, the king of the room. They would never have had that quality, that vulnerability. The technique defines the art so… If there’s a digital art it’s not my art. I think it does define the expression. Digital is not just a process of capturing images. Digital is a different concept. The shoot is different. Your relation with the model is different. Anyway, I hardly know how to read an email.
Apart from Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel about which you released a whole book, is there a model or an actress you particularly love to shoot?
Yeah there is a whole list of them! But you never know until you have them in front of the camera. Sometimes you shoot an actress and you’re like “cool it’s going to be easy” and you start shooting and it simply doesn’t work and you know it’s not gonna be easy. Sometimes it’s different, they’re really doing it, like Charlize Theron: it was a fucking nightmare until she was in the studio and then she’s just a complete different person. That’s because they are so protected by publicists so until you get in the studio, you don’t know. It’s like a store opening! You don’t judge it by the line outside, you have to get inside! Leatitia Casta is really nice to shoot because she never wants to be the pretty girl. She’s really involved in the process and that’s really helpful.
End of part 1 ! You’ll get the end of the chat next saturday !