Week 10 featured Mike Peters.
1) Where did you grow up and where are you now? How have these places influenced your photography?
I grew up in Kearny, NJ, a highly industrialized town that lies between the Hackensack River and Jersey City on the east and the Passaic River and Newark on the west. Kearny is a blue collar town, home to people who work hard for a living. When I was a kid recent immigrants from Scotland, Ireland, Italy and Poland were my neighbors, and now it is populated with people from Portugal and South America. Kearny was and still is a stop along the way for the American Dream as new arrivals work their way up and out to the more pleasant but bland suburbs, which is were I live now about 10 miles west in Verona.
Kearny very much informed my eye. It is a gritty place, close and crowded, a mash up of iron bridges, super highways, 19th century factories, multi-family homes, delicatessens and bars. Everyone fights for parking on the street. I always knew when to go home for dinner when I was a kid because all of the factory whistles would sound off at 5 pm and could clearly be heard over the constant roar of industry that filled the air until the early morning hours. Silence only occurred on Sundays.
In my photography I am drawn to what I know. The urban landscape is where I am most comfortable, concrete and asphalt are my preferred material to have under foot. People that you would normally pass by, the ones that blend into their environment, are the people that I usually am drawn to photograph. Growing up in Kearny taught me that in order to survive one needed persist and endure, Those who aspired for something more were considered high-hats. My photography is tightly intertwined with where I grew up and who I am, as a product of my environment. I feel no desire to distance myself from my past.
2) What is it you love about Coney Island?
Where do I begin? Coney Island is a truly authentic place, untouched by the shine of large corporate greed. Times Square was once a place like that too, only more scary and foul smelling, but now it's worse. I hope the same fate does not await Coney. I really like and relate to the people who come to Coney, the locals and long-timers that keep the place real. These are the same working class people that I grew up with, those who persist and blend into the scenery because they are the scenery. Coney Island and the people that live and work there, embody the spirit of endurance and persistence, they have a patina of grit and hard use that is worn with honor and dignity.
3) Can you show us an early photograph you took which made you really excited about photography?
This photo is one of the first that really got the ball rolling for me. The subject, my mother, is surrounded by her natural environment and everything says something about who she is and what she's all about. For me it was the first time I was able to deliberately capture a descriptive narrative of the person in the photo that dug beneath the surface, even just a little bit. This photo, along with much of my early work was shot using a 4x5 camera.
4) How do you approach random people on the street to take their photograph?
I tend to be pretty obvious about what I'm up to, carrying a 120 slr is hard to hide. I usually just walk up, raise the camera, compose, focus and make the exposure. Sometimes they see me coming, sometimes not, either way I look them in the eye and smile when I'm done. There are times when I'm in the middle of a conversation when I'll just raise the camera and make a photo while I'm talking. And there have been one or two instances where someone has stopped me and asked if I would take a photo of them. There is no one way to do it. The main thing is not to be sneaky or tentative. Be bold and confident and people will usually accept your presence.
5) Have you ever encountered an angry subject
I saw this guy selling books on the street as I was walking towards him. He ducked into his van, with his back to me he rummaged around for about 2 - 3 minutes, I set up on the opposite side of his table waiting for him to turn back towards me. When he did, I made the exposure, but in that same instant he saw me and ducked back inside. Yelled "you mother-fucker don't take my picture, I'll kick your ass." I smiled, said thank you and walked away.
6) Tell us something about your favorite portrait of the one's chosen for Spotlight Seven.
This image pretty much sums up the feeling that was prevalent that evening, the final day of Astroland in 2007, and perhaps forever. It was a celebration for the end of summer and perhaps for Coney Island as we know it. There was a real sadness and resignation on the face of the woman. All bright and glittery with music and dancing, yet sad and wistful.
7) If you could photograph one person, living or dead who would it be?
I really cannot think of any one person, I'm pretty much drawn to just regular people.
8) What are your expectations/aspirations regarding photography in the next few years?
I really just want to keep finding projects that interest me, and getting the resulting images out there and seen.
9) What piece of equipment is on your wish list?
At this point I have way too much equipment and only wish for more time to shoot and produce my personal work.
10) Show us a photograph you wish you took on flickr.