Peter Levi juggles between two broad types of photography: Street Photography and Landscape photography. Here I ask him a few questions about the synergy of it all.
Peter, tell us a bit about yourself
I´m a tall guy from Sweden, 44 years old and I earn my living working for a tenants organization. I think too much about photography and spend way too little time practicing it, especially now during the winter. It´s too dark and too cold, and people tend to hide inside and that kills my “mojo”. I am a simple family man who enjoys the small things in life. I like spending time with my wife and during the summers I enjoy riding motorcycles.
Unfortunately I also have to admit that I am somewhat of a dreamer. I love to travel and will do so much more often in the future. The urge to travel is a direct side effect to my passion for photography. I have images that I want to capture, and they are all located in other places of the world. I most often have a really bad case of homeblindness.
Where are you located?
Born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden.
What Inspired you to be a photographer?
Oh, tough question. I guess there were many different circumstances that led me into photography. I remember getting a photobook by Stephen Wilkes as a gift from my work. It was titled “California One”, and there were colorful, vivid images of people and places from California up to Seattle.
A huge seed of inspiration was planted in me while viewing that book. And as a side note, I many years later contacted Stephen to thank him for that beautiful book even though I´d lost it to time. He then sent me a new, signed copy of it as a “you´re welcome man”.
My dad had an old Chinon SLR camera laying around and he gave it to me when I became a dad myself. I had no idea how to shoot with it, but by pure chance I managed to take a photo of my son with a nice bokeh. That was the first time I got a kick from photography. I started to borrow photobooks from the library, for some reason I was drawn to the works by Magnum and Nat Geo photographers but it never became more serious than that.
A few years later I met the love of my life and we were roaming the streets together. She bought me a disposible camera and I just clicked away, one of the shots were a hipshot of a waitress at McDonalds and when the film was developed that particular shot was a photograph that we both laughed about and kept very special to us.
Time passed and one day I bought a camera to revive a passion borned way back. This time it became a tad more serious. I included a darkroom to my gear. I had no plan, no special genre, I just shot whatever came my way. I had a cheap, plastic newbie filmcamera and I spent as much time as I could in my darkroom/closet. I learned the trade of copying the hard way. Too much paper, chemicals, frustration and sweat was spent in that closet. Suddenly, it all just became too expensive for me. I couldn´t afford this interest anymore and the passion ended up on the shelf for a few more years.
Then came the day when I decided that the digital cameras was good enough to give a shot. I had viewed some images on Flickr and got very inspired by a few long exposure shots that crossed my path. So, I bought a used Canon DLSR with a Tokina wide angle zoom and started shooting again. I signed up for a flickr account in January 2011 and a few cameras later I am where I am today.
What does Street-Documentary mean to you?
It just means everything to me today. The feeling of capturing a sense of energy, mood, and geometry is just a pure joy. “Pretty pictures” can be duplicated for good and worse over and over. If I shoot a pier today, somebody else can arrive the next day with better circumstances and make a better shot. But, with life happening, no one can come back a few days later and capture it again. The capture you make today can´t ever be duplicated, it´s yours, forever.
I also love the way street/documentary photography can tell stories. It´s hard core photography. Fast decisions and compositions.
What does Landscape photography mean to you?
Peace, and it tickles my artistic vein. You see your subject, it´s static. You can take your time, find the best composition and wait for the right light, the right clouds etc etc. I´ve often turned to landscape when I´ve been out of “street luck”.
I personally see Street & Landscapes as the Yin-Yang, they both feed each other. Sometimes I need LIFE, the streets, YEAH! But sometimes I need peace and quite, I need landscapes. Is that the same for you? Do you make such dichotomy or it's more seamless to you?
You really stole my words there ha ha. In fact, that´s how I´ve always looked at it. It´s a kind of Yin and Yang feeling to it all. My goal has always been to take street/documentary shots. But, some days you can get all fed up with people and the streets that won´t present you with anything but the same things you saw the day before. That´s were the Landscape photography comes in. You know what to shoot when you see it, and you have all the time in the world to prepare to shoot it.
It can give you a really nice feeling of Zen. Many times while I´ve been in the city without being able to capture a decent shot of life, I´ve ended the day by taking a long cityscape exposure. My thoughts have then often been, shoot the cityscapes like fine art and the people in a documentary style. The images will then in a way bind it all together, beauty of the city and the energy of the people.
I can see the landscape photographer in your street stuff, not only in the composition but also in the drama. Is that a conscious decision?
No, not at all when I shoot. But maybe it does when I select what images to post. Lines, patterns and light is very important when it comes to the final draft. After hours and hours with my nose stuck into photobooks, youtube or any other photographical media it would be strange if I didn´t pick up a few tips here and there.
What attracts you in the streets & what attracts you shoot landscapes? Is there a common thread?
Light is always the common thread. In street/documentary there is always a few things that attracts me. Energy, motion, dynamics and subtle beauty. I like it when people do something. A yawn, a gesture, anything that makes the image alive. Landscape photography for me is location, clouds and light.
What gear do you use and why? Do you use the same for both genres?
Today I use a Canon 5D mkII with a Canon 17-40 lens for my landscape work. But, my everyday camera, the one that always hangs around my neck is the Fuji x100s.
I think fine art images looks best as squares, I don´t know why really, the square just speaks to me in a more powerful way. So, as the 5D mkII has a large sensor, it is more forgiving when you crop the images.
The X100s, well, it is just a joy to use. Fast, quiet, beautiful, light and with a wonderful image quality.
Any closing comments?
Well, I guess that if you are serious about your photography you have to choose a genre or else you tend to confuse your viewers. This has always been a problem for me as I´ve always been split between fine art and life photography. Some viewers like it, but generally a hard core Street fan couldn´t care less about an LE shot of a pier just as little as a fine art junkie cares about a street shot.
The thing is, I´m actually pretty new to the serious photography that I try to practice today. It has taken me three years to find out that street/documentary photography is what makes me tick. Sure I will still take pretty pictures as well, but I will not necessarily publish these shots. At the moment I just prefer the honest feeling that real life photography gives me.
Follow Peter on Flickr & Tumblr. Stay tuned for more of Levi's work in an upcoming issue of our Photography Magazine