One of our earliest graduates from the original Certificate IV in Creative Photography program which was only ever delivered at Stepney was Peter Black. Peter has been working in Melbourne as a photographer for a design company since he graduated from the CCP in 1998 and has some enlightening stories about his life beyond study.
Before leaving for his current position in Melbourne, Peter also assisted in our studio classes as well as becoming a member of the Light Gallery’s Exhibition Committee and it was by this association that Peter and I became close friends, with Peter often “chaperoning” a much younger Aaron Blake through his teenage years and nights out on the town together.
We often catch up together when visiting Melbourne and Peter graciously attended Joanna’s and my wedding with his wife Emma, booking a room at the “wedding hotel”, so we could also get together a little less formally the following morning.
Below are a few images from what was a wonderful night; all guests were asked to bring a camera and Peter (fantastically) brought his pinhole camera - see photographs of me and Joanna, and Aaron. You may also recognise CCP graduate Leanne McPhee (who has just been to Harvard for work with historical printing processes) and CCP Lecturer and graduate Mike Lim.
I have been witness to the shift of vision and action Peter has undergone since his student days at the CCP those many years ago and I think it’s testimony to his working life that Peter is still really enjoying “work” after fifteen years or so in this industry. It’s always such a pleasure to witness the transformation from a student of photography to a working professional which is one of the reasons I have yet to miss a day at work as an Arts educator …Peter Black over to you.
MORE THAN 10 QUESTIONS: PETER BLACK
What first interested you, or made you fall in love with, photography?
I have always had at least a passing interest in photography but I'd always been more interested in mathematics and physics when thinking about careers. I'm not sure exactly when it went from a passing interest to thinking of it as a potential profession, it may have actually been well after I did my first paying job.
Why did you choose to study at the CCP?
I think I initially ended up at the CCP doing a course that North Adelaide School of Art outsourced to them in the very early of the CCP and very quickly realised that this was the place I wanted to be. They also seemed quite good at teaching photography!
Are you making personal work?
It's been a while since I have shot something purely for myself but I try to make as many of the shots I make in my day to day work personal pieces as I can. Believe it or not shooting product photography in the studio is actually what I like to do! I enjoy the food photography that comes in to the studio sometimes too. Plenty of the things being photographed can be rather uninteresting in themselves but the process of photographing them to make them look good is usually interesting and actually making them look great is rewarding.
What have you done since you studied at the CCP, and what are you doing now?
I studied at the CCP in the early days in Stepney and had quite a bit of fun doing the pilot versions of some of the courses and generally enjoying the atmosphere of the school as it was finding its place and developing its culture. After that I moved to Melbourne to complete an Advanced Diploma (pre-diploma days at CCP) and have been shooting commercial and advertising photography around Melbourne for the last 15 or so years.
How has photography changed since you commenced your studies?
The biggest change from then has obviously been the shift from film to digital, the basics have remained the same but the way they are applied and who is applying them has certainly changed. As well as the obvious changes to post production workflow, often the way we shoot in the first place can be informed by the new post production techniques now available. Perhaps the most common example is the ease of combining multiple exposures allowing mutually exclusive lighting techniques to be used on a single image. On the other hand many clients have decided that Photoshop means they can now send poor condition or incorrect samples to be photographed because “You’ll just fix that up in post, right?”
How have you changed since you were a student?
I honestly hope I have not changed that much, outside of constantly trying to improve my skills, I hope I still appreciate the small things as much as I did back when being a starving student meant that small things were all I had to appreciate. While by pretty much any metric my life has been steadily improving since I was at the CCP many years ago it is a time I still look back on with some serious nostalgia.
I’m also a bit greyer in the hair and creakier in the joints since then too I guess.
Which photographers - past or present - have been major influences on your work – and why?
While I don't pay as much attention to what's going on in the photography world as I perhaps should we're always exposed to plenty of images to draw inspiration from, movie posters often show interesting and dramatic ways of lighting people and there is no shortage of product imagery around to take the best of and expand on in your own way. In general I try to be more inspired by what I am shooting rather than what other people have done, making each shot to suit what it needs to be in itself rather than trying to make it look like something else.
Who are the people who have shaped your work and career and why?
I like to think I’m mostly self-made but like everyone who says that it’s pretty much entirely untrue. Perhaps more accurately I have picked up so many little pieces from so many different people that no individual influence stands out above the others. One comment which has stuck with me right from the very early days of the CCP came from Barrie Washbrook during one of the first darkroom classes. Someone has commented that his printing skills were outstanding to which he responded that he did not think that his printing was necessarily extraordinary, he was just very particular in how he shot his images in the first place which allowed him to easily make excellent prints.
Any surprises - good or bad - as you have progressed in your career?
Who’d have thought I’d be excited when a vacuum cleaner comes in to the studio to be photographed? Somewhere along the line I’ve developed an affinity for vacuum cleaner photography but, as much as I enjoy it now, I’m sure no student (myself included) goes into photography with vacuum cleaners in mind.
Do you have any advice for student photographers?
Easily the biggest piece of advice to people starting out in photography is to first and foremost make sure you have good solid and broad technical proficiency. From a creativity standpoint this may seem counter intuitive but if you concentrate on developing your creative vision at the expense of technical proficiency you are likely to end up frustrated in the attempt to get your ideas in to your images the way you envision them and sacrificing a lot of the impact of your vision.
Any funny anecdotes from your experience in the industry?
I do recall telling someone about the glamour of advertising photography while trimming the bristles of a toilet brush to make it look just right for a catalogue so there are definitely plenty of days where it's just a job to be done for a paycheck too.
What are your passions outside of photography?
I have dabbled a little in car racing over the years but that has mostly been overtaken by getting off the beaten track and discovering the back roads and remote areas of Australia as well as pretty much all aspects of food from spending time in the kitchen, finding interesting and creative food eating out to getting out and about discovering great producers around the country.
Outside the studio I actually like to leave the cameras behind as much as possible. I’m sure my photography changes the way I see things and I know when I’m travelling through different landscapes I see them very photographically which I believe increases my enjoyment of them but I much prefer to be creating my images from a blank canvas in the studio rather than recording or interpreting scenes I find ‘out in the wild’.
Peter Black can be found at Omega Creative in Melbourne