Vincent Peters, photographer: “It took me years to understand my point of view on women” – Current

In a two-story palace, the fauna is international. The numerous halls are free of any furniture, they only have gigantic photographs hanging. They throw us into emotional dynamics. The actresses photographed by Vincent Peters are almost all known by their first names., as an indicator of the incalculable fame they achieved. They have long careers, they have turned their faces into an acquisition of the public domain. The images on display tell about them a melancholy different, enter personal sphere without ever seeming to be unprotected. His features stand out in the light. The style is characteristic of Peters’ work, which presents “Sense of Time” in Lisbon, a kind of nostalgic cartography in black and white. He built it over decades of shooting for major magazines, The Face or vogue, cities around the world also exhibited their work on large advertising posters. Hollywood, Paris or New York took him far from Brémen, the German city where he was born and where he started developing his first photographs alone, at his mother’s house.

Vincent is stretched out on a sofa, he must be over six feet tall, dressed in an elegant black suit. The sleeves he rolls up reveal a body full of tattoos. The guests at his exhibition in Lisbon congratulate him, he listens carefully to what they have to say. In the midst of the hustle and bustle, we had this conversation.

Photograph: Knut Koivisto

What place does eroticism have these days? Do you feel that the notion of eroticism has changed a lot in the last 40 years that you’ve worked as a fashion photographer?

I lived the eighties. Around 1985 the trend leaned heavily on appearance and then there was a shift, something closer to the truth. When I started, even in eroticism, women were too idealized, too perfect. The look changes according to cultures. In each country everything depends a lot on how the mother positions herself in the relationship she has with the family. In England, for example, the mother is very integrated, she is very truthful, their eroticism almost always involves amateur porn. In Italy, the mother is very idealized, as if she were not part of the family. In movies like The Godfather by Francis Ford Coppola, the mother seems to be like a queen who soars above all. Eroticism for Italians is very perfect and their image of women is very distant. All this seems to me to come from the relationships we have with women when we are younger. It’s not immediate. The most interesting thing about a photograph is the mixture of the conscious and the unconscious. There’s composition, there’s light… The unconscious happens when you take the picture, there’s a side where you confront yourself. And, of course, in images of women, in eroticism, I also discovered a lot… How do you react to the presence of a woman? It is possible to discover this in the photographs I take, I see the relationship I have with them.

Photograph: Vincent Peters

So there’s something of your unconscious exposed in these rooms?

There’s the way I look at people. You can look at the photographs and say that you like them, there are things that we find comfortable as a spectator. The photographs are taken very quickly and there is something (coming) from the unconscious that you do not control. The unconscious is almost forced into this process.

Is it when you develop the photographs that you become aware of what happened to the person who posed for you?

Yes, it starts there. But it took me years to realize what his point of view was about women.

Do you feel that the place of eroticism has changed with the emergence of a feminist discourse greatly amplified by social media? You tend to photograph many women in moments of abandonment.

Does it influence me? Not at all. I’m not a very political person, I try to be an emotional person. The message that passes through my photographs is not political. When I photograph a naked woman, what interests me is not her being naked. It interests me that she is vulnerable, fragile. She exposes herself in her own way, and I want her to be comfortable with herself, I don’t want to exploit her. For me photographing a naked woman is almost like being here having a conversation. I’ve seen very well-known women in very personal situations. For me the strongest message is not to push the boundaries.

For example, a conversation doesn’t become interesting just because you reveal secrets during that conversation… Maybe it’s a more spectacular conversation, but it’s not what I’m looking for. I want something more authentic or emotional.

You and I can have a conversation now, doing this interview, which can be fun, I can tell you some anecdotes. But it won’t be a personal conversation. It might even be interesting, but something will always be missing because it’s not just a conversation between the two of us. The photographs in a playboy or in a Dolce & Gabbana advertisement they can be very beautiful, but they are not the photographs you take for a museum, they are not photographs that speak to you. They are leisure photographs and they serve a purpose.

Photograph: Vincent Peters

Are they images that are serving a third party that controls what happened in the session? Are the photographs you exhibit here important encounters, special things?

There are things that when we look at them awaken something in us. There are things that we feel are more personal.

In this exhibition there are many sad, vulnerable looks. You talk to the actresses or the mannequins during prisons of flight?

These are very complex topics, we can talk about them for hours.

You know, I photographed very well-known people… People who lived many things before being there in front of me, they are not just icons. It’s just that there are people who look at them and only see the celebrity… They look at them as if they are filled with what they imagine a celebrity is. And we all go through painful things, both the spectator and the celebrity. There are many good things in melancholy, like in the songs of Charles Aznavour.

There is the fragility, there is the side that helps us to endure (pause) or the memory of the people we miss… All this is in melancholy. When you laugh you forget, when you get serious you remember again. Memory is very important when you look at a photograph, it opens the way for you. In a photograph I’m not looking for sadness, I’m looking for a memory of all the things that had to go through to get there. And the people I photograph, when I talk to them, I try to tell them to remember everything they went through until they reached the moment of the session. It’s not like an endgame, that’s not it. But when I photograph Scarlett Johansson, who has been an actress since she was 8, you can imagine the amount of things she must have gone through.

You have iconic images of yourself in pop culture, like your album cover Can’t Get You Out of My Head from Kylie Minogue, I remember seeing one making-of of the session, in a fun and free way you sent him glasses of water on top of his white t-shirt, you wanted it to be transparent. These are really fun pictures…

And what people don’t know is that I was photographing her outdoors and there was a video of Puff Daddy being recorded in the same place. There was a group of 25 men looking at her who every now and then screamed, “let go Kylie”. Well, I know my formulas that work, but that’s not what I’m looking for. There’s a Woody Allen movie called Stardust Memories (1980) in which aliens come to earth and say they preferred his earlier films.

In the artistic path you are always being confronted with what you did before, but you have to move forward.

Are you nostalgic for a time when there was much more paper, many more magazines and fashion productions circulating?

Yes, a lot because all the great masters like Helmut Newton or Richard Avedon manifested themselves in magazines before being in museums. Even Man Ray or Irving Penn, they all photographed for Harper’s Bazaar or to Condé Nast. They were produced by magazines, that gave them material and that doesn’t exist anymore.

Photograph: Vincent Peters

Was Helmut Newton very important to you?

I like how he managed to impose his look. But that was another time, it was the 70s and the sexual revolution, it’s less interesting these days to base images on sex. Today what we need are emotions and a certain poetry.

Currently we consume things in 3 or 4 seconds, everything is served very quickly. It seems that in order to have some flavor, people put more sugar in things. Because people see too many things at once.

You started taking pictures at the age of 11, in Germany, your mother complained that everything smelled like chemicals to develop photographs…

Yes, I developed the first pictures in the bathroom at home. It smelled really bad and wasn’t very good for your health. My sisters also complained.

Did you grow up surrounded by women? Does your look in the photographs come from that conviviality?

Yes, absolutely. I have some difficulty with men, I even have difficulty photographing men. A man is less flexible in his image. Except when he becomes more feminine, then you can play more.

What connects the 11-year-old kid who developed photos in the bathroom and the photographer of today?

When you’re a fashion photographer, you’re pulled in every way. You are successful and you are very driven by it, you earn money and end up losing yourself too… And there are moments when you realize that you have to keep your values. In photography I wanted to go back to the root of things, to black and white photography that made me want to be a photographer, I wanted to go back to that. Because I know that money is spent quickly and images don’t hold up. And I want to make images that speak to me. Today I have images on the walls that I don’t need to justify. I had to go back to the source of my first love.

Photograph: Vincent Peters

So what was your first love?

It was the black and white movies my dad watched on Saturday nights. I couldn’t see them because I was too young, but he would tell me the stories on Sunday mornings at breakfast. I just imagined the movies he told. I think my father was trying to communicate the code of love with these stories.

Palacete Gomes Freire
The exhibition is open to the public and is free.
From March 24th to April 6th
From Tuesday to Sunday, 2 pm to 6 pm

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