Alvin Soon's Blog

Alvin Soon male Associate Features Editor

I like coffee and cameras, but not together.

Interview with Fine-Art Photographer Peter Steinhauer

Award-winning fine-art photographer Peter Steinhauer is holding an exhibition in Singapore of his stunning black and white photographs of Bali. The photographs include several never-before-seen pieces, and I had the chance to chat with him about his work and the craft of photography.

On how he got started as a fine-art photographer.

I started studying graphic design, but then took a photography class and immediately fell in love with it. I grew up around the mountains of Colorado, and made a lot of landscapes starting out. Later on in school, I went onto commercial photography, worked in advertising, did work for publications like Time and Conde Nast.

But I always did my own work as well, a large campaign would help fund my own art project for example. In 2002, I stopped my commercial work and concentrated on fine-art photography.

Why black and white photography?

I've always been drawn to black and white, I find I can express my feelings much better in black and white than in color. Technically, I can push the limits of film in black and white further than color, where color shifts can happen if you push the contrast too far. I suppose you can call me a traditionalist, when photography started the whole process started in black and white!

What gear do you use?

I shoot with a Phase One P45 Plus, which is a medium format digital back. Photoshop, Phase One software for RAW processing, and output on an Epson 9800 printer with archival pigment inks on Hahnemühle paper.

Being selective with shooting.

I don't shoot hundreds of photographs. On a 10-day photo-shoot in Bali, I shot about 40 to 60 images altogether. I'm very much into my work, I shoot maybe five to six images a day. My work takes time, most of my work is done in the early morning. I wake up at three in the morning and I'm done shooting by seven o'clock.

When I go back to do my edit, I usually take about three seconds per image to decide if I like it or not. It's about the immediate feeling I get from each image. If I have to think too long about whether I like a photo, it'll take even longer for my viewer to decide, so it doesn't work.

Why he shoots long exposures.

I've always loved 19th century photography. Those images from the early 1900s had lots of movement, lots of long exposures from three seconds to five minutes. I like the feeling that the image seems to be moving inside, that the whole photograph feels like it's moving, that's life.

What makes a good photograph?

For my work, it's about being fortunate enough to be at the right place with the right light, the right conditions and being able to make the shot, that's what makes something successful.

It involves a lot of effort, like driving fast through the countryside, waiting until after the sun goes down, and if the conditions aren't right - like if it's a cloud-less day - I have to go back the following day. Very rarely does everything pop out all perfect at once.

What advice do you have for beginning fine-art photographers?

Do not give up! Follow your passion. It's a very competitive field, but if you have a passion for landscapes, people, whatever, just keep working. When you're at home on a couch, nothing happens. When you go out and shoot, things happen. The more you shoot, the better you get.

You can be a great artist, but learn marketing, learn the business, this is very important. Look at photographs all the time, see what's happening, look at other styles, other technology, keep an open mind. Go meet galleries, see what's being shown. Photograph, photograph, photograph.

Peter's exhibition Photography on Bali is currently on until 23rd November. It's being held in the One East Asia gallery, an arts consultancy which provides advisory and educational services, collection management, art projects, investments and conservation of art.

Opening hours are Monday-Friday: 11am-6pm, Saturday: 10am-3pm, closed on Sundays and public holidays. The One East Asia gallery is at 30 Bideford Road, Thong Sia Building, #03-02 (opposite Paragon shopping center in Orchard Road).

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