Growing up in Northeast Iowa, photographer Bruce Peterson has been shooting since those teenage years in the Midwest. The magic of a photograph coming to life in the developer was enough allure for him to fall in love with the medium and pursue a life of it. He took this interest of turning photography into a living and studied at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Upon graduation in 1982, the metropolis that is New York City seemed a bit too overwhelming, so his dart ended up landing a bit more comfortably north in Boston, where he’s been ever since.
In the early stages of his career, there were not many specialties as people tended to be more generalists before the dawn of technology and social media. Bruce dabbled in all genres, touching on still life and people, which made ones position great as you could be in many people’s rotations at the same time. Though he thought he’d be a portrait photographer for awhile, he soon realized that your success in that world is inversely measured in how little time you take to make the work. He saw himself more as the type of person to take their time, whether that be with light or composition, or both. So for close to 25 years, Bruce has exclusively been doing still life work, which turned out to be much more suited for his slow paced-problem solving approach.
Though the world is almost dominated by digital cameras, the benefits of their invention doesn’t change the way Bruce shoots. Because of his background with film in the darkroom, he prides himself in still being old school. He likes to shoot it, not take care of it in post— it’s much easier to shoot it than fix it later. There is an integrity that comes along with shooting it and showing the world it is possible to make pure magic with a camera and camera alone.
His latests ads are his favorites, but his favored images always end up being the newest ones in his book. Bruce gets his creative fix in a lot of different ways; sometimes it’s the allure of the assignment, the technical challenge, a beautiful subject, or the people you get to work with. Most of the work in his book are the ideas of the clients who come to hire him, and what he provides them with is the solution to their problem— what is the best way to shoot this thing?
Many times he is shooting iconographic things, or singular objects in a white or black environment, so the trick is discovering what to shoot in tandem with the object, or fabricating some sort of action with or around it. For instance, in one image of Bruce’s he is photographing a fire hydrant. A pretty straight forward image, especially when stripped down in a empty studio environment, but by adding a droplet of water and shooting from an unconventionally high and wide angle, it gives this simple item a new life.
Another example of Bruce’s problem solving is present in an ad he worked on for Vital jr. The image in the end is simple: a cut out of a child’s silhouette in a sponge— but getting that cut out was the biggest challenge of the assignment. He has had a working relationship with a model maker for years, and this model maker knows where to go to get the best laser cuts. But even when you have the person to cut it out settled, you still need to decide what the materials are and what the scale of the cut must be. Running down these details in advance is extremely important for a successful final image.
Moving onto the next stage in the process, Bruce’s sets are very intimate, as he works with a small crew of one assistant and potentially a stylist or model maker. On set it’s all about identifying the problem and what they can do it fix it, and then identifying what will make the image better— moving lights perhaps, or maybe moving camera position. His studio space reflects his work, where everything is clean, simple, and has it’s place. Though what he does could be considered simple work, it doesn’t take away from the fact that he is extremely focused on the task at hand, and he doesn’t quit until he likes it himself. It can be very easy to please a client, but as artists our standards for ourselves and what we’re capable of producing tend to be even higher.
When scrolling through Bruce’s site, it’s hard to tell what’s commissioned work and what’s personal, considering it all looks extremely cohesive. More than half of the site ends up being his own work, and this is what clients see and grab onto for themselves; see a single image, apply it to a product. In his own work, Bruce photographs objects that amuse or annoy him, like an empty honey bear with one last drop stuck to the bottom, or a collection of toy guns for children. Still considering himself a kid at hear, he gravitates towards toys and those objects that have character already built into them. Or if he’s feeling stressed about money, he will make a photograph out of it, turning it into merely just another object. Through photography, Bruce is able to take these simple objects we see on a day to day basis and turn them into something bigger than themselves.