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Book Review: Anders Petersen


Book Review Anders Petersen By Anders Petersen Reviewed by Karen Jenkins Writing of Anders Petersen’s devotion to photography’s analogue mode, in film cameras and silvery papers, essayist Hasse Persson likens his underground darkroom to a “gateway to heaven.” And Petersen’s giant new retrospective catalog from Max Ström surely showcases gorgeous tonal contrasts and expressive finesse in black and white, from a master of the old school.

Anders Petersen. By Anders Petersen.
Max Ström, 2013.
 
Anders Petersen
Reviewed by Karen Jenkins

Anders Petersen
By Anders Petersen

$75.00
Max Ström, 2013. 384 pp., 264 black & white illustrations, 9x13". 


Writing of Anders Petersen’s devotion to photography’s analogue mode, in film cameras and silvery papers, essayist Hasse Persson likens his underground darkroom to a “gateway to heaven.” And Petersen’s giant new retrospective catalog from Max Ström surely showcases gorgeous tonal contrasts and expressive finesse in black and white, from a master of the old school. Yet it’s also a funny analogy, in that a transcendence of this world seems so unlikely for a photographer so thoroughly rooted on earth, entwined in its mundane messiness and unexpected elegance. A young Petersen kicked off his photographic life in Hamburg in the late 1960s, frequenting a bar in the red light district and making those pictures that would form his celebrated book, Café Lehmitz published in 1978. This new volume situates that collection within a career-spanning sweep through the subsequent decades. Those he encountered in the street and at home (in private dwellings and institutional quarters) are at once fragile and hardened, weighed down and carefree. Tattoos are a shield and a revelation. Sexuality is frank, but only rarely lurid. Animals too run the gamut — as pets, and meat and wild things, flailing, restrained and stuffed.

Anders Petersen. By Anders Petersen. Max Ström, 2013.
Anders Petersen. By Anders Petersen. Max Ström, 2013.

The familiarity born of the frequent presence of Café Lehmitz regulars manifests itself differently in Petersen’s work in prisons, elder care facilities and psychiatric clinics, where a committed presence is largely involuntary. These photographs are not so much about the details of place, but rather speak to physical and psychological constraints, revealing both resignation and resistance to circumstance. They are kind and moving, especially given how hard-won trust must be from those most vulnerable subjects. Petersen’s photographs are intimate not just in the sense of the familiar, but in their physical closeness, underscoring an intrinsic confinement. In each case, Petersen made a commitment of time and experience, and he’s in so deep that the photographs feel like a projection from the inside out, a glimpse of Petersen, as much as his subjects. In this I’m reminded of the work of Zoe Strauss, whose photographs of her native South Philadelphia are saturated with her affection for her neighbors and a shared ownership of their photographic representation. For their first public exhibitions, both photographers tacked up their prints in the place they were made — the café wall and a neighborhood highway overpass — inviting their subjects to see themselves in and as their art.

Anders Petersen. By Anders Petersen. Max Ström, 2013.
Anders Petersen. By Anders Petersen. Max Ström, 2013.

Beyond presenting a broad retrospective of Petersen’s work, this collection crafts the story of his photographer personae — both raw, intuitive talent and student of the medium within an informed, academic lineage. Persson writes that Petersen uses a simple, small camera and on occasion must show his “Photographer” business card to convince others of his credible stature. He was in fact the protégé of Christer Stromholm, who discovered the younger man sneaking into the darkroom of his Fotoskolan. Strömholm’s signature work, Les Amies de Place Blanche, was decidedly influential on Petersen — not just in terms of craft and content, but in how one might live a photographic life. Petersen is now also a teacher and has collaborated with his own pupil-assistant JH Engström, on the work From Back Home. And while Petersen’s unstudied style may be his strength, his is certainly not an insular vision. As discussed in the essay by Urs Stahel, it resonates with the work of William Klein and Shomei Tomatsu to name a few. Petersen’s career is justly celebrated in this publication, as is his devotion to this vein of twentieth century social documentation in black and white.—KAREN JENKINS

KAREN JENKINS earned a Master's degree in Art History, specializing in the History of Photography from the University of Arizona. She has held curatorial positions at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ and the Demuth Museum in Lancaster, PA. Most recently she helped to debut a new arts project, Art in the Open Philadelphia, that challenges contemporary artists to reimagine the tradition of creating works of art en plein air for the 21st century.

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