Bradley Peters received his MFA in Photography from the Yale University School of Art and his BA in Art and Psychology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His work is part of many public and private collections internationally and has been included in numerous publications on the subject of photography, most notably, Image Makers, Image Takers: The Essential Guide to Photography by Those in the Know, by Anne-Celine Jaeger. He is the 2008 recipient of the Richard Benson Prize for Excellence in Photography and his photographs were the subject of a recent solo show at Bard College at Simon’s Rock. His teaching resume includes Yale University, Southeast Community College, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Concordia University. Some of his clients include, Bloomberg Businessweek Magazine, State Farm Insurance, Whole Foods, and Le Quartier Baking Company.
Over the past two decades there has been an accelerated shift in the public's relationship to photography. The notion that a photograph is the truth has been replaced with a predisposition of skepticism and saturated disbelief that has permeated into the most basic aspects of our lives. There is a direct correlation to the perceived erosion of photographic truth and a bubbling up hunger for the authentic experience.
This is a defining time for America. It's an atmosphere of desperation, alienation, anxiety, delusion, and fringe politics. The nation is hyperpolarized and over-the-top theatrics are the norm. I am in search of the visual manifestation of these ideas. Just as the physical force of gravity organizes and connects everything in the world, the psychological nature of struggle has a great physical influence on the shape of things. There is a link between the great and sometimes exaggerated stresses in our everyday life and the overlooked behaviors that fill the majority of our day; for example, how our distress can influence the particular manner in which our hand holds a dinner fork. I am investigating how this period is affecting gesture, interaction, and coping in America by using the language of "staged color narrative photography" and marrying it with flash lighting to subvert from within the tradition. My desire it to let life back into the images and favor the photographic over the painterly.
This project does not aspire to literally document this period; instead it is searching for the visual miracles that may give us insight into what it means to be living at this time. Like many artists, I am interested in our collective American consciousness, but my interest differs by my aspiration to punch photographic cliché square in the face rather than run away from it. Using the polarization of the country as a parallel backdrop, I want to confront cliché by smashing together photographic traditions, in the search for a seemingly more elusive sense of discovery. Just like physicists using the particle collider to discover new matter (Higgs Boson-God Particle), it is my belief that the collision of photographic traditions will reveal something new about photography and give us unique insight into how we are living today. My goal is not to find a moderate stance between traditions of Weegee and Gregory Crewdson, but instead, deconstruct them to create a new hybrid moment.
I am seeking out the public and private domestic life: the basements, backyards, the waiting rooms, and gymnasiums. Exploring physical, financial, and psychological struggle. Examining family, spirituality, and violence all while trying to locate improbable revelation through the tension that is created between spontaneity and theatricality. The semi-performative nature of my work allows for an evolving and open-ended approach that aligns its conclusions more on the side of life than that of art. This body of work is ongoing and the images I come back with will attempt to amplify all that is changing in our common lives.
On May 9th, 1984, my older brother Brian was riding his bike home when he was hit by a car and killed. The accident happened only a few blocks from our house, which allowed my mother to rush over and speak with him before he died. The last conversation he and my mother had was on the street and was about the condition of his glasses. He couldn't see anymore. It was my mother's birthday.
Over the years, I have thought a lot about this event and how it would go on to shape the rest of my family's history. I'm a father of two young boys and knowing now how much love is poured into one's children, I'm amazed that my parents were able to get out of bed the next day, week, or year. It's a level of loss that I hope to never to understand. I don't have a single memory of Brian. I do have a few vague memories of the day he died but none that involve him directly. My relationship with my brother mostly exists as the retelling of stories by my family. Some of which feel vivid enough that they've almost turned into authentic recollections, but I know their feeling of authenticity is derived from a longing to feel connected. He did, however, exist to me in another way that was created as a result of my mother trying to cope with his death. He was transformed into light.
In our family room we had a cheap lamp that would change in brightness when any part of the metal was touched. For a large part of my childhood this is where I thought my brother lived. The lamp was sensitive to changes in static electricity and would change in intensity by itself often resulting in a scolding from my mother for Brian to "knock it off". Every night I would say goodnight to the lamp as though it was my brother. It did not occur to me until I was a little older that this wasn't something that everybody did. I didn't realize that not everyone thinks of transformation in this way. That others didn't realize that nothing is ever really destroyed, but it just changes form.
Years later, on April 3rd 2006, I got a call from my wife while I was at work. She called to tell me that my "Yale letter was here". I had applied to the MFA Photography program, had an interview a month earlier, and now the news about whether I had been accepted had arrived. I asked my wife how thick the letter was and after a long sigh, she replied "thin". She wanted to know if she should open it. I declined as I still had a couple hours to go at work and didn't want to mope around with the reality of bad news. When I got home, I grabbed the letter off of the counter and was instantly struck with an odd feeling.
I had also applied to Yale two years earlier in 2004, got invited to an interview, but I was not accepted. I had read and re-read my rejection letter so many times that I became very familiar with the combined weight of the envelope and letter, almost like you would with the weight of your wedding ring. When I picked up this new letter, I noticed it was heavier, one piece of paper heavier, and I knew without opening it that I had gotten in. Thirty-four days later my father died.
My father, to a large extent, shares in the responsibility for the manner in which I make photographs. He was diagnosed with paranoid delusional disorder when I was in 2nd grade, but this information wasn't revealed to me until after his death in 2006 while I was attending Yale. His disorder had a big influence on how I view the world and opened my eyes to the potential relationships that exist when one is free of logic. It is hard for me to imagine making the types of images I do without the constant exposure to his description of the world during the most malleable time in my life. Although it didn't feel this way at the time, it was a great gift.
The image that is accompanying this story obviously is not literally of my brother or my father, but, to me, it is a wonderful combination of my biography and its influence on my art making. It's a great reminder as to why I am an artist and for the reasons why I have to make the type of images that I do; if I don't make them, no one will make them for me. One time during a visiting artist conversation with Jem Southam, I was asked about how I started my "projects". I informed him that I tended to not to start with a defined project but instead thought of photography as though I was having a conversation with myself... but the problem was the other version of myself spoke Spanish, and I didn't speak Spanish, but sometimes I was lucky enough to pick out a few of the words.
The image of the two boys throwing a light bulb stirs up many emotions for me and gestures towards something that I cannot describe through words. It's the idea of trying to converse in a language that one cannot fully understand which leads to discovery beyond one's imagination, how information gleaned from a photograph can help make the unseen feel more tangible, and, most importantly, how it can make us reconsider our relationship to many things. My mother isn't a photographer and doesn't know much about art, but there is one concept that has had a lasting impact on my art making that I first learned from her—light isn't limited to the literal.