Somewhere in between a photo trip to Japan, working on a documentary, and meeting up with the NYC Chinatown Soccer Club to make Christmas tree ornaments, Photographer and filmmaker Peter Sutherland found the time to share some of himself with 01 Magazine.
Where did you find stabby man and does he require the music playing in order to perform his art?
The Stabby Man video stars my brother balancing a knife on his hand for a few seconds, its shot at a high shutter speed so it appears that he is able to hold the knife and balance for a long time… The music is by a musician called “Ney”, I’m not sure where i got that song but i had it in my i-tunes.
I was taking a look at your collages and was wondering what your process is when you make these? Do they take a lot of time and planning or are they more spontaneous and fluid?
These are very fluid, for a few months I was able to hire an assistant, she knew my taste and I would ask her to find images on the internet and put them in a folder. I would usually make those on air planes. I haven’t done it in a while but should keep it up. I like it as an exercise for composition. I also made some paper collages; these were made from piles of magazines I ordered from e-bay. I like about 1 out of 10 that I make the rest will sit on the shelf.
You told a great short story at the start of your interview in the Strange Birds issue of Theme that you curated. Your brother was part of that story. I noticed that the two of you did a show together in New York. Was the ATM show the first time the two of you collaborated?
Andrew and I are very close in age and we attended the same schools, and university and have always lived in the same city. We are close and travel around together in the summer. We are always working on little things together and I photograph him a lot, but the ATM show was the first big thing we’ve done together. I hope we can do it again, even thought we work with different mediums it felt like it all came from the same brain.
Are there any other creatives in your family that kindled your creative spirit?
My father was very creative; he made custom furniture and could draw quite well. My mom is into music. For the last few years she has been very focused on playing the Banjo. She bought a camper and travels around to Blue Grass festivals and plays music. I’m happy to see that she found something she really loves.
Can you remember your first photo/film moment when you knew that you wanted to become a photographer/filmmaker or maybe a moment when you realized that you were one?
My brother gave me a camera for my 24th birthday. We were home visiting my mother and i was excited to photograph a swarm of gnats that were buzzing around in our front yard. That swarm was something i always enjoyed seeing as a kid and i think it was exciting to capture it on film.
Did you go through a typical art school photo stage where you may have took pictures of creepy dolls, bare feet, or self portraits or yourself screaming? Do you still have any of your very first photos or films?
Not really, i think i was interested in subject matter more than doing something weird. I saw the film Gimme Shelter by the Maysle brothers and i think this became the blue print for everything I have done since. I really admired the look and feel of the film and the way the filmmakers approached making it, so it was all i needed. The first photo book I got was William Eggleson’s Guide, i loved this work and felt the subtle humor and darkness in his photos and i wanted to make work like that.
Do you have any other hobbies or secret talents like maybe you’re double jointed, fluent in another language, an excellent chef or a dance master, or something like that? If you weren’t an artist what do you think you might be doing?
I am a pretty competitive person and I’ve always enjoyed sports, running, snowboarding, cycling, soccer, etc. I wouldn’t say i have talent for any of these but I am passionate about all of them. If there was no art I don’t know what I would do. I used to think I would become a mail man.
What was the best moment in your life?
I was probably 16 years old and was doing a mountain bike race in Boulder Colorado called “Ride the Rockies” It was my first time racing and i had a shitty bike but was doing pretty well in the race. I was riding along and looked up and saw my father (who has since passed away) and he was like, “yeah Peter, you are doing really good, you might win!” He was really excited and it just remains as a special moment in my memory. I actually got a flat tire about 20 minutes later and didn’t finish the race but it didn’t really bother me.
Since we can’t see each other and it is a little impersonal can you tell me something about your day today? Maybe a little highlight, conversation, moment or thought?
Today I am flying home from Tokyo, I actually hate flying so it has not been such an exciting day. I really enjoyed the cup of coffee i had when i woke up, maybe that was the highlight. I was in Japan for a month shooting photos so I feel lucky.
Do you go through periods where you feel uninspired and if so do you have a personal antidote?
I have spells when I think photography and everything i do is completely useless and a waste of time. Usually all it takes is seeing a good film and it will keep me going for another month.
Looking at your photos, as well as the themes of your shows and films, one can see that you travel a lot. Could you list your top three places from your experience?
I noticed from your photos that you visited or passed through Aberdeen, WA. My friends and I often go camp and surf near Aberdeen in a place called Westport. What brought you to Aberdeen? How did the place make you feel?
I was visiting a friend in Portland, we took a trip up to Aberdeen because I wanted to see where Kurt Cobain grew up. I also took some pictures of his childhood home and his home in Seattle. I like the Pacific Northwest so its just fun to be up there and cruise around.
You’ve covered a lot of different folks: hobos, cave dwellers, survivalists, mountain men, and hitchhikers. Have any of the characters that you have photographed end up becoming friends with you?
Yeah, there are a few. There is a guy called Todd that has lived in a hut in the Wasatch Wilderness in Utah. He emails me about the changes in weather and what he is eating. I will probably see him this winter. All of the others were just acquaintances.
After reading your short story/recollection of your deck from your childhood on your website I started thinking about the relationship between photography and story telling. I am intrigued by the tradition of oral story telling and passing stories through generations. I’ve always loved and been fascinated with the elderly and all of the knowledge and stories they hold. I wish we would capture or preserve all that we can. I get the urge to try, knowing that when my grandpa goes I will lose a lot of those jokes, poems, ukulele war time sing songs and stuff that just float around in his head and aren’t written down anywhere. You produced and directed the film Tierney Gearon: The Mother Project. Aside from the beautiful imagery, the story telling and personal histories captured within the film were phenomenal. Do you have any plans to work on another film and if so would you favor working on a documentary, biography or fictitious film?
I like story telling. Especially rap and folk. They can make you feel it. I like documentaries because they provide special access to something. They can also have an interesting lifespan as films because they can get more interesting as they get older, maybe even more so than fictional films. Currently I’m making a doc. about Richard Prince, I’ve been shooting with him slowly for the last 2 years. I’m excited because I can see it becoming a film. I don’t know what the future holds but I would love the opportunity to attempt making a fictional film with a budget and all that. Although the idea of being on a set with so many people sounds like a tough way to work.
How did your film Tierney Guernon: The Mother Project initially come into fruition?
I made a film called PEDAL and had some success with it so I just wanted to make another film. My friend was Tierney’s photo agent at the time and suggested I meet her. I went and filmed her doing a shoot for a now defunct magazine called Sleeze Nation. I could see there was something there and we just kept going.
Your short stories on your website and in Theme magazine got me thinking about how one brief moment has the potential to effect and mark you so deeply that you can remember that emotion for a lifetime. The ability of that moment becoming a memory is an equation of the circumstances in that specific moment, the lighting, the objects around, the smell, and the sounds. Your stories written in text, like you’re moments on your deck, or the boy from your childhood with the ‘fuck you’ as his bike’s serial number, create vivid imagery. Have you always had an interest in storytelling apart from photographic journalism?
I write these down because they are stuck in my head and they tend to play over and over. Writing them helps me get rid of them. Hopefully they also offer a direct connection to my photos and why I take them. I feel a connection to the photos I take, often because they remind me of personal experiences. Does that make sense? I like personal work and I think we are very impressionable as kids, and these moments I write about somehow made impressions on me that I can’t forget.
Is the inclusion of these stories a regular part of your work?
It is becoming more regular yes. Quite often I write them when I’m on airplanes. There are no distractions up there and I can let them flow. People seem to like them so that has been encouraging.
Can you share a funny, scary or supernatural story from your experiences creating films and photos?
I was filming a bike messenger race and got footage of a girl getting hit by a speeding taxi. I almost vomited when I saw this because the sound for her getting hit was so disturbing, but somehow I kept filming. She was unharmed because I think she was a little drunk and she stayed loose and just sort of rag dolled out of it.
I remember one of your photos of two people having sex in an adjacent apartment building. Is there any story to go with that one?
That was the only time I’ve seen that in NYC. I was making a portrait of someone for another project and I had a tripod all set up. We noticed the people boning and I just turned the tripod around and started shooting. That shot is probably a one second exposure. Its funny because i didn’t even think about that shot until a few years later and then I realized it was pretty cool.
Do you have some sort of a rough path in your head for yourself goal wise, or is it primarily working hard and flying by the seat of your pants and seeing what comes?
I just go with the flow, I would like the opportunity to make a big movie some day but I don’t know. I like the freedom I have now. I can just do small projects and there seems to be an audience so I’m happy. I have this sort of guilt thing with making art because sometimes it seems like a very selfish activity so I would like to do something for a good cause.
Have you ever had to do something you really didn’t want to do to get a shot?
I have, it was on a video shoot for VBS.tv. We went into a trailer park in California and filmed this lunatic that was a self-proclaimed “protector of the children” in the community. He basically caught wild rattlesnakes and kept them in his home. They are super deadly and he was just tossing them around like it was nothing. I was afraid to get bit especially because we were miles from any big cities. He also showed us some of his guns he had in a closet. Not fun, sketch factor:high.
Have you ever regretted anything you’ve done to get a shot?
I saw Axl Rose on the street in Soho and asked him for a photo, he said yes but I felt bad afterwards, i should have left him alone. Otherwise I can’t think of anything. I don’t think it’s worth it to take big risks for photos because I cant even tell if it will be a good photo when I’m shooting it. It’s only in the edit that I can see it.
What is the grossest thing you have seen a hobo, nomad or survivalist eat?
I moved to NYC in 1998, there is a park in the East Village called Tompkins Square. A bunch of dirty kids, junkies, etc. hang out there. I went and bought some food at a deli on avenue A and went to sit on a bench in the park and eat it. I was just people watching and eating a sandwich. I saw a scruffy looking guy with a dog, he pointed his hand and said “yep!” The dog chased after some pigeons and caught one and brought it back to the guy. The guy then crushed up the pigeon with his feet. I don’t know if he ate the pigeon but my guess is that he did. That is one of my first memories in NYC and one of the grossest meals I’ve seen.
If you could pick your own ‘exit song’ to the movie of your life what would it be?
Black Sabbath “The Writ”