Peter Fetterman: A fascination with the photographic lens

01.10.2018 | Blog | BY:

In celebration of the Santa Monica-based photography collector’s new exhibition, The Fashion Show, at his self-titled gallery, Twin parks the spotlight on Peter Fetterman’s dedication to the photographic frame.

What initially sparked your fascination with photography?

I started my career in the film industry dealing with moving images then discovered the power of photography to tell stories through individual images.

How did you become such an ardent collector?

By accident in 1979. I had just arrived in Los Angeles from London. I was invited to a small dinner party and it turned out the host was selling his small collection of photographs that hung in his dining room. I could not stop looking at one image, Max Yavno’s “Premier at Cathay Circle”. I asked how much it was and the owner said it was $400. I had arrived in California with five t-shirts and two pairs of jeans, had a total net worth of $2000 and was driving a beat-up car with virtually no brakes. If I were rational I should have spent the money on new brakes, but I bought my first photo and it changed my life.

Frances McLaughlin, Gill Fiona Campbell, The Palace at Versailles, Paris, 1951 © Peter Fetterman Gallery

Why did you choose to open your own gallery?

My collecting habit had become so extreme. I was working out of the back of my rent-controlled apartment and making house calls like the Tupperware lady. I was asked to open a gallery in a new arts development centre in Santa Monica. The organiser said to me that he had heard I had a great eye and asked if I would like to open a public gallery. I said why not? I had no idea of what I was doing when I started out. I learnt along the way.

Over the years has there been particular photographers whose vision has stayed with you?

My first and greatest inspiration was the celebrated French photographer Henri Cartier Bresson, and still is. We became his main US gallery for the last 14 years of his life. Henri kindly introduced me to another inspiring photographer, the great Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado, with whom we have collaborated for over 30 years now. His passion fires up my own.

Jerry Schatzberg, ‘Big Hat’ © Peter Fetterman Gallery

You have a new exhibition entitled ‘The Fashion Show’ – what made you decide on this as a fitting theme for your gallery?

I am always seeking the beauty in life and I have always appreciated the style and elegance to be found in this genre.

A fashion show can be an overwhelming collaborative celebration of creativity: do you think the images in your exhibition showcase this aspect?

I hope the selection in this exhibition does indeed show this collaboration. We have some of the greatest designers ever represented form Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli matched by such great artist like Horst, Norman Parkinson, Hoyningen -Huene, Melvin Sokolsky and many others…

There are some iconic female photographers in the line-up: who are your highlights?

There were so many great female photographers working in the 50’s and 60’s who were overshadowed by the attention heaped upon the members of the fashion boy’s club, chief of whom were Irving Penn and Richard Avedon. But I have always felt that female photographers like Lillian Bassman, Francis McClaughlin Gill, Louise Dahl Wolfe were their equals.

Norman Parkinson, ‘Anne Gunning II’, 1950 © Peter Fetterman Gallery

Were the female photographers in the exhibition initially celebrated as equals their male counterparts?

These photographers were overlooked critically, but I strongly believe that history will eventually re-write their achievements

What have you learnt makes a great fashion photograph?

I use the same yardstick I do for what makes a great photograph in any genre of photography. Like a great novel or film or piece of music, you are one person before you see a great image and another person after you see a great image.

Norman Parkinson, ‘Traffic’, 1950 © Peter Fetterman Gallery

In the age of hyper self-awareness, have we entered a new age of fashion portraiture?

I’m not so sure we have actually entered a new age of fashion photography. I think we have entered a different era because of the proliferation of digital photography. Everyone today can call themselves a photographer because the barriers to entry are so low. Perhaps I’m just old school but my taste keeps leading me back in photo history. Probably one of the first great fashion photographers was Julia Margaret Cameron. What she produced in the 1860’s is still pretty monumental in my book, and has barely been topped since. 

What was the last thing that thrilled you?

The last great exhibitions that thrilled and moved me recently was the Irving Penn exhibition at the Grand Palais. In Paris last November and the great Dorothea Lange exhibition at the Barbican this year.

The Fashion Show is on at Peter Fetterman Gallery until 20th October, 2018.

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