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best of 2015
Peter Glendinning
East Lansing, MI

Although the subjects depicted in Peter Glendinning's series "My Paris" are inanimate objects — cutlery, a robe, a phonograph — what they capture is a portrait en creux, or a "hollow portrait" of a man. The man he depicts is both the person who, since 2012, has rented his apartment to Glendinning, who teaches in Paris for Michigan State University each summer, and Glendinning himself, who has formed a bond with his host while living among his things.

© Peter Glendinning

© Peter Glendinning


Taking the photos in "My Paris," Glendinning says, is “very much akin to the act of a sculptor removing stone to reveal what lies under the surface, both in physical and conceptual terms.”

ASMP: How are you acquainted with the owner of the apartment you rent each year?

Peter Glendinning: I found the apartment through an online service. I realize now that in the photographs and description of the apartment, I had intuitively recognized a sense of care for objects that evidenced a gentle nature, a love for individuality and symbols of gentility in the approach to life — all the characteristics of the man who created the environment. His friendly demeanor coupled with his strong interest and knowledge in literature, music and the arts makes our conversations at the beginning of each rental period memorable. This project is in part a reflection of his kind and generous spirit.

ASMP: Why did you begin photographing his things and how do you select what to photograph?

PG: [In 2012 and 2013,] I began making photographs using a DSLR to respond to the content that felt was percolating under the surface. Those initial photographs were unsuccessful, more a documentary catalogue of objects and spaces with no possibility for revelation of the emotional, no evidence of that ephemeral thing we call "memory."

When I returned in 2014 I brought my vintage 1976 Polaroid SX-70 camera with lots of IMPOSSIBLE Project film, a few flashlights and a hope that I could use those tools to chip away at the raw material to reveal the symbols of something that I still had trouble defining clearly at the time. The photographs that resulted helped me see, and feel, what was hidden under the surface appearance of things. It was very much akin to the act of a sculptor removing stone to reveal what lies under the surface, both in physical and conceptual terms.

Now I am drawn back by the intense feeling of connection to a place that is both a physical entity and a state of mind. "My Paris" is a place which I have learned I can find elsewhere because it is more than just the objects themselves: it is a feeling of shared memories that result from shared sensibilities. In fact, a number of the photographs for the series are made in my own home environment; the physical locality of the pictured elements is not the point.

The act of portrayal is a very subjective thing, and I hope these pictures speak to the viewer as interpretations and symbols rather than documents. The [portrait] is of not only the apartment owner but myself as well, and it is in those things of his and of mine that the bond of overlapping experiences between us is hopefully revealed.

ASMP: How does the type of film play a role in your statement?

PG: The film plays a large role in part because each batch seems to have just enough variation in chemistry that it adds its own layer of mystery and unpredictability in color and contrast to the final outcome. The intimate size and the "framing" print borders of the SX-70 format in themselves create a unique character, and the paper frame provides a place to add further evidence of human touch with the title and my signature in pencil.

The fact that each one is an "original," unique with none other like it, is especially important to me. I usually make about five of each scene, but because of lighting and composition, each of those images is similar but different. For me they are like the experience one has each time a memory is conjured up in the mind, when times and places and experiences are rendered in similar ways yet, in some essential ways, differently.

The nature of the film as a physical material and as an object, with responsiveness to elements of emotions, the camera settings and variable light interactions, is absolutely essential to the final outcome.

ASMP: Have you won any other awards for this body of work and has it exhibited anywhere?

PG: The photographs have been exhibited for the first time this year at LOFT Gallery in Brussels, Belgium, as a result of the confidence and support of the owners who first saw a few of the pictures laid out rather unceremoniously on a table in a little bar in Paris last summer. Other than sending copies off to the Superintendent of Documents to register the copyright (thank you ASMP for your stalwart efforts in regard to our copyrights!), a postcard announcement for the exhibit, and my website, they have not been seen or published elsewhere before now.

ASMP: How long have you been shooting? How has your work changed or evolved over the years?

PG: My Boy Scout merit badge in photography marked the beginning of my formal efforts. My work has certainly evolved and changed since then, as it will continue to in the future. My first major gallery exhibit outside of an academic context was in Alex Coleman's FOTO Gallery in SOHO, NYC, 1978.

In my creative process I recognize a formal/conceptual problem that needs resolving (and resolving that problem is in itself a creative process that sometimes takes years), and when it is finished, I move on. In my advertising, illustration, portrait, and corporate photography, I have applied the same — albeit much shorter — approach of defining the problem, intuitively applying appropriate creative and technical expertise and delivering pictures.

ASMP: When did you join ASMP? What initially prompted you to join?

PG: I joined in 2000 after Gary Cialdella, a photographer from Kalamazoo, invited me to a meeting. At the time, I had been finding increasing opportunities to apply my creative and technical abilities outside the fine-art context. ASMP's resources in connecting with other photographers in Michigan and beyond, in understanding the norms of business practice and in providing the general impression of professionalism that ASMP membership conveys to clients, proved essential to my success then as it does now.

ASMP: What are some benefits to your ASMP membership that have helped advance your career or keep you connected to the industry?

PG: The availability of ASMP webinars, the Michigan listserv, Find-a-Photographer and so many other online resources, along with the books Professional Business Practices and Guide to New Markets, have been invaluable for a member like me who lives and works from a home base that is far from one that could be called a thriving photography marketplace!

I share the webinars with my students, and encourage all of them to become Student Associates regardless of the arena in photography they plan to pursue. The principles and practices ASMP members share apply to image makers who operate across the full spectrum of the medium, from fine art to the most applied uses of photography.

Finally, taking the opportunity to present a portfolio of photographs in the annual "Best of ASMP" for the first time is clearly an important step for me! To have "My Paris" recognized by such a highly esteemed panel is a truly humbling and truly exciting result.