Currently showing in the Maloof Gallery at APG is Peter Bahouth's Recognition, a site-specific installation featuring a new body of work. Recognition explores the power of friendship and personal relationships to transcend the common transactions of daily life and our increasing social polarization. APG's Erin Fender spoke with Bahouth about his inspiration, influences, and evoking emotion through technology.
How did you get into photography and start looking at images?
My father was a stereoscopic photographer. I have pictures of me when I was a kid, in 3D. I didn’t set out to try and be a photographer, I set out to do stereo. I had to teach myself. My dad didn’t teach me. I just had to pick up the camera, and it took years. I collect [stereoscopic] photo from the 1950’s and 60’s and you kind of do a bit of space travel- you go to that place. We just don’t see images like this anymore.
How do you make the images?
I was mimicking the original way that the stereo photographers were doing it. I still use slide film. I don’t have a lab here, so I have to send it off to Kansas to get processed. The large stereos are medium format. I built the table [in the show] and the light dome inside of it, because it helps with the viewing. Did any of the images in the show resonate with you?
"Courtney," from the goat farm, for sure. Her skin is glowing, its so bright. And those crazy rings on her fingers. It looks like she’s from another world.
Courtney, yes! I often say that she’s the cross between an 8-year old girl, a 50-year-old woman, and an alien! I mean, I get that feeling from her.
Tell me about the people you photograph in your images. Who are they?
These images are people that let me sit with them for hours, and try to capture something about them in the image. Their friends with me, and that’s all you can hope for.
I made a lot of relationships in those years [at GreenPeace], and it’s a big reason why I made so many of the portraits- but so many of those people are gone now. These days, everything is about this transaction between people, or a polarization of what happens between people. We’ve been on this planet for ten million years, and we can’t seem to figure out how to treat each other. We have to imagine a different, safer, better place. First it was Vent, in dealing with how we treat our planet, and now [with Recognition], it’s about us. And I think we’re in bad shape.
For you, what is it about the “power of friendship”, as you call it, that translates so well through the technology of stereoscopic photography?
It’s not like looking at a picture on a wall. But when that’s all you see, it’s so intimate. When I look at those childhood photos of myself [through the stereoscope], there’s an emotional experience that I get from the technology. Maybe everyone thinks their photography is evoking emotion, but for me, the stereoscopes and the portraits tie into my memory of my childhood, and seeing those photos when I was a kid.
There’s the element of imagination in your work that’s really powerful.
It wasn’t that way when I first started because you’re just learning how to make the technology. But once you learn how to do something, you can take it to the next level. All of the images -one of the things I really like about the show is that they’re all very different from each other. Color, method- and it’s kind of fun. There’s a story in all of these, you just have to look hard enough.
You were formerly the Director of GreenPeace, and a few other environmental organizations. How does your background in environmental work translate to your photography?
I did a show called Vent, and it was meant to depict the earth- heat, pressure, and politics, and how much we were dumping on the earth. It’s kind of like when you see a cartoon character with steam coming out of its ears, or a pressure cooker, that’s what the smoke symbolizes- a visual representation of beautiful nature, but something’s happening there.
What is your creative process in making these shots? They feel so candid to me.
That’s amazing you say that, because they really take so much time! But that’s great that you say that. When you shoot film, you got to grab a moment. It’s not about 50 shots and seeing which one looks the best.
Is film a big influence of yours?
Stanley Kubrick is probably my biggest influence.
What image is your favorite or resonates with you the most?
It’s interesting because you sit in the gallery, and watch people interact with the images, they’ll each pick a different one. But I think in this show, Courtney is important to me. Courtney and I are pals, she’s just a really interesting kid. I think she made a great image. She’s in her shed, her place, it’s actually called Courtney’s trading center, and she trades materials there. And the one of Whitney is- she’s not only a very accomplished artist, but also has 3 kids. And that may be something people don’t know about her.
What feeling do you want viewers to walk away with when they see these images?
I want them to look at the image and imagine or think about what story can be there. The stories in the show are the stories of people that mean a lot to me and there’s a lot to know about them. And I’m trying to show viewers a slice of that, and hope that they find something relatable about each person in some way.
When you see the table, it’s a contemporary representation of that- sitting around and sharing [those stereoscopic images] from the 1890s, because the light is contemporary. I use 3D not just to give a pop to a normal picture, but I’m also trying to utilize the technology of stereoscopic to add to the images, to make it relevant to what I’m shooting.
Aside from your stereoscopic slides, what’s one of your favorite images that you’ve collected?
This photograph by Lucinda Bunnen. We did an art trade years ago, and this is what she gave me in return for one of my stereoscope stands.
- APG will host an Artist Talk with Peter Bahouth on Saturday, April 21, from 11am - 12pm.