Sunday, April 17, 2011

Peter Beste Interview

All images in this post are by Peter Beste.

Peter Beste is nothing short of a celebrity in Houston and he is well known around the world. If you are interested in photography, ThirdCoast Rap or Norwegian Black Metal, the odds are good you’ve seen his work, even if you don’t know his name. He’s shot in Houston’s 5th and 3rd Wards, documenting many Houston Rappers, Texas truckers and local after-hour spots. He’s also done some really interesting work in Norway, documenting the Black Metal culture. 




About a week ago, I had the pleasure of having a relaxed conversation with PB.  It was meant to be an interview, but his relaxed nature and openness made it feel more like a conversation with an old friend.


Me
Are you from Brooklyn originally?

PB
I've been here about 10 years. I'm from Texas!  I grew up in Houston and went to college in Austin.

Me
That explains the greatness. What did you go to college for?

PB
Photography.  At St. Edwards university. I love St. Ed's.

Me
How was their Art Dept?

PB
The Art Dept was pretty minimal when I was there, but the Photocommunications Dept (which is what they call it) is great. Really good professors.

Me
So, did you listen to a lot of rap/hip hop growing up?

PB
I went through periods of being into rap. I was really into the Geto boys and Ganksta NIP when they broke in 91.  And I was into some commercial rap. But my music tastes are all over the place.

Me
And Norwegian metal?

PB
I come from a punk rock/hardcore background. I was into metal also as a kid, but not norwegian black metal. I didn't get into that till college.

Me
Is that what made you choose to shoot it? Or was there an aesthetic appeal ... or both?



PB
Both. I have strong childhood connections to the imagery and culture of rap and metal. Both seemed like perfect projects to me because I could photograph these reclusive individuals that fascinated me. For Norway, I was into the connection between black metal and ancient Norse Pagan religions. It kept me interested much longer because it had real cultural relevance. Houston is similar because I think that what has been going on in South Park, 3rd and 5th Wards in the last 25 years is very important and needs to be documented. Too bad I didn't start until 2004.

Me
Better late than never.

PB
I am sorry I missed out on 4th Ward. I got the idea for the Houston project in 2001 but didn't start till 04. I did a couple shoots in 4th ward before it was completely gentrified.

Me
So my next question was ... Do you think there was a moment in your childhood or adolescence when you saw an image or aesthetic that molded your work today? But you answered that. So, is there a specific image you can recall?

PB
Definitely. The artwork of many of these metal, rap records (as well as other genres) helped shape my aesthetic. That mixed in with various photographers I became interested in during college.

Me
Like who?

PB
As far as Houston goes, the artwork of Geto Boys, Point Blank, and Ganksta NIP really intrigued me. I love the aesthetic of early Mercyful Fate/King Diamond, Slayer, and many of the early Norwegian bands like Mayhem, Darkthrone and Burzum.

I think it's a subconscious connection. I just try to get to know my subjects as much as I can and get honest and realistic portraits of them in their environments, mixed in with some over the top or posed shots.

Me
What kind of camera/ what format did you use to shoot Houston Rappers? Same question for the Black Metal.

PB
35mm film Canon + Mamiya 645 Medium format + Canon 5D mark 2. For both.

Me
Okay ... That's interesting.  I fell in love with the 4x5 about a month ago.  Now I have a backache all the time. Do you ever shoot large format?

PB
Haha. 4x5 is beautiful, but I choose more portable formats because of the nature of my work and having to usually move quickly. Digital is getting better and better. Not that it can ever compare with 4x5.

Me
So, back to your comment about the posed shots.  How does it work being an outsider coming into a foreign culture or subculture? How do you go about telling Ganksta NIP how to pose?

PB
It takes a bit of time to get accepted, but with Houston and Norway, it was a very natural process of getting to know the people and not play the role of a journalist.

There was a short discussion here about Twitter avis. I asked if @therealdevin420’s avi was one of PB’s photos. Turns out it’s the work of another Houston photographer, Mike Frost.

PB
Scarface uses one of my photos for his twitter

Me
Yeah I saw that. I think I saw that that image was used in publications.

PB
The Scarface pic is from XXL.

Me
Oh okay. But the Houston Rappers stuff was for Vice, correct?

PB
No, it was for me. Vice published a few of the images in their photo issue. But, I've never worked for them. They published the black metal book and I co-produced 2 videos for VBS, but that's it.

Me
So, that's another thing I was curious about ... how did Vice discover you? Same for XXL. Did you pitch to them, or did they come to you?

PB
I come up with my projects myself and fund them myself until I can get help or find jobs related to the topic. I do that so I can have control and not have anyone breathing down my neck. I showed my portfolio to vice in 2003 or so and got a few magazine shooting jobs. After I had been shooting the black metal stuff for 6 years I pitched the book idea to them in 2007. Same for XXL - I reached out to them

Me
I am really curious about how photographers get jobs, quite frankly. I am graduating in May. Stuff I should know.

PB
It's not easy. You've gotta hustle. And I kind of hate doing that, but it's part of the biz. That's why a good web presence is important, but that's obvious. The key is to shoot as much as possible for yourself and only publish the good stuff. When your portfolio is ready  you can show it to you whoever you want.

Me
Tell me a bit about the Chemtrails and Sedona skies. Is that your most recent work?




PB
Yes, both works in progress. I am working on a project documenting UFO culture. I went to a UFO convention in phoenix a few weeks ago and spent a day in Sedona. I fell in love with the town and took lots of photos. I'm trying to get back there soon to take more. Since November I've been paying attention to the chemtrail phenomenon and photographing it whenever possible. It's a work in progress, but I plan to continue it for at least another year and then try to do a book. It's my first attempt at a landscape project.

Me
Did you also use a mix of formats for those? I noticed some were 35mm.

PB
A couple were 35mm.  I do mostly digital but when I was in AZ. I shot some medium format as well. I love my Mamiya!

Me
I was wondering if there was some shift you were aware of or if it was just a natural progression into something different?

PB
Just a natural progression. I don't want to be a music photographer. There are so many more things I want to explore. And I'm sick of "scenes." I've been part of too many in my life.

Me
You did a lot of outdoors stuff already. It was like it was bubbling under the surface the whole time.

PB
I see that as a natural progression also. I just need to get these books out!

Me
I really enjoyed Truckers, too. The image of the tattoos and the dirty nails is so interesting.



PB
That was a project while I was in college.

Me
So, you've done one book?

PB
Two actually. A Japanese design company approached me in 2005 about publishing the black metal work. It was only a work in progress at the time, but they published an edition of 3000 of a beautifully packaged book.

Me
Oh wow. So, two books at 32. An amazing portfoilio of work. That's really admirable.

Do you stay in contact with most of the people you shoot?

PB
Some of them. I'm still pretty tight with a few guys in Norway and several guys in Houston. I'm very attached to both places. So, I'm sure I will continue to visit them for years to come.

Me
Last question.  Are there any artists that you would suggest or any Houston photographers I should keep an eye out for?

PB
Mike Frost. He shot Paul Wall's album covers and many more. His website is www.slfemp.com.


We finished the conversation reminiscing about LoneStar beer and all things Houston.  PB talked about possibly making a trip to Houston this summer. If he does, you better believe yours truly will be wrangling him into a shoot and more discussion about his work and the biz.  Stay tuned for that. 

To see Peter's work, visit his site. www.peterbeste.com

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