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Peter Gordon Interview

Peter Gordon Interview - Peter Gordon recently won European Photographer of the Year with his 'Life and Death - The Temple' project. We find out more about him and his work.

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Between Life and Death
'Between Life and Death' by Peter Gordon

Peter Gordon is an Irish documentary photographer who has recently been named European Photographer of the year by both the FEP and the IPPA. He is currently trying to get his award winning project, Life and Death: The Temple made into a photography book so that everyone can enjoy his work. We spoke to him about his life and his work.

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I'm based in Ireland where I've been working full time as an artist stroke photographer for 7 years.  I co run ExploreLight photography with my father Ed. Our first port of call is creating projects that inspire us and hopefully others too. I love making landscape images but I'm also very drawn to documentary people work. Whatever I'm shooting it's always project based and I always work towards a collection of work.

2013 has been an amazing year so far and I've managed to win Irish and overall European Photographer of the Year with the IPPA and FEP respectively.

How did you get into photography?
I was heading down the path of NGO work after studying history and politics but bit the photography bug through my Dad who's also a photographer. I got hooked and there was no turning back. After I finished college I needed to make a choice and I went with the photography.

What equipment do you use?
I've used a range of equipment in my time. My first major project launch was in 2011. I shot everything on transparency film primarily on 67. The Burning Man project went digital and was shot on a Nikon D3x, a 24mm PC lens, my trusty 24-70mm and the 70-200mm. I switched again recently and I'm now packing a Nikon D800e. It's an amazing camera but I still have a soft spot for the film. Maybe I'll go back someday. With the resolution of the D800e I think it would need to be large format.

'Meditation' by Peter Gordon

What draws you to travel photography?
There's a great amount of truth in the phrase 'there's no place like home'. I think though we appreciate this much more when we have time to experience as much as we can of what the world has to offer. I love my home, specifically the Irish landscape, but I also get a real buzz from visiting and photographing new places. It's inspiring, sometimes uncharted. I'm always hungry to see new and exciting things. I think it can reinvigorate your photography and certainly provides me with great inspiration. 

Tell us a bit about what inspired the project you submitted to the FEP/ IPPA.
The images that won the overall awards were created at a festival in Nevada, USA called Burning Man. Since 2000 there has been a Temple built at the festival. At its core it's a spiritual space for people to celebrate life, often times through marriage, and also to grieve and deal with the less pleasant emotional parts of our existence. This is done by inscribing messages on the Temple walls, meditating, shared experience and letting the building burn at the end of the week. It's a cathartic process.

In 2011 the Temple was known as the Temple of Transition and was built by a crew of artists called IAM. One of the leads is an old friend of mine called Diarmaid Horkan from Ireland. He got me involved to make some images of the structure as part of a fundraising drive to build the Temple. The idea was that the images would be supplied as fine art prints retrospectively in return for a pledge of support to help build the Temple.

That was my initial remit and motivation. However, as I spent more time at the Temple I saw a genuinely compelling documentary story unfolding. More than this, as I asked around I was told it had never been told through photography before. I was engaged in the experience, excited by its nuance and complexity, and wowed by the amazing light and aesthetic that it was all being told through.

And the end of the process I have a book that I will be publishing on the subject plus some award winning submissions to go with it. A great week's work!

Haelthy Body, Healthy Mind
'Health Body, Healthy Mind' by Peter Gordon
How did you scout out/ set up your shots?
To be honest none of the images are set ups in terms of posing. I wasn't able to scout the images but I did spend 6 days in one place watching everything unfold. There were times when anticipation of behaviour was needed. So with the image Healthy Body Healthy Mind (above) for example, I set the composition as I saw the girl on the bike coming across the Playa. I waited for her to be right in the centre of the arch before I released the shutter. The majority of other images were captured as a result of being present in a space and letting everything unfold around you making images that told the story as you went.

In terms of technical set up I tried to use a tripod whenever possible though it wasn't always feasible when doing some of the reportage work. Just keeping ISO down and making sure you had the desired shutter speed for sharpness (through changes in aperture and ISO). It's quite basic technical stuff.

The Playa Peter Gordon
'The Playa' by Peter Gordon

Tell us a bit about what you've got planned next.
The winning entry is part of a much larger project known as 'Life and Death - The Temple'. I am currently running a Kickstarter campaign to try and publish a book of the work and launch an exhibition in my home town of Dublin. I am also actively seeking space to bring the show further afield in Europe and to the USA.

If you want to see how the project is progressing you can visit Peter's Kickstarter campaign here.

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