The moose peterson interview

So, fame and fortune was never what we (my wife Sharon & I) were after. I’m a third-generation Californian, and I’ve just seen a lot of the things that I grew up with – places I used to play, critters I used to watch – just disappear. So it’s really a very selfish thing that I think I’m doing, which is to try to preserve all that I can for my kids, their kids and future generations. We were left an incredible legacy of wild heritage and wild places to go. At the very least we need to leave that when we leave, and the next generation comes, as stewards of all this.

You know, I’m an economics major, and a U.S.

capitalist through-and-through, however while making money has always been a part of the genre, it’s never been the driving force. We started out having to put our entire business on credit cards the first few years when funding fell through. I keep my word, and didn’t want to back out of the project, so we just paid for it all with credit cards. I remember shooting film, and it would just sit in the freezer until I could afford to get it processed.

MP: Well I’ve been very fortunate and have a family that’s been supportive. When my kids were living at home, and I’d be working on a project, we would pull them out of school to join us. There were many years they didn’t attend school as many days as required – but they learned all this extra material from working with these biologists. They still got great grades and had all these additional learning experiences, which allowed me to be a dad and father, and do this thing called photography. It’s turned out really well, and to this day my favourite shooting partners are my sons.

MP: Well I’ve been an editorial photographer my entire career, and telling stories with lots of photographs and words has kinda been my M.O. We found that you can really reach a lot more people in a documentary format versus an article. The difference is with an article you get paid some money, but with a documentary you *spend* a lot of money.

MP: It definitely takes a lot more than I can describe here, but in a nutshell I stay informed. I read a lot, and knowing your subject is so important, no matter your genre. I’m a voracious consumer of headlines and stories, and all that. From that, and talking to people who I trust, somehow things come into my mind about a direction I want to go. And once I’ve picked that direction, I don’t really give up until I’ve got what I think I need.

In the editorial or magazine world, if you take all the photographs out, you have a scientific journal. Scientific journals are pretty boring. It’s not what you’d pick up to read on a Sunday morning with the snow falling next to a fire. Editors have to have photographs, so they go out and find them. If they have just one hole (space on the page set aside for a photo) in the article, you’ll have to work pretty hard to fill that one hole.

But if you as a photographer write an article, you can create and fill the holes with your photographs. When you deliver that complete package, not only do you increase your payday from just one possible photograph, you put a complete text-photo package in the hands of the photo buyer. If it’s quality, not only do they buy it, they continue to come to you. Which is why I’ve been in 143 magazines worldwide. After all these years, I have the extreme luxury of knowing what my clients are looking for, and just being able to put it in their hands and I know it will get published.

Photo buyers are still my best teachers. They’ll sit and look at a photograph and tell me how it could be stronger in terms of telling a story. They don’t say ‘Oh you should have used a different lens, or f-stop’. They don’t go there. They say ‘This would have had more impact if…’, and they talk about the story-telling. Besides paying you, they’re teaching you.

MP: I have a file drawer full of written rejection notices from back in the days when we used typewriters and paper. I’m kinda weird, and one thing I’ve always looked for is failure. That’s the only way you grow. When a photo editor says I could have done something better, I take it to heart and never take it as criticism – that’s how you grow.

MP: This goes back to a very old grammar school lesson. When you’re starting to write and the teacher says ‘in order to write about a subject, you have to know about a subject’. And photography is no different. The word photography means ‘write with light’, so if you’re going to write, you have to know the subject. When you know the subject, the story is almost written for you, you just need to use light to move the eye through the frame.

I live about three hours from the airport here, and when I leave the house to go to the airport in the winter, I swear to Pete that at least three times on my drive it’ll be along the side of the road waving at me as I go by. I’ve spent many, many hours chasing him, and have two photographs. Both of them are butt-shots of him running away. He’s still my nemesis, and I affectionately call him the bastard. I’d love to really get some shots of this elusive, and some think endangered, species.

MP: There isn’t any critter that hasn’t required an investment in time. Since I refuse to have an impact on their daily activities, they have to do their thing as if I’m not there. And that takes time, no matter what it is. Kit fox, pikas, marmots, birds. They all require time, which is the one thing I recommend any photographer. You have to give yourself time. People are looking for results way too quickly, whether it be photographically, financially or with their business. It doesn’t happen over night. If it’s a race between the hare and the turtle, you’ve gotta be the turtle – even though I’m constantly chasing that bastard.

When I started out, I used to go to the research library at the University of California Santa Barbara. This is back when you’d have a big legal pad for notes, and have to get the help of the librarian to help you find the right book. You’d sit there and take notes, write down specific pages, do the research, so that when you go out and take photographs it’s engrained in your being.

Too many photographers now – and I hate generalizing, so I know there are exceptions – don’t even bother to read. They look at a photograph, and make way too many assumptions when they have no idea what they’re seeing and how it was constructed. Between that lack of knowledge and assumptions, they’re putting themselves down a path where, photographically if you’re in a business, you’re not going to come back from it.

So my website is there with all the ills, all the rewards, all the successes and failures. People assume a lot, but this is not a field for fame and fortune. That’s not what I, or any of the peers I hang with, are out for. If it comes, it’s strictly fleeting. So the education comes about in many ways, and if I reach one person, I feel like I’m dong ok.