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Possession is a good word. It is a bit like being possessed… it’s not a rational decision, it’s just something I have to do.

In this fascinating episode of Cultural Icons, Hamish McKay of Hamish McKay Gallery Wellington, converses with iconic contemporary photographer Peter Peryer. Peter has been called a “walking microscope”, which is exemplified by his inquisitive style and the way that he plays with the scale of his subjects.

Detailing his formative years on a dairy farm in Takanini, the Hokianga and Takapuna, Peter considered studying medicine as he was greatly interested in biology. However, he found at the time, you were either supposed to be interested in science or the arts – “it was as if Leonardo da Vinci never existed.” He ultimately studied English and became a teacher, yet the influence of science is evident in his works.

He took up photography in his early 30’s and was influenced by American photographer Larence Shustak, who had come to New Zealand to teach photography. Shustak critiqued Peter’s work and left an indelible impression on his focus and praxis. Other influential photographers such as Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Karl Blossfeldt, as well as the Surrealist Salvador Dali, are just some of the artists he admires.

Peter has photographed a number of subjects over his long career. He tends to deliberate over his next photograph and is often struck by something whilst out and about. He finds that it is important to explore, and the arrival of modern technology (such as his iPhone which he often take photographs with) has made the process easier. He recognises that it is hard to keep one’s creative drive fresh, but he works hard at it.

This episode is full of frank, informative and funny insights into his life and practice. From learning how to develop photos in a dark room off the school hall at Otahuhu Intermediate, to setting up his daughter’s room with doughnuts for his famous photograph Doughnuts (1983), Peter maintains a pragmatic, stoical view on the struggles of an artist.

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