The anti-voyeur

Seven decades of Anders Petersen's unmistakeable brand of black and white hedonism

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The Definitive Monograph
Untitled Anders Petersen

Born in Stockholm in 1944, Anders Petersen's career has left an unmistakeable stamp on European documentary photography over the last seven decades. His black and white images of Parisian transexuals in the '50s captured a distinctive style that was to become his trademark - that unmistakeable blend of hedonism alongside the everyday. In 1985 an image from his Café Lehmitz series graced the cover of Tom Waits' Rain Dogs. Often profiled as a "voyeur" immersed in the seedier side of life, Petersen disagrees telling us that "There is no 'voyeuristic' or 'strange' to this approach. It's only a normal longing for a context." 

In light of the recent publication of The Definitive Monograph, the most comprehensive overview of his work to date, Dazed spoke to Petersen about the new book and debunking the myth that he is 'The outsider's photographer'.

Dazed Digital: What was the process like selecting the images for The Definitive Monograph

Anders Petersen: In the beginning I gave Patric Leo 1600 images to choose from, he is an old friend and a very intuitive and professional book designer. I really trust him. He helped me so many times before and now he pealed away a lot of pictures so after a while we had around 300 left. My idea was to start with what I'm doing today and end up with some pictures from Café Lehmitz in the sixties. I also tried to fit in some unpublished and new work combining them with older pictures to find a kind of balance. But without Patric Leo's help it wouldn't work.

DD: This collection spans a lot of your individual project - which are you most proud of?

Anders Petersen: I have problems with the word 'proud'. Shooting is only a way of being.

The Definitive Monograph
Image from 'Café Lehmitz' for Tom Wait's Rain Dogs (1985) Anders Petersen

DD: Your work is often defined as having an 'outsider's perspective' - is this a conscious pursuit?

Anders Petersen: No, there is no outsider perspective. I don't shoot especially poor or marginalized people, I'm just telling stories about people I can identify with and they are everywhere, in every social level with every kind of profession and they are right in front of you. 

DD: You've said that the encounters you have are more important than the pictures that come from them. Who was the most interesting character you encountered within this collection?

Anders Petersen: To me, every single picture and every personality has an interesting story. Every one. I am not looking for what is separating us, but for what is bringing us together.

DD: What was the story behind this photograph?

The Definitive Monograph
The Definitive Monograph Anders Petersen

Anders Petersen: This picture is from Stockholm 1987, late Friday afternoon in August. I met these women in one of  the streets close to where I'm living. We started to talk and they invited me to their apartment. We shared a bottle and spent many hours together, we were all dancing and kind of warming up a little before going to a more fancy place called Café Opera in the center of Stockholm. It was a happy night.

The Definitive Monograph is out now through Max Strom

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