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Sport 30: Peter Black-Real Fiction

Down Time

Down Time

Peter Black's photographs frequently capture subjects sleeping, daydreaming, sunbathing or slouching: people in their ‘down time’. In Western art—from Poussin to Matisse and Kertesz and onwards—the reclining figure, usually female, has put in some very long hours as the earthly page 57 embodiment of Beauty. Which brings us to the rather different reclining figures in Peter's work. Take the street photograph from his 2002 series ‘Streetworks’ [p155], in which a young woman in high heels lies prostrate on a sun-warmed stone wall in central Auckland. The subject, like a female superhero, is horizontal, as if flying into her dream-state, high heels trailing like jet-streams. Needless to say, the figure is neither idealised, romanticised, allegorised nor eroticised. (In fact, it is the marvellous peripheral details to which the eye is drawn: the tiled swimming pool-like walls, a row of concrete triangles, the vegetation on the frock …)

The photograph was taken without recourse to the camera's viewfinder. This has been Black's preferred technique in recent years, the camera hand-held. While, on some occasions, Peter might use a tiny, automatic-focus Olympus camera with auto-wind, here he used a single-lens reflex camera, the camera setting hurriedly approximated and the photo taken. Operating the camera at waist-height allows the photographer to work spontaneously and without drawing attention to himself. It also introduces an element of surprise: he is not aware of the success or failure of the images until he sees them, for the first time, on a proof sheet. ‘Working on this series,’ he recalls, ‘I wanted the camera to do things I wasn't aware of … As it eventuated, the camera was telling me a new way of seeing.’ Intriguingly, we find the height at which Black's hand-held images are usually taken is closer to the viewpoint of a pet animal or child than of an adult. And we find his lens frequently aimed at the ground or road—a ‘street photography’ in the most concrete sense.

Peter Black's street photographs [pp102–105, 155–159] explore the split-second, not the extended lengths of time required by pictorialists and the users of large-format cameras. Peter says he has very little patience: ‘If I don't find the thing when I'm out walking around then I'm not interested.’ Similarly, photographing from a car for ‘Moving Pictures’ [pp106–127] left a great deal up to spontaneity and chance. ‘You turn a corner and something new is there,’ he explains. ‘You have to make a gut decision to take a photograph. It isn't conscious … there is no waiting around for the right moment. You could think of these images as a kind of anti-documentary photography. How can it be documentary when you are travelling at speed—there just isn't time to think?’