Pete Turner

It’s a long way from Albany. Almost to the edge of Long Island, Pete Turner’s home is shrouded in greenery. The u-shaped driveway is bordered with blooming flowers of the season. The structure is nothing short of exciting. It is home to African art and enormous photographic prints by Turner and his famous friends. Hardwood floors lead you to tight hallways and cozy rooms. Pete Turner and his wife Reime transformed their once summer home to their permanent residence. A two-story studio complete with loft office-space serves as Turner’s work place. The rich dcor and warmth portrays the true peaceful spirit of the artist at this stage of his life and career.

Born in Albany, New York, Pete Turner was introduced to photography at age seven. His parents bought him a camera and Pete turned his bedroom closet into a mini-darkroom. While dabbling in developing fluids, he became fascinated with chemistry.

In the early years, his father was a band leader working mostly out of Montreal. Eventually, his father moved his family to Rochester Institute of Technology and worked under Minor White and other famous photographers. His graduating class included Paul Caponigro, Bruce Davidson, and Jerry Uelsmann.

Turner’s first assignments out of school were in the editorial genre. He took a six month expedition to Africa for National Geographic Magazine. Traveling in a caravan, Turner covered landscapes from Capetown to Cairo. This adventure developed into magic for the artist as he snapped an image of a giraffe crossing the desert. “(This image) sort of developed out of a mistake. I came back from Africa and I had this great shot but it was a little overexposed and washed out.” Turner debated over how to save the image and came up with the idea of colorizing the entire image with a single color. After, the image looked as if it had been filtered and he was left dissatisfied. Still determined, Turner came up with the idea of making the horizon purple and the sky magenta. Turner worked his color wand and turned out an image of a fiery red sky contrasting a purple land with a sleek giraffe running wildly. The
result is the stunning image titled, “The Giraffe.”
At the same time Turner was perfecting “The Giraffe”, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was holding a photography and fine arts exhibit. As a young photographer, new to the scene but already talked about, Turner received an invitation from the museum to submit work for review. He submitted “The Giraffe” and two other images. His work was accepted and Turner was invited to appear at the opening of the exhibition. “So, I go up the stairs to the Metropolitan, and this is real exciting to me because I’m just starting out,” Turner explains with a recognizable quiver in his voice. “I walk in the door and the whole exhibition is hung right in the main entrance way. And as you walk in, at the very end, in an enormous size, is my Red Giraffe.” Still timeless in its presence, The Metropolitan retained its copy of “The Giraffe” and several other images as part of their permanent collection. They’re there, but I won’t see them (exhibited) in my lifetime,” Turner smiles.

“The George Eastman House was really the first museum to seriously collect photography. That’s when it all kind of started.” Early on, Turner had an exhibit at the Eastman House and considers it “A serious spot to jump from.” Since then, his work has been exhibited worldwide. Presently, his work is in the permanent collections of the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House, International Center of Photography among others. He has also collected over three hundred awards from various photography and design groups.

After his travels, his expertise in color saturation made him an ideal commercial photographer. Bright colors emphasizing products or scenes led Pete Turner down a path to a high-tech Manhattan studio with accounts such as United Airlines, Philip Morris, Bell Atlantic, and BMW. Turner, from his studio at Carnegie Hall in New York City, became an innovator by developing a complicated web of slide projectors, which work together to layout images for advertisements. Using up to twelve projectors, Turner is able to display a grid to show dimensions of the necessary space and overlay images to achieve the desired look. This system made his business prosper long before any software was developed to merge images. “I still think way is easier, less time consuming and more precise,” Turner explains. Combining his travel photos and studio shots, Turner also made a prosperous venture into the world of stock photography. The background images sold today by companies such as The Image Bank were hard to come by when Turner began his career. Today, these companies are commonplace in the industry and Turner still provides some stock photos to them from his travels.

The tastes change. Pete Turner and I are grazing through his thousands of images neatly organized in Lucite boxes. All of the slides have been color copied and a guide is sealed to the top of each box. Some are clearly favorites. Large size images of Roadsong and Coconut Woman hang in the house. These and other classics also frequent book collections and the Pete Turner website. “Roadsong” in particular is an icon of Turner’s work. “People really relate to that.” It was shot in Kansas City in 1967. Turner was on assignment for Life Books shooting ancient Chinese art objects in a museum and “going crazy.” “I remember when I was flying into Kansas City and I saw this wonderful fence, it just went on forever.” Turner promised himself he would steal a moment to photograph the whitewashed all American fence. “I thought it would be fun to come out and shoot it for perspective.” He broke out one late afternoon and set up camp. “I just waited there and there was a beautiful sunset.” Turner stayed out for hours. He shot the fence with lights, with car headlights and finally, “It turned to blue, dusk and then a car came in the opposite direction and hit his brakes at the top of the curve. His two red lights came on and I thought it was great.” He waited until there was no light and he left. “I used an indoor film, a type B film in the camera gave it a blue bias. It looked great.” Roadsong is a representation of people on the road, the searching and the ongoing spirit, a true Pete Turner original.

Pete Turner’s monograph, published by Harry Abrams, “Pete Turner – Photographs” is currently out of print in the United States. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like there will be another printing because they don’t know it’s in demand.” It’s a sad state for us. The book is a true joy to look through and with limited availability to a copy, many may never see it’s pages. “American book stores want the new and they rarely reorder unlike Europe,” Turner explained.
The homepage came as a surprise. No wild animals, no native peoples, but bubbles appear as an opening image. “You know I just wanted something that was hard to explain, something that wasn’t obvious.” The bubble image meets Turner’s requirements. It’s simplistic nature is deceiving, as the shot required a sophisticated hand. “It was (taken) during the period of bubble technology when they were thinking of running information using bubbles because they are perfect spheres, or can be.” Turner created a “spectrometric light tunnel” by using two pieces of Plexiglas and “placing bars of gels in the spectrometric color schemes” in the two sheets. He then had assistance blow bubbles between the sheets, “so you see part of the colors reflecting…I did a whole series of them.”
The site, http://www.peteturner.com is composed of three vertical frames. The site itself is simple and informative including an in-depth biography on the artist and his major works. Photographically, the site includes samples of his work from the Africa group and even some of his vintage album covers. Particularly enjoyable are the “Americana” images shot all over the United States throughout Turner’s life. Sort of a side passion, Turner has collected images of middle America in neon and bright splashes of color. A section of new images are on display, including highlights of a trip to Tuscany and a series of up-close sunflowers. The site conveniently highlights Turner’s classic works and is easy to maneuver. The pictures appear in passport size for rapid download time and expand with your click.
Turner will continue to take commercial work, but it’s not a high priority anymore. He got into photography to do what he loves, which presently is travel photography. But, that too may change. Currently, Turner is assembling the photographs just developed from his latest trip to Burma and Thailand. Caught through Turner’s lens are small children in ornate gold costumes and exquisite landscapes. Now that he’s returned, Pete Turner is thinking if his next trip. Luckier than most photographers, Turner is now able to plan his own adventures and attempts to market his images after he returns. “It’s amazing now that it’s so easy to go anywhere. Just twenty years ago you could never do it. These long haul jets are incredible. Just flights away.” The flexibility of travel and his schedule enable him to go anywhere at anytime. “I don’t know where I want to go. Maybe back to Africa. I love Africa.” He always tries to find something different when he is there. “And it’s getting hard but it keeps me stretching.
Every time I pick up the camera, it’s just as hard as the first time.” Also, in the future is a return trip to Australia. “I’ve been so many places and to go again, you have to scratch behind the surface and that’s hard.” Even with all of the freedoms, there are still places Turner longs to go . “It gets more and more obscure.” When planning a trip, Turnet usually creates a list of places to go. “The funny thing is that the trip winds up exciting not because you photograph the things you want to, but the surprises that you find along the way to the things you wanted to photograph… It’s like Disney World sometimes.” The childlike energy within the man inspires the amazing photographs and vibrant colors. “If you keep yourmind open for a new experience, when you’re shooting you can grow and find something new. And I really get a kick out of that.”
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