Peter Coulson is a fashion photographer situated in Melbourne, Australia.
His work is often provocative, and has been the subject of much debate. His work focuses on a variety of topics, often addressing controversial issues ranging from religion, sexuality, gender and power.
He has received much acclaim throughout his photographic career (2011 Canon AIPP Australian Fashion Photographer of the Year, 2010 Canon AIPP Australian Professional Photographer of the Year, 2010 Canon AIPP Australian Commercial Photographer of the Year, 2011 Epson AIPP Victorian Commercial Photographer of the Year, 2010 Epson AIPP Victorian Commercial/Advertising Photographer of the Year, 2010 Epson AIPP Victorian Illustrative Photographer of the Year, 2010 Runner-up Epson AIPP Victorian Professional Photographer of the Year) though Peter maintains it’s his need for expression that drives him to create, not the awards.
I meet a buzzing Peter at his studio in Killsyth, business titled Koukei Studios. It’s mid December of 2013. I enter into a large warehouse room, covered in white paint from wall to wall. There are two large cyclorama’s on either side of the room. Another photographer is shooting a large chopper bike on the left side of the room in the larger cyclorama – I’m amazed by the gigantic equipment being used, with a massive overhead soft-box hanging from above and a huge ten metre high Broncolor octagonal soft-box sitting in the adjacent studio area. I sit waiting at his desk, and after sorting out some bits and pieces Peter joins me, continuing to work whilst I interview him. He has a friendly and candid presence.
I chose to interview Peter, with me as the aspiring student, and he as the established professional. I wanted to see what knowledge I could gain from his years of experience. I may not be a journalist, but I’ve done my best to ask questions that would be useful for other artists from within this field. The replies are according to my recollection and are not word for word as I did not record the session. I hope this will do justice.
Interview With Melbourne Photographer
Have you always been interested in photography?
It was initially a hobby – I was photographing musicians and bands on the side to start out with. The passion grew over time – I just wanted to create. I can’t paint or sing, but photography I could do – I needed a way to express myself. I was shooting all the time, and eventually opened a business and began photographing the products for that, so it just progressed from there.
Did you consciously decide to work towards being a full time photographer?
It was a passion first and foremost but I definitely felt the need for a career change. I was unhappy with the previous work I was doing. I was photographing all the time and started to get to know people. I eventually began receiving recognition and various work opportunities presented themselves to me, so I decided to take that route.
Where would you say you find inspiration for your images?
I don’t really actively seek inspiration, but I am inspired by other fashion and portrait photographers. It’s very evident in my work. If you know your history you’ll be able to pick whose work I enjoy immediately – photographers like Peter Demarchelier, Peter Lindbergh, Helmut Newton, et cetera. I enjoy the dark shadows and contrasted images – the black and white just enhances that effect.
Do you ever go to galleries around Melbourne or attempt to connect with the local artists around the city?
Other than the people I work with directly I don’t really go out into the local community. I find it all to be a bit of a bore, I don’t seem to fit in with those types. I just want to photograph really.
What would you say has been the most efficient way of marketing yourself as a professional within this industry?
Without a doubt Facebook. It’s what everyone is using and if you know how to utilize it properly you can build an audience very quickly. You need to constantly upload new images all the time, one by one. Uploading multiple shots of the same shoot diminishes the strength of the best image – you’ve got to choose your best shot and stick with it.
Are you interested in other mediums of art? If so, who are your favourites?
Not particularly, I mostly only look at other photographers and an assortment of films. I often watch the live streams on SHOWStudio found on YouTube. The Nick Knight stuff is just amazing. They’re very long videos but you can see every little aspect that goes into a professional photo shoot, nothing is hidden. It’s a great way to see how the professionals work.
How would you describe your photography?
I try to create something unique, something beautiful and emotively enticing. You’ll always notice within my photographs that I try to tell a story with the models eyes. You can tell what someone is thinking or feeling simply through the expression in their eyes.
And how do you get your models to show those kinds of expressions?
It’s a long process – I’ll shoot the same model two, three, four times at eight hours per session. This is so I can get to know them and so they feel comfortable in front of the camera – I try to photograph them as a person rather than a model. I talk to them and get to know them, and by the third day I’ll get some of the best shots because they’ve let their guard down – they’ll show their true self in front of the camera.
What do you feel has allowed you to become as successful as you are now?
Shooting every day and constantly producing new work. I haven’t had a day off for years – I was even here in the studio on Christmas Day. You just need to be entirely committed to what you’re doing.
What is your process for setting up for a photo shoot? Do you make photo treatments or do you sketch out ideas?
If I come up with an idea on the spot, when travelling or what have you – I usually use this little drawing app on my iPad and sketch up the idea quickly. [Scrolling through different sketches] you can see I just do something quick and basic that will jog my memory again at a later date. And in regards to photo treatments, I only really write them up for big projects.
What tools of the trade do you find to be the most useful?
The Hassleblad, definitely – the higher dynamic range is wonderful. The image quality is unbelievable. I often shoot with an octagonal softbox, but it all varies and depends on what subject I’m working with really. For the most part I work with natural light – no reflectors – working in a big white studio with large windows you get some great light quality.
What outlets have allowed you to learn the most in regards to both composing imagery, understanding the technicalities required for a photograph, and establishing yourself as a professional within the industry?
Shooting an idea and just physically practising all the time. Honestly, assisting other photographers and going to school doesn’t do anything – look at me, I didn’t study to get where I am. It’s all about just constantly producing new work and mastering your skills, and you can only do that by physically picking up a camera and getting out there.
You also need to be extremely fussy with your work – I’ll spend a full day perfecting a lighting scenario just so that I can get that exact right shot. Don’t ever just move onto the next shot and settle for something so-so, go over everything and nail that shot you wanted.
So would you say it matters if you have a technically correct image?
Not at all – of course it depends what you’re photographing, it matters if it’s a product shoot – but for my own portraiture if I want something to be black I’ll make it black. If the image looks good, that’s all that matters.
Overall, what would you say has been the most difficult obstacle to overcome throughout your photographic career?
Myself, confidence within my work and the ideas I produce. Being sure that what you’re producing is worthwhile in some way and staying completely convicted with the ideas you come up with.