Peter Scheirer is a Bay Area-based photographer. While primarily a hobby, Peter has been uniquely passionate about photography for both its artistic and technical aspects. He is mainly self-taught but possesses the skill and know-how of a long-time professional photographer who has a keen eye for composition and light. Indeed, he has become the unofficial designated photographer for events at his daughter’s school and the camera-toting ‘man on the street’ on his many travels. This week Peter speaks to atlas about his recent trip to Taiwan, his approach to photography, and the famous image that ignited his long-time photography passion.
How did you first become interested in photography?
Peter Scheirer: During high school, I saw a print of Steve McCurry’s “Afghan Girl” of Sharbat Gula. The emotional impact lingered in the background for years while I tried to produce something similar with other people’s cameras. Not satisfied with the results just after college (about 25 years ago), I purchased the manual film SLR camera Minolta X700 and a 50mm. After I saw what I produced, I knew I was finally starting down the right track. But after 25 years, one would think I would be McCurry-esque by now. In addition to my full-time non-photography career for the past ten years, I have also been a parent so I do not have much free time to develop my interests. Perhaps when I retire I can try to become “McCurry II.”
What do you look for in terms of composition?
Whatever strikes me. I find the “Rule of Thirds” interesting and it has a role to play in general but there are many situations where (even assuming you have the time to compose a shot) such structure actually interferes with the emotional spirit that I am trying to catch with the camera.
Which genres do you like to photograph in particular?
I tend to shy away from landscape and nature mainly because I am a city guy at heart. My initial subjects were casual portraits of friends, interesting surfaces (such as stone walls and wooden floors), and doors. After my daughter was born, she got added to the mix. I then realized that photo sessions with my daughter when she was young were not too different from wildlife photography. Perhaps that falls into “nature.”
You recently returned from a trip to Taiwan. Can you tell us a bit about these images from your trip?
I have been visiting Taiwan off-an-on since the late 1990’s and I have seen how the country has undergone quite a transformation. While elements of the old society still linger there, nowadays it is overlaid in part by modern elements. I captured these from my trip there in June 2016 with a Nikon P7700, a marvelous little travel camera.
The top image was taken in the Five Channels Cultural Zone in Tainan. It is a neighborhood multi-story temple tucked away on a side street. Lanterns down the street help mark a birthday for the person being honored in the temple. Nevertheless, businesses like the “Fat Cat Story” and a bar still need to operate
The second image shows rows of orange bikes with Velo seats.Taipei in the past few years had started a program “YouBike” where people can rent bikes by the half hour. Based on the frequency of people riding such bikes during the hot and humid June, I am guessing that the program is at least a moderate success, and in my mind shows how far of a modern city Taipei has become. These bikes have begun to displace the ubiquitous gas-powered little-polluting scooters which in turn replaced the gas-powered big-polluting motorcycles. Note that these YouBikes are in conjunction to a modern subway system that seems to grow a few stations every time I visit.
Here is a pedestrian-only white suspension bridge that connects two parts of Bitan, located in the Xindian section of Taipei. The picture only shows one side of that bridge, but it frames nicely one bar that is just to the right of the bridge’s base and another bar that literally on a small cliff. Intrepid visitors can rent out paddle boats on the river, but given the warm weather most people skipped exhausting themselves that way. That immediate area is quite hilly. Off in the distance are the rooftops of two temples.
This image is a wall with a circular entrance way. This wall can be found in the Lin Mansion in the Banqiao section of Taipei, a compound with a residence and gardens of a wealthy family. This compound has its roots in the mid-1800’s with work extending for decades afterwards. This wall clearly contains classic Chinese elements yet presents them in such a minimalist way that suggests that the wall was intended to be modern for its time.
All of these photos are shown here without any edits; not even a cropping or a “vivid” in-camera setting. Part of me wants to be pure to the original scene, and another part of me wants to spend more time taking pictures rather than editing them. Only for the very occasional photo intended as a gift or a photo that really calls for some modification do I use my photo editing software (Adobe Photoshop Elements with plug-ins from Anthropics, Nik Software, and Topaz Labs).
If you could go on a photo shoot with any photographer (living or deceased), who would it be?
Any intelligent and interested elementary school kid. Children that age are fascinated by details of life and living that adults have glossed over decades ago. Kids have a new perspective on something old, as it were.
Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, Peter!
All images © Peter Scheirer.