Stockholm Rock City
Michigan-based photographer Stefan Peterson has made a career of standing alongside stomping, thrashing throngs at rock shows and snapping crystal-clear photos of the mayhem. He's been photographing rock music shows and scenes since the mid-90s, and his latest exhibit, “Together in the Darkness,” is made of photos he took while documenting rock in Sweden.
Check out a wicked slideshow of Peterson's rock photos here.
City Pages: Why did you choose to photograph rock bands in Sweden?
Stefan Peterson: It all started when I started buying records from bands in Sweden around 1997. I started photographing bands in general in the mid-90s, but when I started buying records from these bands, I had had no idea what was coming out of Sweden. Also, my family was from Sweden a few generations back. So I was interested because of the music angle and the family connection. Then in 1999 a band called the Hellacopters came to Detroit, and I photographed them, and we had mutual friends. Shortly after that concert, I took a trip to Sweden for the first time. I started meeting more and more people every time I went over. And, of course, everybody I was meeting was a friend with somebody in a band. So I ended up meeting all of these musical people and going to their concerts and shooting them.
CP: You've been photographing bands for a long time now. Does shooting rock shows in Sweden vary from shooting in the U.S.?
The Patsy Walkers. SP: Oh, yeah. When I started I was in small bars in my hometown, or in basements or living rooms. I eventually worked up to bigger clubs in Detroit. But when I finally went to Sweden, it was just a completely different vibe. For example, in Sweden, I've had people move out of my way, or some people even push me to the front of the stage when they see me coming through with a camera. I don't know these people; they're just kind of like, “Oh! Somebody's taking a picture. Go right ahead.” In the states, it tends to be every man for himself; you have to just elbow your way to whatever position you can get and hold onto that position for dear life. Swedish clubs are a little more relaxing, without being totally lame. They also have better lighting. As much as I love dive bars with one spotlight it's night to have a lighting rig when you go to a club. From a photographic angle, that helps.
CP: Do you ever get roughed up while doing shooting these concerts?
SP: Certainly; every time. I always feel things beating my back, elbows and whatever. If you're part of it, you expect to get roughed up. But you just brush it off, or move a little; whatever you have to do to shift our harm's way. Sometimes I'll have friends who, if they see someone is really not paying attention or giving me a hard time, they'll stand behind me and block for me, which is helpful.
CP: You still do a lot of shooting with film and develop in a darkroom. Why don't you make the shift to digital?
Swedish band Randy. SP: I don't even own a digital camera. The main thing is, I grew up with film, and it's what I know best. In a way, it's more reflective of how I see: The grain and the grittiness and the imperfection. If it looks too perfect, I won't think I'm doing a good job. I've seen digital work that looks too crisp and clear. Also, I also know how film reacts to certain situations, and I'm not very good with digital.
CP: Why do you shoot almost exclusively in black and white?
SP: I've thought about that actually, and I've tried to use color recently. Black and white is more striking, a little starker. I think it makes people think a little more about what something in the photo might have been like, but in color it gives too clear of a view of how things were. With black and white it's as if you have to use your imagination a little more and fill in the blanks and read between the lines. In a way, it's journalistic and feels like a documentary.
Check out “Together in the Darkness” at the American Swedish Institute through August 3. 2600 Park Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.871.4907.
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