Vincent Peters uses light to translate the mood of celebrities

Christian Bale, Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, Cindy Crawford, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Scarlett Johansson, Emma Watson. In addition to the extraordinary nature of their lives and careers, these celebrities will always remain united by two other aspects: they were photographed by Vincent Peters and will have a space at Palazzo Reale (Milan) from Thursday 12 January to 26 February, as part of the show (free) Timeless Time.

Peters, born in Bremen in 1969, started out as a fashion photographer and then specialized in celebrity portraits, working with the most prestigious international brands and magazines. Distinguished by a cinematic style, Peters is as if he were able to sculpt his subjects through a skilful use of light. It is precisely on this aspect that the Milanese exhibition (curated by Alessia Glaviano) will focus, dedicated to ninety black and white works in which lighting is by no means a marginal component.

Charlize Theron in 2008 ((Ph. Vincent Peters, courtesy of AFF Communication)

Light can tell stories, emphasize or hide character as well as physical characteristics. And, in Peters’ case, transmitting and defining emotions that risk remaining latent. Because – even if it seems obvious – celebrities are people with their weaknesses and fears, and the German photographer is extremely skilled at entering into synergy with them and accompanying them in an experience that goes beyond a mere photo shoot: «A shooting is like a conversation», he told us in the interview that you can read below.

The photos exhibited in Timeless Time they were taken between 2001 and 2021, and a good percentage of the shots selected by Glaviano have a firm place in the collective imagination of all of us. Even those who don’t know that Vincent Peters was behind the lens, pigeonholing his works in an ageless time, making them immortal. “Iconic” is one of the most abused terms of all, but in the case of the works of the German photographer it is undoubtedly a spot-on adjective.

What strategies do you use to show, through the use of light, the emotions of the subjects you photograph?
«I have always been fascinated by the intrinsic ability of light to guide and define emotions. Light alone can tell a story. In photography, the eye directs the heart. With the light I try to create a particular emotion that translates the state of mind of the subject. And it is always with light that I try to tell the story that I would like the subject to tell».

Does light help remind us that, after all, celebrities are “normal” people?
“Each person reflects light in their own way. Celebrities are ordinary people, just like the saints of the Catholic religion. They have the ability to go beyond our qualities with a little more perfection, and this makes them appear unattainable. They are the best version of who we are and what we like to be. We project our desire onto them. So yes, just like in the Renaissance, light is a tool that enhances its qualities. That’s why a photo of a celebrity can confirm your expectations or give you a completely different idea than you expected».

What’s the secret to making celebrities feel at ease?
“You have to look people in the eye, treat them with respect and curiosity. I always ask questions, but I must never forget the professionalism of the context: as a photographer, I have to deliver a result. So I have to be able to handle all situations well. In general I would say that a photo shoot is like a good conversation. It’s not just a matter of question and answer: there has to be an exchange».

Monica Bellucci in 2006 (Ph. Vincent Peters, courtesy of AFF Communication)

How did you develop your techniques based on the use of light?
«There are two different historical periods in which lighting was used to express the characteristics of the people depicted in the images: the Renaissance and the Study system Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s. Both have very deep influences within my work, but also in the particular quality of the compositions and sets».

What do you hope to communicate to visitors through your exhibition at Palazzo Reale?
«We are in a historical period in which we are used to seeing results as candy, but this does not lead to any interesting emotional experience. Art should lead you to a certain place, but it should also provide the tools to finish the solo experience: it shouldn’t do it for you. What is misunderstood about the artistic experience is that people don’t want to make an effort or that they don’t want to be left alone with their emotions. Some sense of confusion could lead to an unexpected perspective on things. What matters is not what you see, but the feeling you get when you leave».

What is your relationship with Milan and what role has this city played in your career?
«Milan has always represented something beautiful for me. I think my first big breakthrough was the Miu Miu campaign where I worked with Miuccia Prada. In general, all of Italy has a strong impact on the language and mythology that I use in my work. And I appreciate the way Italian films manage to explain the human condition».

Is there a celebrity you’ve never photographed that you’d like to work with?
“Yes, but my icons are getting old. I’ve always wanted to photograph Mick Jagger, for example. Today, however, it is increasingly difficult to find people with that universal appeal».

What advice would you give to a young photographer?
«Don’t try to impress people with skills pop techniques and effects in your photos. Try to express yourself with what is unique within you: there is always something there. My grandfather always said: “You don’t have to look at the stars if you carry the universe within you”».

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About David Martin

David Martin is the lead editor for Spark Chronicles. David has been working as a freelance journalist.

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