A mystical microcosm of nostalgia


The duo exhibition featuring photographers James Petermeier and Anton Malinovskiy is going to take place on the 1st of June 2019 at RAW Streetphoto Gallery. In this exhibition, we will get to see interesting works of two artists that come from different countries but share a common interest in investigating social issues through photographic medium.

James Petermeier is from The Netherlands. In addition to working as a lawyer, he also devotes his time being a documentary photographer since James’s attention has all the time lied towards exploring real-life phenomena. The choice he made with regard to the pursuit of documentary photography can be mostly justified by his background in the field of social science research. In lieu of taking pictures as a way of getting out of stressful environment, through times James became more and more driven to incorporate knowledge acquired from academic education into his photography work. Specifically, James’s aspiration is always to “get a deeper understanding of the personal experiences and life of the photo subjects”.

His “Mystical Microcosm” series consists of photographs taken at a Den Haag carnival that he passed by whilst coming home from work on a December afternoon in 2017. As James entered further into the carnival, he found a microcosm that reminded him of American travelling circuses during the twentieth century. What intrigued James in the first place was the magical atmosphere surrounding him. It can be said that the light, the colors, the sounds, et cetera. which helped to create such a dreamy vibe were exquisitely captured by him. All of a sudden it feels like escaping from reality is possible and the thought of turning back time pops into your head. All elements together evokes not only a nostalgic feeling but also a carefree soul deep down inside each of us even just for a moment. Meanwhile, the behind-the-scenes pictures give the viewers an opportunity to have a truly honest look at the process of organizing the carnival.

Furthermore, from this series of photographs, we seem to start asking ourselves an open question regarding how nostalgia is changed in a modern era where the technology is ubiquitous. That being said, James’s intention was not to force viewers to grasp a certain notion. Rather, depending on our own perspectives, we will get ourselves a profound answer to whether the role of technology with respect to the above-mentioned phenomenon is destructive or constructive.

If you are interested in exploring the mind of a lawyer who also lives as an artist, please find below the interview of James Petermeier with RAW Streetphoto Gallery.

RAW Streetphoto Gallery: What led you to become a photographer?

James Petermeier: By way of background, when I lived in the United States I used to go to the gym a lot, several hours a day 4-5 times a week. It helped me clear my head of my anxieties and frustrations. And I felt like I was being productive. In 2015, I moved to Sweden to get my master's degree. To document living in Europe for two years, I bought my first camera - an Olympus TG-4. I traveled to Ireland, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, etc. While I didn't really know what I was doing, I quickly learned I enjoyed going out and photographing my trips so much. In mid-2016 I moved to Berlin for four months to carry out a research project interviewing Syrian refugees about their experiences with the Syrian civil war. This was quite a stressful and challenging time, and because I was only there temporarily I had no outlet - going to the gym - to release this stress. In its place, I would go out with my camera a few times a week, sometimes for 4 or 6 hours at a time. This was helped by the fact that Berlin is such a lively and mixed city. This gave me a great opportunity to practice street photography, photographing people, and getting out of my stressful environment. I have been in love with photography ever since. While I started out with street photography, I have transitioned into a focus on documentary photography and visual storytelling. My aspiration would be to do war and conflict documentation.

RAW Streetphoto Gallery: How does your other profession influence your photography work?

James Petermeier: By education, I am a lawyer from the US, and I also have a social science research background - focusing on peace and conflict research. Given the heavy research emphasis in both of these fields, I think that has driven me to more documentary photography. While every style of photography can tell a story, my motivation is to get a deeper understanding of the personal experiences and life of the photo subjects. Especially my master's education has influenced me in this direction.

RAW Streetphoto Gallery: What make street photography outstanding when compared to other genres in your opinion?

James Petermeier: I think, nowadays, with cameras everywhere, it is so easy to just shoot a photograph, focusing only on the aesthetics but not focusing on the underlying story behind the subject. Even in my own progression in photography, I have found myself doing this at times. I think that street photography is especially vulnerable to this. If you see a cool street scene, a photographer snaps a quick photo, and doesn't think beyond the aesthetics. And I think that this nature of street photography makes it exceptionally challenging to be a great street photographer. Compared to, say, portrait or landscape photography, where you take time to compose and "get to know" the subject, its characteristics and underlying story. If you take the time and apply these same considerations to street photography, it is an outstanding medium to portray unique and interesting stories about the subject in their natural, real, and un-composed environment. In short, if done well, it is perhaps one of the best means in which to portray "real life."

RAW Streetphoto Gallery: Talking about the exhibited works, what is your main source of inspiration for this series?

James Petermeier: One of the main photographers/series I looked at when first starting this project was Bruce Davidson's work on the Clyde Beatty Circus (1958), Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus (1965), and James Duffy and Sons Circus (1967). Specifically, how Davidson looked at the life of the circus/carnival in relationship to its social surroundings, the impact of city vs urban, and the social views of the circus. I looked at how factors such as technological growth, modernization, and the like, impact the ideas of the magic, mystique, and traditions of the nostalgic carnival in the modern city.

RAW Streetphoto Gallery: Have you ever considered to create a series of photographs that merely serves an aesthetic purpose?

James Petermeier: I have, and in some ways I have even done this while learning. I photographed a series of jazz performances in Rotterdam. I only captured the visuals of the performances, without capturing the mood of the surroundings, the stories of the performers, etc. However, the longer I have found myself with a camera, the more I feel compelled to push myself deeper in to the subjects experiences - to apply what I have learned as a social science researcher - to capture more than just the aesthetically pleasing photo.

RAW Streetphoto Gallery: What are your future plans with respect to the career (as a photographer)?

James Petermeier: I have only started learning the art of photography. I bought my first camera only 4 years ago, and I feel I have a long way to go in terms of learning. However, my aspiration is to document war, conflict, social movements and protests. My plans (immediate and longer-term) is to network and brand myself in this direction. While some of my previous work has been more event photography, I always aim to make sure there is a degree of social value and storytelling within each project. My plan is to continue this aim, pushing myself more in a professional direction, that I can use visual storytelling as a means to create awareness on social issues.

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