Docu Interviews is a series where we interview the person behind the camera.
Who Are you?
My name is Bastian Peter. I am a street photographer from Basel in Switzerland. I am a trained cook and have worked in the kitchen for a few years. After that I became a mask maker in my family’s atelier. Masks are a big thing in Basel, as they are closely related to the carnival tradition. In the last few years I discovered street photography and since the beginning of 2019 I’ve been taking pictures almost every day. Of course, last year, and also this year, I don’t have as many opportunities because of – you guessed it – Corona.
Where did you grow up and what was it like?
I was born and raised in Basel, Switzerland. Basel is a canton in the northwest of Switzerland. The city of Basel is located on the Rhine River and is on the border with France and Germany. We have a very old and historic city, which also houses the 1000 year old cathedral, and which is possibly the most photographed building in our canton. They say that the first traces of civilization in Basel are from the Old Cretaceous period. We have a great offer of culture and art, many public events and a beautiful old town. When I was a child, the city held so much mystery and adventure, full of history and excitement – and it still does. I can always be totally inspired by the beauty and historical expressiveness of my city. I grew up surrounded by art. My parents have both been artistically active for as long as I can remember, and I grew up in the family’s mask atelier. I like to think back to my childhood. It was very connected to the city of Basel, as my life still is.
How did you become a photographer?
As far back as I remember, I was always surrounded by visual arts. My mother was a photographer and had her own studio. I can remember the smell in the darkroom and the scent of fresh film and chemicals – good memories. Later came cinema, which I immediately fell in love with. The French nouvelle vague, the German cinema. The last 35 years of Asian cinema. The independent movie wave of the 90s in America. My father’s painting and growing up in my family’s mask studio also influenced me a lot. I think it was even very late when I finally started to seriously do photography. In retrospect, I should have started street photography a few years earlier. Then, when I bought a very cheap, very affordable little camera in early 2019, I immediately started taking pictures on Basel’s streets. But until the fall of 2020, I didn’t call myself a photographer. Then things changed when I got requests for prints, and also for framed images. Now I’m still a little uncomfortable calling myself a photographer, but technically I am now. Even though I’m not really qualified, and never did any training.
Why did you choose photography over other mediums?
I don’t think I’d have a chance with filmmaking. But as a kid, I dreamed of writing scripts and directing. Buying a camera and taking pictures is the next best thing. Maybe someday I’ll design sets and photograph my own scenes. Or work with people who have nothing better to do than let me photograph them. But I really enjoy shooting on the street spontaneously and unposed. Come to think of it, I’ll probably never stop doing it. But the idea of posed, staged scenes with people who have interesting expressions, whose faces tell stories, I would also find very exciting.
What is the most interesting project you have been working with?
I had some cool projects actually. Namely as a cook, as a mask maker and also as a photographer. In addition, I have always been an active person. If I wasn’t challenged enough or felt bored, I started projects with friends. In photography, I sometimes set myself tasks. Sometimes I forget them again and sometimes they never end. In the last weeks and months I sometimes got assignments that I found very interesting. Be it special prints or framed photos. The exposure to different print qualities, papers, wood types and so on, is very interesting and shows you the other side of photography. The side that is usually more for the clientele. Actually,the part you leave behind. Long story short, the most interesting project so far is probably the one, or ones, I’m currently working on. On the one hand, I’ve set up the first swiss street photography collective, the swissstreetcollective, with a few like-minded people. And on the other hand, I’m working towards a project that I’m not allowed to say much about, except that a friend who lives and works in Los Angeles is involved. He’s a great artist and I admire his work. It’s very exciting and I’m totally looking forward to it.
What do you usually do when you start a new project?
Good question. That makes me laugh a little bit. I am actually a minimalist at heart. That means I like to have only what is truly essential around me. I work best with an empty, clean table and get what I need with it. No more and no less. Even on the computer, I work best and most effectively with only the most necessary tabs open and a tidy desktop. This is the desired state. The reality, however, is of course different. You can’t sit down and focus exclusively on one project. You have to think and work multi-pronged, or you can forget it. At least that’s how I see it. There are things you can’t and shouldn’t put off, even if it means taking a short break from a project or work that’s still going on. But as long as I approach a new project, clean, tidy and with a clear goal, none of this is a problem.
What advice would you give to young emerging photographers?
I have too little experience and too little success and too little of an idea about anything to give anyone advice. But if there is someone out there who has all these things, then I would like to be given advice myself. No, seriously, I’m not qualified to give advice.
What has been the most touching moment in your career?
I don’t have a career. But I’ll be happy to let you know if I can answer the question at some point. In times like these, or basically at all times, it’s best to appreciate what you have and try to be happy.
What are you working on right now?
The swissstreetcollective is still very new. We are planning. On the one hand, a group exhibition is planned, but we don’t know when and how exactly that will take place, because of all the Corona measures. And on the other hand we are working on a brand new website so that we have more possibilities and can offer more to future members. I am very happy to have met four such great people who always motivate me to keep going, even if it is not always easy. But we would also like to get more people to join and already have a few on the list who don’t know it themselves yet. I hope they will join us when the moment comes.
What is the story behind the swissstreetcollective?
Street photography in Switzerland is not really an issue. We are the birthplace of some good and also well-known photographers, and we have Thomas Leuthard, who has also reached an audience beyond our borders – but on the whole, street photography is not recognized or established as an art form. We would like to change that and do our part to make sure that the street is valued as a genre of photography. Even if this will probably be a long way. We would also like to help support the many street photographers in Switzerland. We plan to offer them a platform to network and show their work.
Do you think street photography has changed recently?
Yes, for sure. I think art is always changing and it has to be that way. I think to stand still artistically is the end. Through the internet and social media, we are exposed to so many types, styles, and artists at all times that trends establish themselves very quickly. Trends sometimes quickly become clichés. I myself am also often active in the cliché, and that’s okay for a while. As I said, the main thing is not to stand still. I think experimenting is important. I think photography in general is looked at differently than it used to be. You’re advised by social media gurus today that you have to have a consistent portfolio. As a result, you treat every photo with a certain filter, or capture the same scenes over and over again. I think that’s very unhealthy. Or it delays your own development.Inspiration is all well and good, but sometimes I wish I had a few days without the influence of the Internet.
How do you see the future of street photography?
I am not an art historian. All I can say about it is my conviction that we will still be amazed. This genre of photography is still a microcosm, and that’s okay. But the boundaries are blurring and more and more people are enjoying it. It will continue to evolve and I’m very excited to see what that will look like.
What else is happening now?
We are working on a new, better version of the swissstreetcollective website. Then, thanks to one of our members, we have a chance to have a group exhibition in Basel this year. She is putting a lot of effort into making that happen for us. And my personal project that I mentioned earlier is still under wraps until it becomes more concrete. Thank you for the interview and for giving me the opportunity to talk about our street photography collective in Switzerland.