Thomas Peter

Thomas Peter

Based
Tokyo, Japan
Born
Gera, Germany
Status
Photographer
Camera
Canon 1DX, 5D Mark III
“The labour-intensive process of carving out a narrative from the chaotic world that surrounds us, and creating something that is meaningful to others, is a very rewarding exercise.”

Beat

I cover politics, general reporting and sport.

One Shot

. Moscow, Russia. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
A worker in a McDonalds fast-food restaurant watches a cat tossed across the counter by a performance artist in Moscow.
“One of my favourite images was shot in a McDonalds in Moscow. It shows a cat flying over the counter, past a stunned employee. The image leaves the viewer equally bewildered, and so perfectly conveys the effect that the artists who threw the cat wanted to achieve with their performance. They belonged to a loose collective of rebellious underground performers who later created Voina, a group that has gained international fame with a number of bold stunts. This picture is important to me because of its historic value: it is the first record of an artistic movement of dissent that has so deeply divided the Russian public.”

Profile

When I was 15 I found my father's old camera, an East-German-made Exa 1a SLR camera with a collapsible top-view finder. I was fascinated by this beautiful apparatus, and I took it everywhere, snapping as many rolls of film as I could afford.

Initially, the results of my photography were pretty poor. But with the help of second-hand teach-yourself books, I quickly got the technique down. Yet something was still not right. My pictures were boring because, well, life in small-town Germany was boring. So, as soon as I could, I left home and made photography the vehicle of my wanderlust.

I shot my first assignment in the late 1990s for a Moscow-based NGO that worked with HIV-positive people at a time when the Russian state chose to ignore this problem. My story took me into the scene of drug users in provincial Russia. I met young people, roughly my age, who suffered from the kind of boredom that I knew from back home. Yet deprived of the freedom to travel, they chose a way to escape that proved fatal for many.

Photography allowed me to connect with the world of those Russian heroin addicts. It gave me a reason to seek them out and they understood why I was there. Taking pictures became a form of dialogue, I learnt that you can only tell someone's story if this person is willing to give something away. The energy that creates a successful photo has to come from both sides.

There are stories that would be left untold if it weren’t for the inquisitiveness of journalists. The labour-intensive process of carving out a narrative from the chaotic world that surrounds us, and creating something that is meaningful to others is a very rewarding exercise. Stories that fall into this category are the ones I enjoy most.

There is always an audience out there that is not aware of having an interest in a certain issue until you present it to them in an eloquent, persuasive way. For a photographer, this means producing strong pictures that make people stop and peruse the moment that you have frozen for them. If I incite a sense of serendipity in the eyes of the beholder, then I have been successful with my work.

The photographers I respect most are the colleagues whom I meet during my daily assignments – my competitors in other words. Press photography often feels like sport; you compete for the best shot with wit and creativity. If it wasn't for the fierce competition, we would perhaps not push ourselves as much as we do, day in, day out.

Behind the Scenes

. Berlin, Germany
Thomas Peter takes pictures at the Chancellery in Berlin during a ceremony where Chancellor Angela Merkel receives carnival groups from across Germany.
. Moscow, Russia
Thomas Peter covers the Dissenters' March in Moscow.