Sterling picture quality
“My father took all the family photos throughout my young life and kept the prints and negatives under his bed in a huge box. We would bring it out to rummage through from time to time, but his camera stayed in his closet, probably because it was expensive.”
Like his dad, who held the art form in such high regard, Peter Sterling has followed in those wise footsteps, capturing quality for the world to see.
This Sterling talent was born in Southern California, and was raised by parents who possessed creative streaks in their own right.
“My mother is a trained opera singer and my father, who is Jamaican, was a photographer in the ’70s LA club scene and had black books filled with drawings and homemade comics from when he first came to America,” he shared with Beyond the Lens.
They not only expressed their artistic abilities, but they encouraged this outlet for both he and his sister.
Sterling went on to purchase his first camera in 2012, while living in Seattle, at the recommendation of his then roommate.
“I was depressed and needed an outlet. I’ve always been drawn more so to visuals than anything else and it gave me something to do until the sun came back out,” he added.
Doing street photography while taking pictures of friends, it took moving to Chicago for him to become serious about making photography his sole focus and travel towards making it his career path.
Although the young talent has been making photographs for seven and a half years, he didn’t begin to really identify with the title ‘photographer’ until three years ago.
His main focus: making still-life images and documentary-based work, “I chose still-life photos because they don’t require any extra help and I can make them at my own pace, while documentary photos lend more to skill sets I built while doing street photography and allow me to flex a sociological muscle I’ve always had and wished to showcase artistically.”
He describes his journey as difficult, frustrating, and liberating all at the same time. Finally seeing places he didn’t think he would get to, all for the sake of making a photograph, is one of the biggest perks. He has also connected with people in ways he didn’t anticipate, while re-establishing relationships he thought would never recover, all at the behest of his camera. Beautiful, isn’t it? The power of a picture. This motivates him to live a life worth photographing, and he thinks he’s almost there.
But the art world can be a daunting one, plagued by alienation if you are not wealthy or aligned with the right circles, with prior access to avenues and resources. So the self-taught photographer digs a little deeper, pushing even harder. He is grateful for the wonderful people he has met along the way who have thrown him even the smallest of opportunities: they have all his love and admiration.
“My favourite things about photography include being able to execute ideas I’ve had floating around in my head for years and seeing them exist in the physical world. I have the ability to expose people to microcosms they wouldn’t have otherwise considered, and that excites me.”
When asked one of the hardest questions, what are you strengths and weaknesses within the field, he revealed that finally having enough trust in his own abilities as a photographer to make work that can be comprehended singularly or as part of a collected body is always a plus. But not having as much time and money as he would like to complete all of the projects started or want to start and lacking certain academic language or frames of reference to analyse his own and others’ work appropriately can be irritating.
“I’m working on that, though,” he quickly added.
The obstacle of lack of resources, whether it’s money or film, or even another person to bounce ideas off, and other times battling imposter syndrome or having severe doubts about his own skills and the quality of his work up to a point.
“I’ve managed to merely circumvent my lack of resources by making do with what is at my disposal until I’m able to access more, but the more daunting task of dealing with my own self-doubt is an ongoing battle. It’s a more common experience than I once thought and I luckily have a wealth of shoulders to lean on for support.”
With his father inspiring him with his passion for photography in the dark room era, he would like to walk in tandem with that version of his paternal figure that he never got to meet. “He loves the work I’ve done so far, but I feel like I’ve yet to really impress upon him just how similar we are artistically.” Deana Lawson is his favourite portrait artist; Roy DeCarava is the spiritual father to a lot of natural-light photographers and intentionally black photographers working today; Peter Dean Rickards who was a prolific artists had intimate access to a Jamaica that non-Jamaicans couldn’t begin to understand exists; and Khalik Allah has been one of his favourite contemporary visual artists for years and has made some of my favourite work from a diasporic Jamaican context.
His favourite misconception to date is that he can do headshots or weddings simply because he owns a camera, “I cannot and will not.”
Sterling’s most memorable moment making photographs was when he was reconnected with his roots in Kingston in 2017.
“I accompanied three friends I’d made in Rolli, to a boxing gym near downtown and was taking photos of them while they made a music video. Sometime during a break, one of the kids at the gym climbed an adjacent building and picked all the mangoes off of a tree to throw at us. I managed to get a great photo of him before he climbed back down.”
He much prefers outdoors over studio setting, and primarily uses a Mamiya RZ67 and a Mamiya 7 rangefinder for medium-format images because he can get crystal clear, beautiful pictures from those cameras.
Sterling says, “6x7 is my preferred aspect ratio and the best amount of detail I can get before moving into large format territory.”
He is focusing on two projects at the moment: one about the not-very-visible West Indian population in Los Angeles County, where he grew up, and another about St Catherine, where his father’s family is from and where he spent a good portion of his childhood in between London and moving to Los Angeles.
“Other than that, I’m keeping my eyes open for opportunities to make a good image and throwing my work into shows and gallery spaces.”
The loner sees movies and loiters at bookstores outside of photography. And when he isn’t working, he is at home making sure things aren’t falling apart.
His advice to aspiring photographers: “YouTube is the best resource at your disposal. It’s free and filled with videos explaining everything you’ll ever want to know about camera functions, aperture, ISO, and f-stops, film types, artist histories, and more. While analogue photography may seem intimidating, it’s easier than it seems and something worth dedicating your time.”