If you’ve ever wondered whether chasing photos from the rigging of tall ships, hiking onto volcanic lava flows, tracking gorillas in tropical rain forests, chasing tornadoes across the Great Plains, swimming with pink dolphins in the Amazon or sailing an icebreaker to the North Pole could put your work at the forefront of a visually saturated world, the answer is an overwhelming yes. All you’d need, in addition to the courage for such daredevil acts, would be a heart full of wanderlust that places you in the midst of those situations and an eye for the magical. Peter Guttman, the 2014 winner of the George Eastman Power of the Image award, has been under the spell of extreme adventure since the 1990s, photographing in 222 countries across all continents, publishing eight books on photography, launching one of the best-selling iPad travel apps and giving regular lectures on photography that have been called “one of the hottest tickets in New York” by NPR.
So, does Guttman create his photos or simply capture them? This is what I ask when I look incredulously at his breathtaking landscapes in which a person or people appear so perfectly placed that they transform the scene into a specific story—a story that begins in the frame and continues in our minds. Who’s that person in red, blue and yellow riding his bicycle across the field of tulips blooming in spectacular shades of greens, reds, magenta and purple? How is the backpacker climbing against the ridges of a canyon beautifully carved by the wind with such ease? Who’s that child smiling at the camera and sitting with such calm against the gushing water behind him that seems to stop in slow motion? And how in the world is Guttman sitting higher than his subject on the rig of the sailboat that stretches what seems like hundreds of feet below? Each one of these pictures simply “captured” would have shown us the beauty of these locales, but by waiting or creating a moment in which people appear in these magical outdoors is how Guttman “creates” the photo. His subjects, placed almost strategically within each picture, call out to us, to embark on an adventure of our own, to go see the place for ourselves, just once.
Guttman began his visual journey in his childhood as a painter, immersing himself in magic realism until his college years. The realization that painting commercially would lead to “giving up” his “labor-intensive” creations made Guttman choose photography instead, and his study of geography connected his love for image-making with that of discovering the world. “I developed a strong drive to experience the wonders of our planet and cram my mortality span with a kaleidoscopic spectrum of experiences,” he says.
Guttman’s fierce determination to cram as many experiences in life as possible has allowed him to live a bounteous life. Yet to build such a prolific repertoire of work requires more than just a heart full of longing. It takes extreme technical dexterity in addition to the artistry. Long before GoPros and aerial drones changed the genre of extreme photography, Guttman created “surrealistic mid-air suspension shots, either utilizing his tripod as a fishing rod or attaching his camera to the wings of Allagash Wilderness floatplanes or the sails of Mojave Desert land yachts.” His technical acumen with the camera, accompanied by his superb knowledge of color and light, elevates his work to the sublime.
Guttman has twice been the recipient of the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of the Year award. One of his collaborators from Fodor’s Travel remarks, “Guttman is driven by the idea that you only live once. He’s curious and interested in people. It’s not easy to place yourself in front of people from different parts of the world that don’t speak your language and don’t understand what you’re trying to do and to get them to be natural.”
Transitioning seamlessly from analog photography directly to the forefront of digital, Guttman created the best-selling app “Beautiful Planet HD.” Macworld gives it glowing reviews: “Each photograph is accompanied by Peter Guttman’s description of the moment when each photograph was taken. All at once a savvy encyclopedia of the world, a striking art gallery, an evocative poetry selection and an inspiring travel planner, Beautiful Planet is a lovingly curated, incisively written and joyous portrait of the planet—a rich resource of knowledge about the wonders of the world around us.”
Commenting on the enormous success of this app, Guttman remarks, “I’ve been fortunate enough to fully realize my dream project in Beautiful Planet HD, an award-wining, number-one, best-selling iPad and iPhone app that comprehensively surveys the mysterious cultures, intriguing lifestyles and majestic landscapes of our terrestrial home. NBC News named it one of ‘eight outstanding apps for students,’ and this dazzling chronicle of earth’s wonders has been adopted into the social studies programs of school systems around the world.”
If the world of constant travel, exhibitions, writing, digital apps and lectures wasn’t enough to complete the portrait of a truly fascinating artist, Guttman’s love for the wild extends equally powerfully into his own home—a Manhattan apartment that has been compared by The New York Times to a “19th-century museum. His meticulously organized collection of rare folk art and handmade tools, toys, weapons, textiles, baskets, ceramics, etc., dedicated to the memory of extinct or nearly so ways of life and assembled as snugly as a jigsaw puzzle is a ‘mirror of my personal life.’ Mr. Guttman likes to say that ‘experience is the richest wealth, and to acquire it and its physical representations, we forgo fancy cars and bathroom renovations.'”
I’m proud to say that Guttman has been one of our most loyal clients, working closely with us since the 1990s. An avid photographer with a true love for the medium of film, he began with using our film processing services, which he calls the “highest quality and most reliable available,” adding, “I’ve processed literally hundreds of rolls of Ektachrome 100VS and Fuji Velvia, and can rely on their expert handling and attention to detail. I’ve also used Duggal for digital scanning services and special display needs, as well. I’ve always found a remarkably efficient and professional partner in Duggal, and in such a challenging and competitive industry, find great comfort in their enduring reliability.”
I have great admiration for Peter Guttman’s beautiful work, but more importantly, I salute his determination to seek experiences over everything else. In the end, that’s what it’s all about. Go out there. Experience life fully, and always carry a camera with you!