Cribs/Interviews 2007/09/07 01:54
From the Patek Philippe Magazine, Volume II Number 7 (photos & cutlines from the BBC Website)
|In 1948 photographer Keld Helmer-Petersen published a book entitled 122 Colour Photographs which established his reputation as an artist. Subsequently his work became central to modernist Danish design and architecture.|
Martin Parr: When did you start taking pictures?
Keld Helmer-Petersen: My mother gave me a Leica in 1938. I threw away the first roll of film, thinking, “I’ve got the prints, what do I need the negatives for?” I was that unfamiliar with photography! I only really became interested about a year later. I started entering photographs in amateur competitions, and they looked different from the other entries – and the subject matter was different.
MP: When you changed from black and white to color, did you start taking different types of pictures?
KH-P: Absolutely. It must have been about 1941. I realized it was a terribly different thing I was doing. You have to think of color as form, whereas in black and white photography you think in terms of light and shadow, lightness levels, contrasts, and so on. It encouraged me to work two-dimensionally, so I started picking out details of warm walls, architectural subjects, etc. I liked to pick nice two-dimensional things, that stress the importance of color.
MP: At the time, were you aware that color photography was frowned upon as something for the amateur and the commercial market?
KH-P: Not at all. I didn’t distinguish, really.
MP: And these photographs you’d accumulated in the mid-forties, did you show them to anyone?
KH-P: Oh, yes. At that time I worked in a bookshop. I showed these pictures to the book dealer and he said, “I think you have something special. Why don’t you make a book out of them?”
MP: You printed 1,500 copies. Can you remember how many you sold at the time?
KH-P: Not at all. I didn’t expect to. But them the publisher knew a young Dane who worked in the publishing trade in
MP: Why did you come back to
KH-P: My family was still in
MP: So you came back and you built a very successful career as a commercial photographer in
KH-P: Yes. I met architects very early on. This was important. In 1954 I met the furniture designer Poul Kjaerhlm, who was a young man and a very promising talent. I wanted to have a show of my work, experimental stuff, the
MP: That sounds very funky.
KH-P: It was beautiful. I still think it was one of the best shows we’ve ever had in
MP: When you went back to
KH-P: Black and white came out of
MP: How do you feel about the renewed interest in your work?
KH-P: A little bit embarrassed, to be quite frank. At the same time I can’t help being pleased. At my age it’s encouraging to be rediscovered. At the same time it’s a bit awkward for me in many respects, because I have to think in a commercial way, which I haven’t really had to before.
MP: Yes. But you had a little commercial digression!
KH-P: Oh, yes. But I never mix the two. People will be wondering, now that I’m publishing a new big volume retrospective of my work, why don’t I include my architectural work. I say no, that’s professional, that’s something different. I want to show my creative work, where my personality comes in.