Peter Filene - Photographer


Slices of Love

At first glance, these images of couples kissing or embracing provide the guilty pleasure of peeking into people’s intimate life. But if we’re voyeurs, they were exhibitionists. They chose to display themselves in parks, subways or cafés (in Paris and New York).

But what have we really learned about them? We’re seeing, after all, a hundredth of a second out of who knows how many weeks or years of their relationship. Their history before and after remains invisible, unknowable. Whatever the photo tells is a story we invent.

If we can’t find the truth outside the picture frame, neither can we find it by looking more closely inside it. Indeed, the closer we look, the less is revealed. Out of the photographs I’ve made “Excerpts” that enlarge certain details—an arm draped along a leg; a cheek half-covered by a hat—into a composition of forms and colors. You might mistake them for abstract paintings.

Double Exposures

The double exposures, made on film in the camera (not in PhotoShop or in the darkroom), are born out of the marriage between intention and chance.

This series originated out of an impulse. I was frustrated after having photographed a row of Paris apartment windows. Seduced by their gracious symmetry, I had taken a picture that would be pretty and nothing more. How could I make it exciting?

In an art gallery across the street, I noticed an abstract painting composed of irregular green, yellow and red strokes. An idea occurred to me. What if I superimposed this painting on that rectangular building? I slid the button on my manual Nikon, cocked the shutter without advancing the film, and shot.

Beginner's luck! Back home in Chapel Hill, the picture turned out better than I had imagined. The staid building is adorned in reckless patches of color. I like the way it makes people do a double take.

Since then I've been playing with double exposures in the camera. After the initial shot, I prowl the streets or museum searching for another one to complement it, trying to hold in my mind's eye the subject, shapes and colors of the image that waits behind the shutter. I plan and yet I also trust to luck.

Maybe thirty-four times out of thirty-six it's bad luck -- a murky mess. But often enough, the overlay of reality and art produces an alchemy that astonishes me. Renoir's festive couples have danced off the canvas and join the visitors in the museum. A man stands pensively amid de Kooning's brush strokes. The inhabitants of the ordinary world acquire a mysterious aesthetic existence.

Peeling Posters

I am also shooting “straight” photographs of posters peeling off walls. In their own way, these too are multiple images.

Framed by my camera lens, the posters become collages of forms, images and words—abstract cityscapes.. Partly buried faces, words, and patches of color break through the surface, suggesting the rough-and-tumble beauty of city life.

They create a tantalizing ambiguity between two dimensions and three. Torn strips of paper reach out toward the viewer, disclosing parts of old posters beneath. It’s as if we are looking back in time.

Picture, Picture

In this series, "Picture, Picture on the Wall," I'm playing with the process of looking at art. Here are people interacting (knowingly or not) with paintings or sculptures. How does a work of art invite us to stop and look? And after we walk on, do we see the world a little differently, more vividly—framing familiar objects as works of art?


215 Markham Drive · Chapel Hill, NC 27514 · 919.942.6525 ·
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