Peter Senzamici grew up in Massachusetts, and his versatile interests have opened up opportunities for him to explore and see the world differently, through his own lens. In his interview for our magazine, Peter tells of his experience in dealing with this profession and the time when photography became part of his life. From that moment on, he has managed to capture the most distinct parts of New York, people and their emotions.
Your resume is quite diverse, you are a history graduate, but then you went on to work in the IT sector in Copenhagen. How did photography find its place in your already quite versatile life? When did you first feel the desire to take it up?
Amazingly somehow it all fits together. I became interested in photography in high school alongside politics and history. My dream job was to do some sort of photojournalism. I was active in the anti-war movement during the Bush years and I loved the work of Robert Capa and Tim Hetherington. The philosophy of war photographers and the activism I was involved in left a big impact on me regarding the importance and impact of imagery. In college, I had a dream of being Sebsatian Salgado, of pursuing academics and doing photography to supplement research or books or some sort of social cause.
I wanted to fuse the two, especially with oral histories. Photography is kind of historiography – it’s another method of recording ideas, moments and stories and giving them context. When I was considering what to do with my life, I thought that with photography I would have more of a license to explore my own ideas and passions more ably than as a researcher or professor. A camera is a passport to many things and I wanted to feel that my curiosities could feel vindicated. And it’s just super fun and challenging. Every day is different. I went with what could offer me a lifestyle with the most liberty while doing something that mattered to me.
Some of my friends in school were successfully pursuing photographic careers in New York and I saw that this was a potentially viable thing I could do with my life. My time working in IT for a study abroad school in Copenhagen was a decision of maximizing liberty as well, but that experience truly informed so much of how I approached the photography industry upon moving to New York. If it wasn’t for that job and all of the nerdy geeky computer and IT infrastructure knowledge I learned, I wouldn’t be where I am now at all. I mean, I was already a decent nerd about photography and history but now, computers, too.
In what way has practicing photography contributed to your personal, but also professional development?
I’ve learned especially lately to trust much more my intuition and instincts with how I approach making images. Photography, especially film photography, is such an art of patience and anticipation. Trusting your own mental processes to determine how best to approach a situation in an instant takes practice. Or maybe it comes naturally to some to have that assertiveness. I had to take time to be okay with that, to overcome doubt or perfectionism or whatever one should call those feelings. It’s a struggle, but photography helps me to let go a bit more and be open to new circumstances. The photography industry also employs some of the most incredible and interesting people I’ve ever met. I expected a much more cutthroat environment but people are generally super supportive to each other. To be a small part of that is something I really cherish.
Considering that you take a lot of portraits, you have had opportunities to get acquainted with different people and their stories. In what way do you connect with your models so your photos would eventually look as you imagined?
I love learning about other people. I’m fascinated by peoples’ stories, where they’re from, how they got where they are in that moment. When I photograph people, I try to connect to them on a level of genuine interest in them personally, professionally, etc. Comedy also is such a useful tool in breaking down barriers and making people feel at ease and comfortable – if done correctly. This one corporate portrait photographer I worked with for some time was amazing at putting these huge executives at ease. I’m not saying his jokes were great, but just putting yourself in the position of vulnerability helps relax any tension. I was also raised on a steady diet of bad jokes and puns and certainly carry that with me into any situation.
You are shooting with both digital and analogue cameras. Which one do you choose to help you see the world around you and capture dear moments?
Analog cameras help me see the world differently. I’m forced to make more decisions on how to interpret what I see and to trust those decisions more. Digital cameras are better for anything that is more “real time”. I have more fun using film cameras, but film costs money so I really enjoy using my little digital Fuji as well, since its operation is similar to my film rangefinders.
What is it, in your opinion, that makes analogue photography so special? What is your “go to” camera when you are travelling?
I always think about my film cameras in this way – they’re just more fun to use. The magic isn’t as strong with digital cameras. It promotes that perfectionist anxiety too easily whereas when you are shooting to celluloid, you have to let go and accept you may not know everything in an instant. You also have to use your mental facilities much more though, but in that exciting, experimental way. I feel more creative without a screen sometimes, but mostly I just have more fun with analog cameras. If I need something instant, I’ll grab my digital Nikon or Fuji. If I am just enjoying myself or if I want to slow down a bit and want to feel more free in my process, I’ll grab one of my film bodies off the shelf. Doing less post-processing work is a big benefit of shooting film. I try to minimize my time behind the computer whenever possible.
You did a series of photographs in which you showed New York and the daily lives of its people. What induced and inspired you to do this series of photos and show New York from a different perspective?
Living in New York forces such an interesting interaction with public life. This city is so full of immediate contrasts. Everyone live on top of each other, so you could be paying top dollar for your apartment in the city but that doesn’t stop anyone from taking a shit in the broken phone booth outside your building. Seeing the diversity of New York every day on the streets and underground is just such a source of inspiration and what makes the city so special. To see real estate developers chip away at that ideal block by block creates a whole new set of contradictions and ironies, not to mention much despair among its residents. I’m not sure if I am showing New York from a different perspective because each day here is different. It’s a throbbing, dirty, gleaming organ. You can see something new each day and not do anything different from the day before, aside from leaving your apartment.
What do you find interesting about half-frame cameras? Does this way of shooting open up for you new horizons and opportunities for experimentation, which you might not be able to achieve with standard cameras?
I love the idea of a smaller format. Isn’t that the idea of Lomography – a rejection of the purist of super-resolution and perfect quality imagery? Half frames offer ready-made diptychs when printed or scanned as standard 35mm frames, so it’s perfect for capturing the kinetic energy of the city. The practice and discipline of making series this way is a really fun constraint. Only once have I switched frames to make a diptych work because I miscounted my shots prior to taking a portrait. But I try to get it all done in the camera and let the tool do most of the work for me.
What would be your advice to someone who is just taking up photography? Would you advise them not to overthink it and cultivate spontaneity, or is it necessary to have some prior knowledge?
I wish sometimes that I had more formal training in photography and theory and a better art background or whatever, but these are all things that I have learned along the way. Books should always be bought and read. You always learn the most from your mistakes, just as long as you let yourself make as many as possible when shooting. And then think of how to do things differently next time.
What does a day in the life of a photographer look like? How do you spend your day when you are not shooting?
I work a lot as a digital tech on photoshoots and I do some retouching too. If I’m not doing either of those and I’m not shooting, then I’m sending emails or riding my bike or doing paperwork or walking around with my camera… every day is different and you need to take advantage of that.
What is it that you want people to see through your work?
Something funny. Or a really pretty color out of focus way in the background.