PETER CUNNINGHAM recently returned from China where he is teaching Chinese photographers and completing his STILL FILM entitled Cultural Evolution. This might seem a long journey from his first paid job as a photographer in 1973, when, for $25 he made Bruce Springsteen's first pictures at Columbia Records and later did the same for Madonna. Peter learned to be a professional photographer creating images for famous performers in music and theater, he did this for 15 years (portfolio) until the birth of MTV made the field less interesting. (see #1)
|Bruce Springsteen at Columbia Records 1973||Madonna on Houston Street 1982||Thelonious Monk at Carnegie Hall ~1981|
At the same time (see #1) he learned to remain a passionate amateur from photographer Adger Cowens who taught about seeing not objects in one's camera, but perceiving objects as the light that is bouncing off them, mixing it with your feelings and history and mythology, and and responding from your gut. Peter also learned from Henri Cartier-Bresson who he was privildged to assist in 1975. The two traveled every day for a month to New Jersey to document what HCB considered the prototypical American state. My job was to talk to everyone so Henri could concentrate on seeing. The New York Times gave Henri it's lead op-ed space on the day Bill Moyers aired the show.(#2)
Also in 1980, Peter began studies with Bernie Glassman at the Zen Community of New York. His first public exhibitiion, "THIS IS IT? was held in the cafe sponsored by ZCNY; that little cafe evolved into The Greyston Bakery famous for cakes and cookies and for revivifying people with difficult histories. Peter's travels and friendships among Zen practitioners and teachers in Japan, Europe, The Middle East, and The United States have been a great blessing and influence on his life and work. His trip to Japan with Bernie and Peter Matthiessen to visit the ancestors of Bernie's teacher, Maezumi Roshi, resulted in the publicaton of "Nine-Headed Dragon River"; Peter has helped document the migration of Zen Buddhist practice from Japan to the West. After Maizumi Roshi's death in 1995 the practice, while retaining it's traditional form in many places, also evolved into new American/European forms. Bernie Glassman took his students into the streets or to sit meditation in Auschwitz-Birkenau and has now created The Peacemaker Community; Genpo Roshi started his Big Mind form of teaching, and throughout the West; many of the best teachers of the next genereation are women, a development that would have been inconceivable in Japan.
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'In about 1980 cable tv was being launchedand I was asked by an ad agency to create a series of 20 posters of people (my friends) which were displayed on the NYC subways in all 5 boroughs. I took the opportunity to take make a second more personal portrait of my models posed next to the purposeful commercial image on the postere. This series became the Black&White portion of Peter's first major exhibition in 1982 at Harkness House curated by Liz Thompson and Kathy DeShaw.
The other half of this 1982 exhibition framed color prints in combinations, and thus began the long evolution of the theatrically-scaled triptych medium Peter calls "StillFilm". Peter has exhibited still films around the world; in 2005 he showed the Still Films in Krakow, London, Paris, and Berlin. ..... the web version he calls "StillTV".
In 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell, Peter, based in New York City,began creating a Still Film he calls BLINDERS. I wondered what would replace the authoritarian structures that had ruled in the East, what systems are in place in the West that keep people well behaved and going to work day after day."
Peter continued this general theme in Berlin in 1994 with his still film WÄNDE WENDE (Walls Change) Previewing the still film's debut at The Knitting Factory, The New Yorker says about Cunningham, "These visual poems are decidedly more ambitious than his celebrity work; in the past they've consisted of essays on nature and consumerism. He shot his latest still film in Berlin, and it addresses, in a stunningly colorful fashion, how the walls that hem us in are not necessarily made of concrete."
Peter's current work in China, Cultural Revolution is based on a similar idea, that images have a kind of persuasive power was once wielded by guns. Peter imagines presenting these three shows together in their home cities: New York, Berlin, and Beijing:
"In Hong Kong I saw a floating art gallery on a barge which advertised " ENGLISH SPEAKING ARTIST".
This led me down an obsessive path photographing individual English words which led to the creation of WordWise Cards, now distributed around the world by Catch Publishing in The Netherlands and Image Connection in North America.. I am now beginning to collect individual Chinese characters and hope to collaborate with a Chinese poet on a visual poem."
And here is an Ode to Verbs a 20 second film.
1995: At the beginning of the popularization of email and websites, Peter, with his friend Tim Trompeter, organized a site about art and commerce in Soho, NYC called ArTsEeNsOhO. They mapped the streets of Soho, photographed shops and galleries, and created a site now referenced in books about early web design history; when they went to sell advertising space they were often greeted by the question, "What's the World Wide Web?" They carried on for four years and the site now remains frozen as a history of Soho in that era..
In 1990 with David Liittschwager and Sam Anderson, Peter created four 6 meter photo murals for Oberlin College in Ohio on the subject of food and how it gets to our table.An appreciation of invisible labor that brings food to our table, the life-giving cycles like that of the chicken and egg, and the choices we make like that between consuming grain or feeding it to the animals we then consume.
By the time the plane flew over Peter's head in 2001, he had already been working on Life on Earth for several months. Organizing series of symbolic pictures from all around the globe, Peter responded to the idea that Adam and Eve fell from eternal unchanging Paradise to this mortal world in which we all live together in a constantly changing present..It is a portrait of the place where original lovers deal with the realities of living in an eternally imperfect world.
"I was sitting on the toilet deciding who to vote for in the mayoral election primary when I heard a noise that I thought was a helecopter landing on the roof of my building on the corner of Sullivan and Bleecker streets.I watched from directly behind Mohamed Atta aim his plane first one way, then another, then directly into those buildings. Before I yelled "Holy Shit" and ran for my camera, I thought I had just seen a nexus point in the history of the world, that there would be a time before and a time after.All that has unfolded since was clear in that moment". YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT YOU'VE GOT 'TIL IT'S GONE is a still film about 30 days in New York after the shocking event.The 6th section of "Life on Earth" (2002) uses pictres of a different sort from this time, it shows the smoldering ruins juxtaposed with the billboard advertising current at the time; September 11 was to be the release date of albums by Mariah Carey, Bob Dylan, and Slayer.A photo essay with an introduction by Peter appears on Adam Latch's Polish art/photo site, British television did a documentary about Peter's experience that day.
In 2002, six months after the attack, New York became a garden of American flags (film: Old Glory) and in 2003 there were large protest marches in opposition to the coming war
And in 2003 Free Expression (film), a set of postcards in opposition to the invasion of Iraq was published by Mark Solomon. Peter, frustrated by the recycled language that was being used on protest signs, wrote or selected a set of 32 phrases, Lilypond Hillyway painted small signs which they mounted on popsicle sticks, Peter bicycled around New York City holding out the signs at arm's length and photographing them in various matching contexts.
"I was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts and raised in Lincoln, a small town lying between Concord and Lexington. The multiply-great grandfather of my classmate, Ephraim Flint led the Lincoln regiment into battle against the British in 1775 and then another ancestor refused Henry David Thoreau's request to build a cabin on Flint Pond behind the house where I grew up, so Thoreau built at Walden Pond where I learned to swim. My brother Jimmy is currently involved in the restoration of The Barrett House in Concord. Col.Barrett was the commander of the Minutemen and the one who gave the order to respond to British fire at The Old North Bridge. The reason the Bristish marched out from Boston that day was to seize the arms they knew were stored in Col Barrett's house: cannon, rifles and amunition. Until 2005 this vital missing piece of American history was held in private hands and had 20 cats in residence, junk filling every room, and wild vines growing through its windows.
The StillTV site features a series of films under the name "Modern American History"; the last is set the 2004 election campaign in Columbus, Ohio and segways into a cynical tour of 20 American cities that same year, the music is by New York musicians Neptune&Knuckles."
My profession is quite an amazing door into so many corners of the world, I often feel very priviliged. I used to play basketball and listen to music with my friend Ed Levine who has now transformed his love of food into a career . I go on tasting adventures with Ed frompizza joints in Coney Island, to a custard tour of Wisconsin, to a latin food fair in Red Hook, to the fanciest new restaurant openin g in Manhattan, all with the excuse of making photographs for his books". In 2007 Ed launched a food website called Serious Eats.
And Lucy Calkins opens for me the world of children. I am regularly privilidged to visit classes designed by Lucy in The New York Public schools; the well kept secret about those early grades in NYC is that they are a model of how the races of the world should get along. The open and honest nature of Lucy's teaching is always a joy to witness, I learn so much.
And playwrights suddenly show up at my studio....
2004: For two summers I traveled to every corner of the USA to photograph the concept of excellence as seen in award-winning corporate employees in the financial services field, I befriended then in the office and then traveled with them to some meaningful paeart of their lives outside the office, usually home to their families. the resulting book and film are a portrait of the best of the American way of life, a view from the 50th floor and from the green green lawn.
That autumn I traveled on my own to Columbus, Ohio to work on the election campaign of John Kerry, I contributed my ability to make pictures and did a website and film of the campaign workers to cheer tham up for the hard work of election day. This is a contribution I recommend for other photographers. The still film that came from this year of exposure to all sides of America became the last part in a series I call "Modern American History" , it is a portrait of America from street level.
2006: My life on Grand Manan Island in The Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada, a land of big tides, wild winds, and winter lobsters. I'm told by my parents that I was conceived on the island and in my lifetime I witnessed the culture change from a hunter-gatherer culture (a man alone on a vast sea in search of food for his family) to an agrarian culture (salmon farms and corporate paychecks). This is the home of my heart, my closest friends are Grand Mananers. So it was a great privilge for me to make a major exhibiton at The Grand Manan Historcal Society Gallery in the summer of 2006. (add film links to gm page)
Peter wishes to extend special gratitude to Paul Vershbow who, for many years, has generously provided all the equipment used in the creation of these shows, and to Barnabas Miller whose contributions as an arranger, drummer, producer, singer and friend is deeply appreciated. Without these two characters Still Films would not exist in the form they do today.
He is grateful as well to many others who have supported these Still Films including Donna and Barbara Herman, Wendall Harrington, Rob Marx, Debra Monk, Bob and Claire Cunningham, Ed Levine, David Bither, Gus Powell, Alberto Ibarguen, Cliff Chenfeld, Jon-Marc Seimon, Mark Schapiro, Bernie Glassman, and Max Fenton.
But most particularly, Peter wishes to express his gratitude to Lisa Lilypond Hillyway Burris Herman Longhouse Brillianto Cunningham who co-developed the medium with him. Lisagrew up in Greenwich Village, sang on the street, taught singing to children, sang, contracted and arranged vocals for studio sessions, toured and recorded with great and legendary musicians, and made recordings for Virgin and Warner Brothers Records as an artist. Lisa received a New York Music Award for Vocalist of the Year and was nominated for an Emmy award for her work as a theater critic. She is currently a composer and writer in New York City.
Peter jumped 6'4'', 3' over his own head, he was only a foot away from wiinning the Olympics in Mexico City!
A junior studying Anthropology at Wesleyan University and high-jumping co-captain of the track team with long distance runner Bill Rodgers, Peter, on his way to march on the Pentagon to register his unhappiness about the War in Vietnam, met and fell in love with a young folk singer with a number one record, Janis Ian. He left college to go on the road with her touring the breadth of his country in small clubs and concert halls,while Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were being killed. For an overly protected white boy from the suburbs of Boston, it was just the educaton that was needed. It was during the following 3 years living with Janis in Philadelphia that Peter picked up his first camera. and immediately knew that it opened a door inside, a door through which his inner feelings could intermngle with all the various outside stimulii that life continues to offer.
#2.The Cartier-Bresson show was produced by Jaune Evans to whom Peter was married in the late 70's. She was the first female camerwoman in network television working everything from soaps to boxing. She become a technical director and producer, as well as a Zen priest and a key to the founding of Greyston Bakery while working her way through Sarah Lawrence College and then Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. Jaune is currently executive director of programs at Lannan Foundation. Grant programs at the foundation include Cultural Freedom, Literature, Contemporary Visual Arts, and Indigenous Communities. Additional foundation activities include an artist and writer’s residency in Marfa, Texas, the Santa Fe–based Readings and Conversations series, and the Prize for Cultural Freedom.
other Ego AltarsLilypond Hillyway