Arizona-based visual artist and storyteller Mark Peterman creates constructed narratives and visual environments that often explore the spaces between perception and reality. There’s something familiar about each of his works, which blend photography and multimedia, but there’s also something mysterious, a feeling or message that can never quite be known. As a result, viewers are left intrigued—forced to grapple with their own curiosity.
Peterman has created content for a range of brands, including AT&T, APS, Arizona State University, The Atlantic, Travel + Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, and Tuft & Needle. His work has been exhibited regionally and internationally and has been recognized by the International Photo Awards (Lucie + IPA), Prix De La Photographie Paris (PX3), the American Photography Annual (AP), and Photo District News Photo Annual (PDN).
Here’s Mark Peterman, in his own words, on his otherworldly photographs and spaces, his inspirations, and how the pandemic has altered his practice.
“[M]y work examines how change, memory, and the passage of time affect the human experience.”
Mark Peterman. Courtesy of the artist.
PhxArt: Tell us about where you’re from and when you knew you wanted to be an artist.
Mark Peterman: I grew up in the Midwest among a family of amateur photographers. My first encounter with photography was in a darkroom built by my father in our basement. I knew that I wanted to be an artist in my teens after I had a photo published in the local newspaper when I was 16. I had taken a trip to Europe with students from school, and one of my photos from the trip was used for the story. I think having that photo published motivated me to seriously look at photography as a career choice.
Now, my desire to create every day forces me to continually discover new things. I have always been inspired by storytelling, and I am motivated to find ways to evolve into a better storyteller.
PhxArt: What are the media that you prefer to work in, and what are the topics that you most focus on with your art?
Peterman: Primarily, I am a photographer, but I studied graphic and industrial design at the Kansas City Art Institute, which I believed allowed me to see things in a different way than if I had just studied graphic design alone. My work involves a multi-tiered creative process that includes a crafted narrative, built environments, and photographs, which serve as the final document of the work.
Part of my creative process is to document things in a sketchbooks on a daily basis. This also allows me to create in other media that I lack proficiency in, such as drawing and collage techniques.
Thematically, my work examines how change, memory, and the passage of time affect the human experience. I try to recreate storytelling moments that deal with these topics.
Before the Dawn Casts No Shadows, 2021, Photograph (Archival Pigment Print), Mark Peterman.
PhxArt: What are some sources of inspiration for your constructed environments, and what first led you to pursue this type of practice?
Peterman: I have always been interested in storytelling moments that I’ve found in literature, film, or music. Several years ago, I began creating small-scale environments when I realized how impractical and expensive full-scale sets were to create. I wanted to create a cinematic moment with still photographs, and this seemed like the obvious space to step into.
PhxArt: Who are your greatest artistic influences?
Peterman: I love non-visual forms of art that I can draw from because they help me imagine what new worlds I can create and give me a space to create within. I think it’s important to have influences that are not a direct iteration of my work. Musically, I love ambient and soundscape music; Brian Eno’s soundscape music is a very big influence on my work. On the literary side, I love fiction novels.
Clearing in the Woods, 2020, Photograph (Archival Pigment Print), Mark Peterman.
PhxArt: What are some works, series, or projects you’re currently working on or have recently exhibited?
Peterman: I am continuing work on my series called Constructed Realities that I started about two years ago. I describe it as a study in perception of reality. The series is made up of fictional scenes that are drawn from cinematic and literary influences and built with 1/12-size scale models and props. While my scenes are not drawn directly from any particular film, cinematography is a big influence on my work. I read a lot of fiction and espionage novels that influence my storytelling.
I’ve had some initial success with this series of work as I’ve completed different stages of it. The project was selected for the American Photography photo annual and was shortlisted for the Communication Arts Photography Annual. I have also had several photos from this series in recent gallery shows over the past year, including at the Foley Gallery in New York City, the Southeast Center for Photography in Greenville, South Carolina, and the Center for Photographic Art in Carmel, California.
The Way Out is Through, 2021, Photograph (Archival Pigment Print), Mark Peterman.
PhxArt: What can our community expect to see next from you?
Peterman: I am hoping to expand Constructed Realities in new directions and embrace a more immersive form of storytelling in exhibition or installation form.
PhxArt: What is some advice you’d give to aspiring artists just beginning to build their professional practice?
Peterman: Be patient and stay focused on your goals. Listen to the right people for advice, but not everyone. Don’t let the things that don’t matter get in the way of your work.
Meeting at Krantzler, 2021, Photograph (Archival Pigment Print), Mark Peterman.
We’re curious how creatives are navigating the time of coronavirus. Mark Peterman shares what’s giving him life during quarantine.
Peterman: The biggest thing that has changed for me over the past two years is how I view the world. I think I have had to re-center and change my perspective and slow down. I realize that I need to do something creative every day to truly be happy. I’ve had to surround myself with people who are positive and encouraging. My current work is a direct result of spending more time understanding this new world and my reaction to it.
The Attic, 2020, Photograph (Archival Pigment Print), Mark Peterman.