Are These Photos Staged? Does It Matter? 

The Photo Blog
July 24 2014 10:55 AM

Are These Photos Staged? Does It Matter? 

Max With Christmas Tree
Untitled (man with Christmas tree).

Bradley Peters

A few years ago, Bradley Peters showed his wife’s 10-year-old nephew an image taken by Garry Winogrand titled Central Park Zoo. While trying to convince the young boy about the magnificence of the photograph, Peters was surprised when he said he didn’t believe the image wasn’t staged. At that moment, Peters became aware of a monumental generational shift regarding the authenticity of photography.

“I grew up with a different faith in what a photograph was describing when compared to his generation,” Peters wrote via email. “My predisposition was that images are truthful, but with the understanding that there was a chance I was being deceived, while his experience is the opposite.”

“I think people are starting to realize that authenticity has been largely taken for granted until recently, not only in photography, but life in general, and (they) are starting to put a premium on knowledge and experiences that feel more palpable.”


Peters’ ongoing series, “New Matters,” which he began in 2008, draws from his many difficult life experiences that include the death of his brother when he was younger, a father who struggled with mental illness, and also coping with his wife’s three miscarriages.

“Many of my life experiences mirror those of people throughout the country,” he said. “The themes of struggle, alienation, desperation, tension, coping, anxiety, and hope are shoes that I’ve walked in.”

Mother and Son Shopping Cart
Untitled (mother and son with shopping cart).

Bradley Peters

Blue dress
Untitled (girl in blue dress).

Bradley Peters

Untitled (boys throwing light bulb).

Bradley Peters

All of those experiences, regardless of their severity, form the basis of his desire to create an authentic image, a way of communicating emotion that isn’t told through words and finding the lost moments of daily life we bury beneath events we often exaggerate or find to be stressful.

Peters is an optimist and tries to put blinders on when creating work, following a mantra of “If I don't make it, who will?” He’s also fine—in fact, almost celebratory—when he makes a mistake, something he accepted earlier in his career when he approached shoots with a very clear directive, one that in hindsight was certainly doomed to fail due to the stiff parameters he set. He decided instead to open up the boundaries of his shoots, creating “documentary” photographs with ideas so terrible that failure was assured since he allowed his subjects to take the lead.

Mothers and Daughters
Untitled (mothers with daughters).

Bradley Peters

Untitled (woman with cranberries).

Bradley Peters

“I decided that my ‘project’ was going to explore the failure of ideas by using the language of staged narrative photography,” he said. To do that, Peters selects various anecdotes from his own history and observations but then plays a type of photographic telephone game with his models, one that results in a distortion from the original idea.

“The result of which would be a spontaneity that is created through the existence and theatricality of a staged event,” he said. “I found that I could now use my biography as the battery that powers my work rather than the subject and the image would be truthful but look as through they were the contrary.”

“I like to think of it as a collision of reality and illogic that is bound together by flash lighting!”
Although Peters pulls from experiences that are sometimes rooted in difficult or painful moments, there is an underlying sense of humor in some of his images. It’s not the goal of his work but he said he’s open to that interpretation.  

“There are days in all of our lives where nothing seems to go right, and eventually there is a tipping point where one event pushes it into the realm of ‘seriously, I cant believe this is all happening to me today,’ ” he said. “Many of my images exist in this psychological space, where the everyday moment has become so overwhelming, that the mind’s last line of defense is to laugh.”

Pepsi Machine
Untitled (men with Pepsi machine).

Bradley Peters

Untitled (man on ledge with baby).

Bradley Peters

Untitled (dog with drain pipe).

Bradley Peters

David Rosenberg is the editor of Slate’s Behold blog. He has worked as a photo editor for 15 years and is a tennis junkie. Follow him on Twitter.



The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?


Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories to the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
Oct. 22 2014 12:44 AM We Need More Ben Bradlees His relationship with John F. Kennedy shows what’s missing from today’s Washington journalism.
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
Oct. 22 2014 9:00 AM Wailing Against the Pansies: Homophobia in Whiplash
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Oct. 22 2014 6:00 AM Why It’s OK to Ask People What They Do David Plotz talks to two junior staffers about the lessons of Working.
Brow Beat
Oct. 22 2014 9:19 AM Nine Actors Remember Their Famous Horror-Movie Deaths
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 8:43 AM Thunderstruck: Rock Out With Mother Nature’s Evil Side
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 22 2014 7:30 AM An Illusion That Makes Me Happy and Sad
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.