Sad to read of the passing of Pete Turner, one of the early pioneers of colour photography.
He pushed the limits of film, colour and lab technicians to produce some of the most vivid, colourful images ever committed to film.
He started early, developing colour pictures by age 14, ‘I love black and white photography, but somehow I got seduced by colour, I remember going to the art supply store as a kid and looking at water-colour paint boxes and thinking, “These are beautiful”’.
He developed his skills further, like Howard Zieff, in the military; The Combat Photographic Centre in Astoria, Queens, NY.
Occasionally he’d be sent by the Army on assignments, like photographing rockets in Florida, but most of his time was spent in the lab at Queens, whilst there he experimented with all the new types of films becoming available.
Weekends were spent finding subjects to photograph in Manhattan, ‘The colour palette I work with is really intense, I like to push it to the limit.’
After leaving the Army he joined the Freelance Photographers Guild, one of his early commissions was from the Airstream trailer company, he followed a caravan of 43 of their vehicles from South Africa to Egypt.
The assignment gave him a love for Africa and a portfolio full of vivid African imagery.It got him an assignments from Hollywood, covering the films ’Cleopatra’ and ‘The Night of the Iguana‘.
It also lead to a ton of magazine work for the likes of Look, Sports Illustrated, Holiday and in particular Esquire.
But perhaps the most important person in Turners’s career was Creed Taylor.
Whilst rummaging through records Manhattan he noticed that all the album covers that caught his attention had the same name on them; ‘Producer Creed Taylor’.
He called Taylor, pretty soon they were working together.
Initially, raiding Turner’s folio for images.
Turner couldn’t find anything appropriate in his portfolio for the cover of ‘Trust in Me’ an album by the Soul Flutes, “I said to Creed, ‘What about shooting a beautiful pair of lips? Not the kind you see in Vogue, let’s get a black model with great lips, and we’ll paint them so we’ll have a really different look.’
Creed said, ‘I love it.’ ”
He began shooting bespoke shots for the covers.
‘I’ve always been drawn to the colours of nature, and nature is a wonderful teacher, look at the colour coding of a bee; yellow and black stripes, or of a cardinal with different shades of red.
It’s rare that nature is in colour harmony, go out there and look.
Although a lot of my pictures are not taken from nature, I use nature as a colour source.’
But over time Turner began shooting the artists too.
His portraits were just as graphic and distinctive.
a) Up the nostrils.
b) Side-on, rendering the subject almost two dimensional.
c) More abstract, using colour.
d) Just good portraits.
In later life, Pete‘s pictures became less extreme, not quite as saturated, grainy or abstract.
But just as colourful.
One of his most enduring images is ‘New Dawn’.
Shot in 1973 on the Icelandic island of Heimeay whilst on assignment for Esquire.
7,000 people evacuated the island expecting the volcano Helgafell to erupt, Turner stayed, spending the night in an abandoned house, ‘kept awake by lava bombs beating on the roof’, at dawn he moved to the backyard to photograph the volcanic explosion.
By underexposing his shots, he made the colours become more saturated.
“It was like being in the center of a science fiction” he told Time Magazine in 1973.
It was later used by Jazz boffins Weather Report as a cover for their album ‘Night Passage’.
R.I.P Mr Turner.