An interview with…Peter Bargh

Peter Bargh never planned on becoming a photographer, and stumbled across the idea almost by accident while still at school. However after leaving school Peter obtained a job in a camera shop and did some freelance photography and he has never looked back since.

Peter first had his work published in several photography publications. After applying for a job as a technical writer for a magazine, he worked his way up through the ranks to become an editor. Peter’s ambitions soon led him to come up with the concept of creating the UK’s first newsstand photography magazine: Digital Photo FX. While at the top of his game Peter left his job and went on to set up his own company, Magazine Publishing, and subsequently launched photography website ePHOTOzine.

Peter set up ePHOTOzine as a way for amateur photographers to be able to view and critique each other’s work. The site has grown over the years to include a variety of features, including the option to have your photos edited by others. Also, as well as setting it up, Peter takes an active role in the day-to-day running of ePHOTOzine, and has his own extensive profile on the website which can be found here.

Asside from photography, Peter has a very strong interest in music. He enjoys a wide variety of music, ranging from pop to electronic and even Indian. He lists some of his favourite artists as Amon Duul II, David Bowie, Kate Bush and Susumu Yokota, and while he has less time for music now, he still tries to discover new bands and broaden his musical horizons.

Peter was happy to answer some of my questions:

How did you get into photography?

By accident! A friend at school had an SLR and took some photos of Snoopy (Charlie Brown’s dog) off of the TV. He brought them into the classroom and I asked how he’d done them. He mentioned jargon like SLR, shutter speed, tripod and it all sounded confusing but I wanted to take pictures of David Bowie off of the TV too. That night I discovered that my brother had an old Pentax S1a SLR and asked if I could borrow it.
I took some test pictures and managed to work out I needed to change the shutter speed to avoid lines on the TV. It was this that led me to want to learn more about speeds and apertures, so I joined the night school photography class. I quickly became knowledgeable and wanted to absorb everything. I bought magazines, books, and more kit. And I left school to work in a camera shop. I gradually progressed through SLR to medium-format to large format. I built my own darkroom and started to get work published.

What publications have you worked for?

Once I’d had work published in Amateur Photographer and local newspapers there was no stopping me. I saw a job advertised on Practical Photography for technical writer. I applied and was accepted. After six months I was promoted to technical editor, and soon after I moved over to a buying title as editor. In 1997 I came up with the concept for a digital magazine and launched the UK’s first digital technique magazine called Digital Photo FX. I left this in 2000 to set up my own publishing company Magazine Publishing, we launched ePHOTOzine which now has over 800,000 visitors each month.
I’ve had work published in golf, fishing, walking and boat magazines and in several photographic books. I wrote Teach Yourself Digital Photography and Photoshop A to Z and our company published the Guide to Great Photography which sold out, but there’s now a PDF options available.

What photography equipment do you use?

Our company runs the Pentax User club so I’ve been a Pentax user for the last 8 years. I currently have a K20D, K10D and infrared converted ist D. I own a selection of lenses but find three are used most – the 16-45mm, 12-24mm and 100mm macro. I have a Manfrotto tripod, Lowepro bag, Sunpak flash and an Elincrom studio kit. I also use a Fuji F70 compact, and Olympus EP2 hybrid and an iPhone with hipstamatic.

Do you prefer digital or film photography?

Digital for the flexibility, I love messing in Photoshop and Lightroom, but I must admit it’s good to look back at the medium and large format transparencies I used to shoot. They have a different kind of tonal range and clarity that seems lacking in digital files.

Who is your favourite photographer and why?

I like the work of many photographers. Our web site ePHOTOzine has a lot of lesser known photographers who are geniuses in their fields. We have some incredible talent. I have around 300 listed as ‘favourites’, which is an option in our site profiles. Outside of ePHOTOzine I really admire Duane Michals. He does some superb series; one in particular left a huge impression titled Things Are Queer.

What is your favourite photograph that you’ve taken and why?

It’s one that’s in my ePHOTOzine portfolio of a sheep carcass.

It’s a bit morbid but I love the angle and as it’s taken on a medium format 6×7 camera the tonal range I’ve managed to pull out of it. It reminds me of something John Blakemore might have taken and I admire his photography.

Why did you set up ePHOTOzine?

I’d asked my publisher if we could add a web site to Digital PhotoFX. I thought it was needed as a supplement to the magazine. We had a CD but that wasn’t interactive enough. Emap were having a rough time with online ventures so were hesitant about doing anything with photography. And I started thinking well perhaps I can do it myself. So I found a backer and I took the huge step.

Why do you think the site has become so popular over the years?

I’m really active on the site and ensure we try and cater for member requests. Over the years we’ve added many features that have been requested. We’re one of the few sites where the owners get involved on a day to day basis. We were one of the first to encourage a community feel, way before Facebook! So we offered social networking (at the time we didn’t know that’s what it was called) for photographers. Rather than stick a site out based on a cms template, we built from scratch and created a unique forum and gallery. We can be more flexible in approach than any other template based site and that makes us quite unique and liked.
We’re also one of the few sites with a large team who add content daily so you get fresh news, reviews and techniques daily. And we have monthly competitions with prize values of around £1000 so there’s a lot to keep people hanging around.

What have been the highlights of your career?

Getting a job working for a magazine as a journalist when I’d not even gained an O level in English was probably the biggest achievement, and then making that work and progressing through the ranks in such short space of time. Then setting up a company with no business experience. I’ve had several very steep learning curves to cope with over the years.

Are there any parts of your career you regret?

Being in retail for too long in the early part of my career. I should have been more confident sooner.

What are the most common mistakes made by amateur photographers?

Buying more expensive equipment thinking it will give them better photos. It’s not what you have it’s how you use it. Another thing is not considering the subject when taking a photo. A better picture is made by being aware of focusing, composition, light and exposure. Many shots are snaps that could, with a little more care, become masterpieces.

Do you have any advice for people wanting to get into photography?

Buy a reasonable camera (ideally an SLR) and get to know it well. Use one lens and concentrate on getting brilliant with it before buying more kit.
Join ePHOTOzine and submit photos to the critique area and learn from the suggestions.
Set yourself photography challenges – I’m currently doing a ‘photo365’ project where I have to take a photo each day. That makes you look around more and see pictures.
Team up with other photographers, ePHOTOzine has a meetings section, and share experiences. Going out in small groups can help you engage better with the subject.
Also don’t stick to one subject – try different things even if you feel uncomfortable. This will give you a wider learning experience, and then when you’re confident with your kit you can specialise in one area if that’s what you want to excel at.

Thanks a lot, Peter.

Cheers

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