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Picture perfect
Some artists can make their instruments weep. Bruce Peterson’s instruments make boats bleed and forests give up their ghosts.

Peterson, a fine arts photographer, starts dissecting his subject matter with a Nikon. Shrouded in dawn fog, for example, he’ll patrol a sleepy harbor and take aim at an aging trawler lashed to a pier. Rust blossoms on the white bow like hard-earned sweat. Peterson captures the image, cropping tightly and maybe adding a Pro-Mist filter for mood. In the back of his mind, however, he knows this newborn photo has a long journey before seeing daylight again.

As much as a week of digital enhancement work separates Peterson’s early morning shot from the Giclee print hanging at The Wade Gallery, owned by Peterson and his photographer/designer wife, Wendi. “When I take a photo, I’m seeing only the potential that will emerge in the final print,” he says. “In the computer, I exaggerate what drew me to the picture.” Peterson employs a souped-up Macintosh G5 and a couple of software programs (Photoshop and Painter) to layer on effects that give these photos a painterly look.

Commercial to fine arts
On the same September day in ‘01 that etched flaming skyscrapers into our national psyche, the Petersons sold their Arizona-based commercial studio. A gallery would give them the lifestyle change they sought, he recalls. While revenue might be scant compared to what they earned working for clients like Motorola, Intel and Honeywell, their savings and continued income from his stock photo sales would keep the wolf from the door. They bought a harborside building in Ilwaco, Wash., where The Wade Gallery and its offices reside. At the end of the first year in business, the gallery had broken even. In the second year, sales volume doubled and it was done without outside financing.

The jump from commercial to fine arts wasn’t as jarring for Peterson as it might be for others. “Wendi and I were already doing niche work in special effects and, while you have to deliver what the client wants, I was simultaneously able to please my own artistic interests,” he says. “As an artist, you have to forget the audience and produce work that satisfies yourself…and hopefully, others will like it too. A person once says to Picasso: ‘That painting doesn’t look like a fish!’ Picasso is reported to have replied: ‘It’s not a fish, it’s a painting!’”

Beyond the bag of Nikons and the Mac, Peterson’s tools include a 52-inch Roland Hi-Fi Jet printer with Epson heads, capable of print widths of 49 inches. He uses archival inks and papers exclusively. The combination of paper quality, ink and software gives Peterson’s prints a one-of-a-kind watercolor appeal.

Grounded in Film, Chemistry, Composition and Design
After college Peterson accompanied his photo professor to England, where he audited studio classes and commercial shoots at the Polytechnic Institute in Manchester. “These students were creating album covers for rock groups like The Moody Blues,” he says. “It opened my eyes to a whole new world of art used for commercial applications.”

In that pre-digital era, Peterson created special effects with masks and “color separations” on film. As desktop publishing emerged, he was immediately into it. With more than a decade of photo and darkroom experience, he was able to transfer those skills to computer without much bother. “I get lost in time on the computer much the way I used to in a darkroom,” Peterson says. He adds: “My fear these days is that kids get seduced with gear.” Art is much more than that. He says that art training, design and composition especially, are imperative. So, too, are the technical skills, once you have the equipment.

“I was asked by a community college to advise them on how to attract more students to fine arts and photography,” Peterson recalls. “I told them I would remind students that 90 percent of the industry supports 10 percent of the artists…and that less than three percent of fine art graduates will be able to make a living at their art.” It was advice the college apparently didn’t want to hear; they chose not to have Peterson address the next incoming class.

To underscore his credo about having a comprehensive art education, he is apt to say—when a visitor to The Wade Gallery asks him how long it took for him to create a particular image— “It took me 30 years, three months, 14 days and eight hours.”

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