We met photographer Peter Roessler through a mutual friend and we quickly decided to sit down with him for dinner and an interview. We ended up in an abandoned-looking alley in Chinatown in NYC. Always being the skeptical New Yorker, we hesitated, but followed him downstairs and discovered there was a beautiful Mexican restaurant that served tacos the West Coast would be proud of. The Los Angeles native turned New Yorker talked about his love of exploring New York, the difference between both cities, his photography muses, and even delved into the controversy of using Photoshopping on your online dating profile.
Labeling Men: What inspired you to get into photography?
Peter Roessler: Well, I was working in the city for a building inspection company at the time. I've always been a musician and I've always taken photographs, but I was at a point where I was feeling really burnt out over the music industry and I started taking more photographs and posting them online. People were responding to them more than I'd normally get responses to things from. Everything kind of aligned itself. I got laid off from that job and I spent a year studying with different photographers that I met, finding a new art to take over music since I was burnt out from it. It blew up from there!
L.M: What was the first thing that caught you eye that inspired you to get into photography?
P.R: The inspiration came from the fact that it’s a quicker way to create art. With music - everything I do, I relate back to music because it’s my first love and photography is my second love - with music, everything has so much time given to it. You have to write a song, you have to figure out lyrics, you have to record it, you have to have somebody mix that and export it. With photography, you can be inspired in the moment and take a shot of whatever you have and set it off and it’s up forever. You don't have to have somebody listen and go, “Hey, can you listen to my song for three minutes?" A photo takes a second and it was a different way of expressing myself that just blew my mind at the fact that I can do that and feel like an artist and feel important.
L.M: You showed us this awesome 3D photograph; tell us more about that and how your photography stands out against the rest.
P.R: The 3D camera, what it does is it takes two pictures side-by-side and the way you put it together is an animated .gif file and it’s a great way where the eyes fool you. I don't understand exactly how it works with the brain but it looks pretty awesome; it looks like it’s permanently rotating. So I've been doing a lot of that to set myself aside from other people. You always have to find something unique and different from other people. Everybody new on the scene has something unique. You need a one-line about somebody, what pictures they take. So I'm trying to constantly find something new that sets me apart, that'll draw attention to me and want to use me and hire me for photo shoots.
L.M: What are your favorite subjects to shoot?
P.R: Well actually, I like a couple of different things. I kind of have ADD when it comes to shooting. I never want to pigeon-hole myself into one type of photography, which is probably bad for business but good for creative health. I tend to move around a lot, but I really love shooting really dramatic images of bands or models or just a landscape. I really relate to musicians a lot so I like shooting musicians. I like shooting artists who I can relate to after spending all the years I've spent playing music, I feel like it’s a place I can relate to them and talk about music.
L.M: What is your favorite band that you've ever shot?
P.R: I guess experience wise, it’s kind of a funny one, because I always go into photo shoots with expectations of how the band is going to be by either what you hear, judging them by their music or what other people think. I was shooting Scott Stapp from the band Creed. I was going into it and I heard rumors that he was difficult to work with. I don't know, you hear things and never know what to believe. And he was the nicest guy I've ever met! It was a good experience to just be like, just have a positive experience with somebody. I guess I haven't shot my favorite bands yet. Growing up I was a huge fan of Incubus and I'd love to shoot Incubus. I guess it’s a funny answer because it’s Scott Stapp from Creed and he was so huge in my time growing up that I think he's the biggest artists I've shot, which is funny to say now.
L.M: What is the coolest model shoot you've ever done?
P.R: I was just down in Miami for "Swim Week" with a couple of friends who are models and we decided to go down in the middle of the night and shoot in the middle of the ocean with the Miami skyline behind it. So the way the camera was on, it was shooting in a really low light, better then night vision/human eyesight. So we went down to the middle of the ocean and I had the model's boyfriend hold her iPhone light on her so that I could focus and we were just shooting in the dark. An awesome experiment to just see what we can do. It’s the same thing of going with a different approach to get pictures and now it’s the top picture on my website [see photos below from shoot].
L.M: All just from a random shoot...
P.R: Yup, just from a random shoot. A random idea at a bar after doing the original planned photo shoot earlier in the day.
L.M: We know you grew up in Los Angeles; tell us the style differences between LA and NYC, as you've now been here for many years.
P.R: Well I go back to LA a lot as I shoot there. Not as much as NYC, but I do shoots there. I get why the movie industry is filmed there. It’s a place where the weather is perfect all the time. You can go to the beach, the mountains, the desert, everything in one shot, but there is a certain magic to NYC. How it’s such a small place compared to LA, and you could just shoot and discover new places, and I love roaming around. When I was a building inspector I loved roaming around shooting and discovering places, going "Oh man, I'd love to do something here one day," and I kept those in my mind. So I feel like growing up in LA is great, but it’s not new and a place I want to explore like New York is. So I have that excitement of discovery while LA is like a place I want to keep in my heart, but not as exciting as New York.
L.M: If you can expand a little about the differences fashion-wise with New York and LA...
P.R: New York is just different in the way people roam around. People are on their way from work, some people are going to a party, some are just walking in the streets; you see all the different styles of everybody and there are so many different types of people. They aren't in their cars on the freeway like in LA, where they are hiding behind tinted windows. Here they are all out, exposed and it creates such a great opportunity to just see different styles. Since people are more exposed, you learn a lot more about people around 100 at a time rather than in LA, where you have to go to a bar or a party to hang out and see different types of people and run in to people. In NYC, you don't need a destination; LA is a destination-based place. In NYC, you're free to go, "Oh, what is down the street?" and you find a bar and you go inside and you go, "Okay, that's it, I'm here!"
L.M: Have you photographed any men’s fashion yet?
P.R: I've mainly focused on women's fashion just due to the fact that I haven't had the opportunity yet to. I've worked a lot with different designers. I shot some male models, but haven't really shot any men’s fashion products...Wait, I have shot CAT Footwear.
L.M: Tell us about your experience with that.
P.R: I've shot a lot of things for CAT Footwear. They’ve been around for a while, have that standard "Yellow Boot.” I think that is what it’s called, don't know if I'm saying it right. And I've shot a lot of different things for them, a lot of fun style boards...Construction meets fashion, sophisticated fashion. They have done a lot of things with different boots. They have done a bunch of amazing events, all around the country. I’m going to get more into shooting more of the clothing side to men’s fashion. I've mainly done boots and accessories, jewelry, watches. But I'd really like to get into the side of wearable clothing of men’s fashion.
L.M: Tell us a little about how you feel men’s fashion has evolved over the last five to ten years.
P.R: Yeah, it’s been a big change, I feel like just everything. I was just talking the other day about how everybody's eyes are opening up a little bit more. Everybody is getting a little bit more experimental in the way that they look. It used to be just women to be more experimental and now it seems like men have opened up this new territory and even just starting from the colored jeans. I think that was GAP with the RED project and the khaki red jeans. All the different colors men are wearing now, I think it started even before with the pink shirt, the pink polo shirt. And it was the first brave move into that and it’s really great how men are expanding into a more experimental side of fashion and it’s really shining through. Even men going to work, executives are looking more on that experimental side as opposed to the traditional three-piece suit.
L.M: Does that reflect on your personal style at all? In the last five years have you taken up any of these trends?
P.R: My wife actually made fun of me the other day because I find a trend. She calls me a crazy person, but I tell her that Einstein did it. He had the same set of clothing that he wore every day because he didn't want to think about it. I mean I'm not comparing myself to Einstein, but I found my black V-neck t-shirt and my grey skinny jeans and boots are my look. I bought eight V-necks and during the winter, I just change out the jacket that I wear. I pretty much stick to a certain style. I update it, but I'm a creature of habit. I just feel like as a photographer, you're supposed to blend in more with things and you don't want to stand out as much because you want people to stand out in front of you. If you're the loudest person in the room, you're not going to be able to capture the personality of the person you want to shoot. You want to let them shine and as a photographer, you need to take a little bit of backseat so that you let the people you're shooting have their photo stand out and make them feel comfortable.
L.M: We're going to try this question, although it might be a little weird...
P.R: Well, I'm a weird guy so go right ahead!
L.M: With online dating, do you think people have taken photography and manipulated it to a point where everybody is on Photoshop and creating this thing...
P.R: I see exactly what you're saying! The world of personal beautification has been ridiculous since the beginning of time, from the corset where women would wear a corset to make themselves look skinny. In all honesty, it’s easier to Photoshop themselves looking skinnier than wearing a corset which would crush their organs together! Men, even back in the Renaissance days, wore makeup to make themselves look pretty and wore wigs to cover their hair. I do agree with a lot of the magazines that are out there now that aren't working with children that are Photoshopped or heavily Photoshopped images. But on a dating site, everybody's best pictures is what they see on it. It’s like the woman who is pregnant, she's bigger and then she loses all the weight. Everybody is really deceiving everybody else. It’s obviously going to show up when you meet somebody in person. You can't Photoshop somebody in person, so everybody is deceiving in certain ways and I think if it’s to get you ahead in life, who is to blame them. Everybody is trying as hard as they can in this world to get ahead, a little bit of Photoshop hasn't hurt anybody!
L.M: Do you have dating advice for the New York/LA singles?
P.R: I've had plenty of time to observe the dating world from the other side of the tracks because I've been with my wife - we've been married for a year and a half - but we've been dating for 10 years.
P.R: Thank you! I know it’s a rare thing, but she's a great woman and we mesh, we mesh so well. I've seen a lot, I witness a lot. I think it’s really tough because you put yourself out there so much in the dating scene to just be disappointed. If you're a pessimist, you're probably better off because you won't be as disappointed as an optimist who goes into everything hoping this is the one person that they are going to be with. But in all reality, it’s that same saying...if everybody has a soul mate, why is everybody's soul mate within 50 miles of them?! If your soul mate is in China and really existed, we wouldn't have soul mates within 50 miles from us. You have to meet them, but it should make sense if they were halfway across the world and something brought you together. So everybody has a compromise and life is about compromise and life is about something. A lot of people are really picky because they have the ability to see what these flaws are already online. Everybody puts themselves out there online with what they like and what they do. As much as we put ourselves out there, we've really tightened up our compromising. We aren't as open as we were. Everybody has shed their skin, showing so much of who they are, when it comes to dating, they are so picky which is kind of weird how it works. Because you would think by putting yourself out there, you would be more open to people with weird quirks and things about them.
L.M: That’s what you fall in love with, the weird stuff!
P.R: I've been with my wife basically forever and I am still learning new things about her. She told me this story the other day and I said, "How come I've never known that story?,” and she said, "I don't know, we just have never talked about it." There is always going to be things, even if you are with somebody for a long time, you're going to learn new things and it’s about the journey, it’s not about the destination!
You can find more of Peter's work at www.shootmepeter.com
Interview by Nisim Frank
Photographs taken/supplied by Peter Roessler