German photographer Carsten Peter has made a career of his two childhood obsessions: nature and photography. Often featured in National Geographic, Peter’s photos have captured volcanic eruptions and tornadoes, in action and up close. And this month he’s coming to Benaroya Hall to describe just how far he had to go to get those shots.
You call yourself a biologist as well as a photographer. What came first?
Even as a kid I always loved nature, so for me it was kind of inevitable to study biology. But also with my studies I began to photograph. I did a lot of travels and expeditions and I used photography to document what I experienced. Photography is a way I can show people something I have experienced and wouldn’t be able to describe in words.
What’s the scariest situation you’ve ever found yourself in?
These are natural forces, so you have to be very careful. Even with a lot of experience you are still misjudging situations sometimes. For example, one event I wanted to definitely photograph was a partial volcanic dome collapse in Montserrat Island in 2010. I spent quite a while there, quite close, to wait for it but [didn’t get the shot]. And 10 days later, after I departed, the partial dome collapse happened, and it was so hefty that my location was completely wiped out. I wouldn’t have had a chance.
What do you love about this job?
Often these are quite challenging subjects. Like, volcanic eruptions are always very difficult because you need good weather, you need good activity, the wind direction has to be right, the visibility has to be right. There are so many hindrances that could screw your assignment. And I have to push myself in a lot of directions. I was doing caving quite early on, and I’m doing a lot of outdoor sports, like motorized paragliding or ice climbing or diving, whatever is necessary to get into the location. You are challenged physically and creatively.