Peter Peryer

Erika c 1979

1979. Printed 1988.
gelatin silver print
405mm x 268mm

signed Peter Peryer, inscribed Erika c 1979, This print was made 25/2/88, No final prints made prior to this date and [brooch] in graphite verso; Dunedin Public Art Gallery Label affixed upper right verso

Provenance

Private collection, New Plymouth.

Exhibitions

Erika: A Portrait by Peter Peryer, curated by Justin Paton, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, 20 January – 1 April 2001; City Gallery Wellington, 13 July – 16 September 2001; Auckland Art Gallery Toi O Tamaki, 10 November 2001 – 27 January 2002.

Essay

When Peter Peryer first began taking photographs in the early 1970s, his practice centred on portraiture. His pool of sitters was relatively small and consisted largely of frien...

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Estimate $6,000 - $9,000
Achieved $12,312.81

Peter Peryer

Erika c 1979

1979. Printed 1988.

gelatin silver print

signed Peter Peryer, inscribed Erika c 1979, This print was made 25/2/88, No final prints made prior to this date and [brooch] in graphite verso; Dunedin Public Art Gallery Label affixed upper right verso

405mm x 268mm

Auction N˚5

Estimate $6,000 - $9,000

Achieved $12,312.81

Erika

by Serena Bentley

When Peter Peryer first began taking photographs in the early 1970s, his practice centred on portraiture. His pool of sitters was relatively small and consisted largely of friends, acquaintances and the artist himself. One subject Peryer continued to revisit was his then-wife, Erika Parkinson, who features in some of his most noteworthy early works. From the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s Peryer photographed his wife repeatedly. This focus on a single sitter was not unlike that of his American contemporaries Nicholas Nixon, Harry Callaghan and Emmet Gowan, whose work Peryer admired.

Peryer’s early photographs reveal his interest in exploring the expressive potential of the medium. They are the antithesis of “smile for the camera” snapshot photographs. Peryer directed and often dressed his sitters, assembling an image in his head for weeks, even months, before finally picking up his camera. Accordingly, Peryer has referred to these carefully composed portraits as film stills, an appropriate observation when considering the meticulous preparation involved in each “shoot.”

Peryer’s grainy, brooding black and white photographs were described by the artist as “heavy on the moody blues,” and Erika 1979 is no exception. Dressed smartly in a crisp white shirt and blazer with one large, blinking jewel on the lapel, Parkinson stares directly into the camera. Her gaze is unwavering, yet defensive. What exchange has occurred between photographer and sitter to provoke this reaction? Parkinson is a chameleon: in some cases, she is barely recognisable from one Peryer photograph to the next. Erika with Knives (1977), for instance, features Parkinson’s face obscured by shadow and framed by a dark black bob, emphasising her full, dark lips. It is a deliberately blurry, sensuous shot, in contrast to the prim wariness that pervades Parkinson’s body language in Erika 1979. This portrait reveals the highly charged yet ultimately enigmatic emotional exchanges that infused much of the artist’s work at this time (Erika, Winter 1979 and the female protagonist from Peryer’s 1976 Gone Home series are two other notable examples).

Erika 1979 has been exhibited publicly just once. In 2001 it was included in the touring exhibition Erika: A Portrait, curated by Justin Paton, then curator at Dunedin Public Art Gallery (the show also travelled to City Gallery Wellington and Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki). Erika: A Portrait brought together the majority of Peryer’s photographs of Parkinson—of which there are over twenty—just as Peryer and Parkinson separated after 35 years together. What is so compelling about these portraits is the slippage between fact and fiction they display, an ambiguity enhanced by Peryer’s deliberately neutral titles. The photographs record a latent exchange between husband and wife in which the artist’s presence is undeniable. However, peering through the lens, we too as viewers become implicated in these psychodramas.

Peryer’s photographs of Parkinson are particularly significant because they reflect his intense (and ultimately short lived) interest in human portraiture. From the mid-1980s onwards Peryer began to adopt a more formalist approach, reacting against the emotive content that characterised the work he was making at the beginning of his career. Accordingly, Erika 1979 is iconic. It is part of a contained body of portraits that were central to Peryer’s early work and to his subsequent artistic development. More than that, Erika 1979 is a line in a bittersweet love song that will never lose its potency.