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Remembering Pete Turner Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

19 September 2017

Pete Turner was 11 years old in 1945 when he began making black-and-white prints. And when he was 14, he was making prints from color transparencies. When he passed away yesterday at 83, he was widely acknowledged as an early master of color photography who never relinquished the crown.

When he graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1956, his classmates included Paul Caponigro, Bruce Davidson and Jerry Uelsmann. Despite studying with the same faculty, their styles were so different nobody ever called them the Rochester School. Turner always felt that was a testament to the quality of the education he got at RIT.

His teachers would insist they go to museums to study paintings. Magritte and Yves Tanguy were, consequently, important influences, Turner has said.

As soon as he graduated, he was drafted. With a degree, he could enlist as an officer but as a private he could get out in two years. His service fortunately fell between the Korean and Vietnam wars.

He was young with no family, fresh out of the Army. And Airstream wanted to do a shoot in Africa.

He was the base photographer in Indianapolis when he took a portrait of a general standing by a sculpture. The general loved the shot and got him transferred to New York where he worked in the Army Pictorial Center for both the Army and the Marines.

He was running a Type C color lab when the technology was first introduced. He was assigned to take the subway to New York, shoot a lot of pictures, come back and print them to keep the system going.

That's how he became, on discharge, the kid with the color portfolio with 120 brilliant prints hitting the agencies in New York when color was so rare it was only done with laborious dye transfers.

That's when he got his big break.

He was young with no family, fresh out of the Army. And Airstream wanted to do a shoot in Africa. Arthur and Hennrietta Brackmen at the Freelance Photographers Guild introduced Turner to Pat Terry at Airstream and the deal was made.

Before he left, Turner told National Geographic he would be in Africa. They assigned him a story that never ran but when he got back, they gave him a staff position.

Turner shoot 300 rolls in Africa on the first of many trips he would make there. He had taken three Nikon SP rangefinders to shoot with 35mm, 50mm and 105mm prime lenses.

And that might have made a career for many people. Indeed it has.

But it just turned on the lights for Turner. He started pushing color beyond journalism into expressionism.

He had a Nikon refitted to do double exposures when that wasn't built in. He used color filters. He would run film through the camera twice.

He experimented. And it was a thrill, he said, to get the developed exposures back to see what had happened. The surprises were what he lived for.

To appreciate his achievement, visit his Web site where you can see his images uncompromised by technical constraints. Among his books, Pete Turner African Journey was among the more successful, no doubt because he did the press check himself. The George Eastman House in Rochester houses Turner's archives.

In an era where photography was trying to establish itself as an art by focusing on tonality, Turner expanded photography's vocabulary into color. It was no less an achievement than moving text from prose to song.

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