Peter Marlow’s Incredible Photos of Eerie Crises
Peter Marlow’s career has covered everything from news photography and war reporting to street photography and a much-lauded collection of portraits. However, he is perhaps best known for his own, more personal projects—like his series on the closure of Longbridge’s Rover factory, or Liverpool: Looking Out to Sea, the book focusing on the urban degeneration of Liverpool—often covering the stories with a lack of human subjects, which lends much of his portfolio a sense of eerie stillness even at points of crisis.
I gave Marlow a call to speak about not being cut out for war, spotting the moments and details that bring spaces to life, and the importance of curiosity in photography.
VICE: I spoke to David Hurn for the previous column in this series. He was very open about his motivation for getting into war reporting—that it was the most direct way to become a professional photographer at the time. What were your motives?
Peter Marlow: I am a generation on from David. I left college in 1974, which was an era when you could actually live off your student grant. I led the life of Riley, left school, did some work in the summer, and had never thought about what the hell I was going to do after. We had the luxury of knowing we would probably get jobs easily, because back then people who went to university were much more of an elite than they are now. I’d always wanted to be a photographer. Influenced by color supplements that came out in the 70s, seeing the work of Don McCullin and Larry Burrows. There was an issue of the Telegraph Magazine on war photographers, and I thought, That’s what I want to do.
I got a job as a photographer on a cruise liner. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. The other photographer had to suggest to me that I focus and press the button with different hands in order to save me from moving them. After that I traveled around and spent a few months in Haiti. That was the first experience I had of what we used to call the Third World. It was an amazing eye-opener, the first genuine hardship I had seen. I look back at those pictures and think they’re some of the best work I’ve done—the first thing I did that was a serious piece of work.
I then started talking to some agencies in New York and finally at job as a photographer with Sygma, a French photo news agency, and basically went all over the world for a few years. Got everything from Northern Ireland to the revolution in the Philippines, and war in Angola. You name it.
Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1977. A Republican youth with a gun during the Queen’s Jubilee riots