#LightBoxFF: Mark Peterson on the Power of Social Media and Political Satire

Mark Peterson, CPAC
Mark Peterson—Redux
American flags surround a photo of Ronald Regan at the Young Americans for Liberty booth at CPAC on Mar. 8. 2014.

Welcome to this week’s edition of TIME LightBox Follow Friday, a series where we feature the work of photographers using Instagram in new, interesting and engaging ways. Each week we will introduce you to the person behind the feed through his or her pictures and an interview with the photographer.

For this edition of #LightBoxFF, we spoke to Redux photographer Mark Peterson, whose candid and at times outrageous political photos have appeared on the Instagram feeds of MSNBC and GQ, and in print in the New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, Fortune and TIME. His stark black and whites and ultra-saturated color photos amplify the absurdity of the scenes he captures. Instagram, he says, offers endless opportunities to indulge in the unexpected.


LightBox: What purpose does Instagram serve for you, and what do you feel is the purpose of your feed

MP: Instagram for me is the opportunity to be creative. I think it’s this way for other photographers, also. We all want to show off our creativity or passions. I love that I can see so many great photographers putting out some of their first images of a new project — it’s like a proof sheet of the world of photography. There are side benefits to this, too, as I’ve posted images and editors have emailed me asking if I have more images from that event, or if I can do an assignment for them. One example: I covered a demonstration in New York after the Trayvon Martin verdict and posted an image on Instagram, and TIME’s Paul Moakley emailed me asking if I had more images and if TIME could use them.

LightBox: When did you start using Instagram, and how has your understanding of it changed since your first post?

Mark Peterson: I started using Instagram in July of 2012. GQ asked me to cover the Democratic and Republican National Conventions using my iPhone and post pictures to their new Instagram site. I actually set up my account and took my first photos with Instagram on my way to meet with them about the project. I loved photographing the conventions this way as it was so immediate — like a live report from the convention floor. Using only my iPhone was both a challenge and very liberating. I was able to take pictures very fast and not have to carry around long lens and heavy cameras. One thing that was interesting was how the conventioneers wouldn’t walk in front of me when I was taking a picture but other photographers would just walk in front of me because they didn’t think I was covering the convention as a photojournalist. It made me even more invisible as a photographer in many ways and able to capture things spontaneously.

An image from the 2012 DNC uploaded to Mark Peterson’s feed.

LightBox: Which post inspired the most audience feedback in terms of likes and comments? Do you agree with the kind of attention it got, and why do you think it was so popular?

MP: I think the most popular posts have been my Politics in Black and White series which I started September of 2013. It deals with today’s political theater and Instagram was a perfect platform for how I am manipulating the images in this series. I hadn’t shot black and white in years, but rediscovered it again through the apps. I first take them with my DSLR and then run them through apps on my phone. I have to use my DSLR because of the flash I like to use, but it’s the apps that make the pictures more theatrical or cartoonish. Some people like it and some people think it’s gone off the rails of journalism because of the heavy manipulations. I think it’s great for people to take shots at me in the comment section, it’s all a marketplace of ideas. And as far as manipulation, maybe that’s true but I think people did the same things in darkrooms for many years. W. Eugene Smith, who worked over his prints in the darkroom, once said, “I didn’t make the rules, why should I follow them?”

This image from CPAC, uploaded on Mar. 16, 2014, is the most popular image on Peterson’s feed at 670 likes.

LightBox: When do you feel like you hit your stride with Instagram? Is there a specific project or assignment, or even a single image where you crossed a threshold and your perspective on the platform changed?

MP: Last May I was in Los Angeles working on an assignment for a couple of weeks, and had a lot of down time. I have always loved Hollywood and the notion of place it represents and so I wandered up and down Hollywood Boulevard trying to capture it in the present and also in the memory I had of it from when I was a teenager and lived in LA. The sun bouncing off the sidewalk was perfect for the lens and color palate of the iPhone and it was fun to post these new images which I was just making for Instagram.

An image Peterson took on Hollywood Boulevard in May 2013, posted to Instagram on Mar. 2, 2014

LightBox: What other outlets did you have for showing/sharing work before Instagram? Has using Instagram been liberating for you as a professional photographer?

MP: I like Instagram and Facebook and Tumblr because I can see what other photographers are doing. It’s really an amazing time for photography. To be able to see Richard Sandler post his seminal street pictures from the ’80s on Facebook and see a new generation love them, or to see Henry Jacobson Instagram’s feed @postcardshome, which is so beautiful and personal and really a visual diary. There are so many great photographers shooting what they are concerned or passionate about and their platforms allow me to see this in real time. I’m in awe of the work that is being produced.


Mark Peterson is a photographer based in New York. Follow him on Instagram @markpetersonpixs

Krystal Grow is a writer for TIME LightBox

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