By James Bash
For the Hollywood Star, January 2010
Peter Schütte is an acclaimed fine-arts photographer whose work has appeared in more than a dozen books as well as countless newspapers and magazines. Schütte, who lives in the Irvington neighborhood, is also noted for his photography workshops and teaching skills. Looking at Schütte’s photos, you might think that he was born with a camera in his hands, yet it was a chance meeting many years ago with the well-known photographer Ansel Adams (1902-1984) that led Schütte, to discover his true passion.
A native of Holland, Schütte came to the United States to study physics at Northwestern University in Chicago. But then he realized that his career in physics would always be associated with the military or with teaching, and he lost interest in that field of study.
“When I knew that I would have to give up physics, I became very depressed,” recalled Schütte. “I didn’t know where to turn, but during that time my eye fell on a poster, which stated that a certain Ansel Adams would give a lecture and show his photos.”
Although he had never heard of Ansel Adams, Schütte decided to go and hear Adams’s lecture.
“It was a bitterly cold and windy evening in Chicago,” said Schütte, “and Adams gave a terrible lecture. He was reading verbatim from a manuscript, but he would look up and try to make eye contact with the audience. Then he would lose his place in the manuscript and ended up making excuses and jokes about it. This happened over and over again, and I walked out of that lecture three times that evening. But there was a blizzard going on outside, and it was so cold that I went back in again.”
The third time was the charm for Schütte, because Adams had finished his talk and began to show his photographs.
“I quickly recognized one of the photos,” remembered Schütte. “It had been selected for a compilation called The Family of Man, and I decided right away that I needed to talk to him.”
So Schütte talked to Adams after the presentation and was invited to stop by his hotel the next day
“I thought that we would spend a half hour or so talking,” said Schütte, “but that meeting took up the entire afternoon; and he took me to dinner, also. He encouraged me to pursue photography, as long as I was not acting on an impulse. Then he gave me a piece of advice that I have remembered to this day. He said that a person has to do what they love; and that really hit me because I was giving up on math, which I had loved.”
Adams recommended that Schütte study at the Rochester Institute of Technology Photo School, so Schütte moved to Rochester, New York, and began taking classes from the acclaimed photographer Minor White. A couple of years later, Schütte graduated from the Institute. He then made a long-distance phone call to Adams’s home in Carmel, California, to find out if he could meet Adams again and work with him. Adams had given Schütte an open invitation to come visit him at his home.
“I called Adams, but he no longer remembered who I was,” said Schütte. “Fortunately, Adams’s wife was near the phone; and she remembered that her husband had mentioned me. She then made him hold his word and invited me to their home.”
Schütte then stayed with the Adams family in their Carmel home as their guest and as an assistant to Adams. What started as a two-week stay continued for another eight months before Schütte left. During that period, Schütte also worked for Adams at his workshops in Yosemite. Later, Schütte moved back to Holland and worked for publishing companies before becoming a freelance photographer.
“I admired the way that Adams ran his workshops,” said Schütte. “He knew how to give a positive critique that encouraged his students to do better and better. I thought to myself that I wanted to work with people, open their eyes, help them develop their sense of what they are seeing and put that in an image.”
For many years, Schütte has taught a variety of workshops, including nighttime outdoors sessions, basic camera studios and trips to Death Valley. More information can be found on his Web site at schuttephoto.com.
“I like to encourage my workshop students to talk about the beauty that they see,” said Schütte, “and see how we can get that image into the photo.”