Peter de Mulder - ‘Photography is a never-ending process of learning’
About Peter de Mulder
Peter de Mulder fell in love with photography at the age of five, when his parents first gave him a Leica camera. He has gone on to become a leading fashion and travel photographer, specialising both in powerful underwater imagery and on his observations of life in India. His work has featured in many magazines, including Marie Claire, Elle, Vanity Fair and Harper’s Bazaar.
1. A lot of your photography is shot underwater. But not of fish… Can you talk us through how this became such an important aspect of your work?
At the very beginning, one day I shot my best friend embracing her lover underwater in the south of France with a very crude underwater housing for my camera. I was using Kodak Ektachrome film, and shot only one roll. One of the pictures looked really eerie.
Eighteen years ago I was testing a new engine for my diving boat with one of my best friends near the island of Spetses in Greece. We were free-diving and my friend, who had a modern dance background, started to move and twist his body underwater. The light was so bizarre and interesting I decided to explore underwater beauty and fashion photography. There are already so many photographers covering the underwater world – shooting whales, sharks, coral – and they do it far better than me. But this underwater ballet of fashion photography was still a virgin country. So I had to experiment, building awkward and not very handy underwater housing, testing films, lighting equipment, improving my free-diving to be able to shoot my models in the same conditions and rhythm.
Also being able to work in total underwater synchronicity allows me to avoid over-manipulating the images with Photoshop; basically, besides removing some seaweed or bubbles, the main focus is colour grading.
For me, shooting underwater allows fantastic movement; something you could not hope for in a studio. If it were not for holding your breath and swimming, shooting underwater makes things fantastically easy! The element of water is magical. It’s a different world. It’s like saying, ‘Let’s go to Mars and do a photo-shoot.’ It’s a three-dimensional feeling. I’m very much attached to the ocean and to ocean conservation. The ocean is our ultimate master. And pretty soon, as we are not doing much to save it from our unbalanced ‘civilised’ world, the only creatures left to be shot underwater will be free-diving models, providing the oceans are not too acidic.
2. Your passion for photography started when your parents gave you a Leica when you were five. Do you still shoot film?
I still did until recently, especially when I was covering various large-scale pilgrimages in India.
I have switched to digital to cover those events, but I will go back to film. Despite all the plugins that you can use with Photoshop, nothing can replace the soft and powdery feeling of film, even when you’re scanning it.
3. India plays a major part in your photography. What is the attraction of the country for you?
It's another type of immersion, an ocean of humanity. There is no way you can avoid human contact in India, and the quality of that contact stretches from the ugliest form of human behaviour to the most awesome, magical and for some, mystical form. And you can experiment with these two different extremes within a very short space of time.
Life in India can be utterly brutal but can also hold a beauty worthy of Italian Renaissance paintings. If you want to experience a total battle of contrasts, it’s the place to be.
So, I feel like a fish in the oceans and like a fish in India.
4. What's the most important thing that photography has given you?
Freedom of mind and access to worlds and cultures I wouldn’t have encountered otherwise. And photography is a never-ending process of learning and adapting. It allows me to meet amazing people, see amazing sceneries, discover new challenges, both physical and intellectual. You think you have mastered all of it, only to discover the next day you’re still a rookie with a brand new challenge, a rookie with experience, but a rookie nevertheless. What better way to stay young forever…?
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