Interview with Photographer Peter Beste 2004

by Bradley Smith

Why did you decide to delve into the Norwegian Black Metal underground as a source for one of your photographic topics? How has the response at the Gallery Exhibition to this exhibition been? Do you listen to Black Metal?

I have been very interested in Black Metal for many years, but always as an outsider. I was especially intrigued by the ideology behind it and the visual aesthetics that go with it. And of course the murders and church arsons make it an interesting story to almost anyone. The response from the gallery show was very good. A few metal people came out, but mostly it was neighborhood people and art people. I will be showing a similar exhibit in London in April (at the Horse Hospital on April 22) and also at the Inferno Festival in Oslo. I grew up on metal, but was never a real fan of black metal until I started working on this project 3 years ago. The music has a lot more substance and weight for me now after meeting the people who make it and understanding where they come from.

How long have you been into the Photographic arts and what possessed you to pursue it? What equipment do you use and prefer? When was your first show in a Gallery?

I started taking pictures in 1996, just as a way of documenting the music scene I was a part of at the time. Shortly thereafter I took a class in college, and then I fell in love with it. My first show was in Austin, Texas in 1999.  It was a minor show though.  My first real solo exhibition was the one in Brooklyn earlier this year.  The response was very positive.

You said you started taking pics to document the music scene you were involved in.  Which music scene was that?

I was into punk rock/hardcore at the time.  

I think black and white material is more powerful than color. Do you agree? Why do you think that black and white images are so moving?

I donít necessarily agree. Actually, Iíve been moving towards color work a lot lately. There is definitely a romantic feel to black and white photography that I love, but there is more that I feel I want to try with color, at least for the time being.

How was working with such Extreme individuals from the black metal underground? Did they treat you as an outsider or were they hospitable? Who do you think were probably the best subjects? I noticed more portraits of Lord Ov Hell from Gorgoroth than of the rest. Was this just coincidence?

Most of them were very friendly and hospitable. A few of them took a while to warm up to me, but I have gained most of their trust, and become an insider with many of them. You would be surprised at how most of these people arenít so Ďextremeí in day to day life. I do have a lot of portraits of King Ov Hell of Gorgoroth. I have found him to be very photogenic and heís a very willing subject, which of course is a great combination!

What do you think of the philosophy of Black Metal musicians? How does this compare to you own philosophy?

I think there are a few similarities between my philosophy and theirs. Most importantly, the emphasis put on individuality and the extreme dislike for dogmatic systems. I can relate to that very much. Actually, I find that to be the underlying theme amongst these guys. Some are Satanic, some worship Norse gods, and some worship death, but all of them hold on strongly to their sense of individuality and to the hatred of flock mentality. Generally, I would have to say that my philosophy on life is much more light-hearted than many of these guys.

Iíve noticed that you have photographed a lot of subject matter from many different countries. Which country is your favorite? And how does Norway compare to the rest of the places you have been? Iíve heard it is quite expensive there. Do you like the atmosphere of Norway? It seems more unspoiled in its natural aspects than most countries. After a photo shoot in another country how do you feel about coming home to New York?

For now, Norway is my favorite. There is something very special about that place for me, the landscape, the warm people, and of course the amazing people Iíve met during this project make it a fascinating place to spend time. It is extremely expensive Ė everyday things cost almost twice as much as they would in the states. I would consider living there but that is a turn off to me and so are the several months of little sunlight. Iím always excited to come back to New York, though certain qualities of America that I donít particularly like seem a bit more vivid after being gone so long.

Music and music related pictures seems to occupy a large amount of space on your website. Is that one of your favorite photographic subject matters? If that isnít your favorite what do you feel is?

I am very much drawn to music in my photography, but I have a few ideas of future projects and most of them do not include music.

When you are taking photographs what kind of emotions do you generally try and capture? How does this apply to your own internal emotions and feelings?

I donít generally try to capture one emotion, just whatever is relevant at the time, or whatever I think the place and the person could say most eloquently.

It seems to me that the two pictures that spoke the most to me from your Norwegian Black Metal spread were the ones of Nocturno Culto from Darkthrone in the woods. The pictures were such a contrast between this extreme individual and the Stark and barren trees surrounding him. How did you find this setting for these particular images and what emotions did they evoke in you once you saw the final image? How open was he to your photographing him in this environment?

Nocturno Culto was an extremely nice guy and willing subject. We shot in 6 or 7 different locations all within a few miles about an hour from his home, which is in a remote area up in the mountains. Of course Darkthrone has been photographed in the forest many times, but I wanted to do it differently. I am very pleased with the results, and I plan to shoot him and Fenriz together for the first time when I go back to Norway next month.

Speaking of Fenriz, I've always heard he is quite a character.  Did you get that impression?  Who was the biggest personality you met during your tour of Norway?

He is definitely a character, kind of moody and extremely funny.  Always doing great plays on words...

When you go on  your return trip, will you be visiting and photographing any bands you didn't meet the first time around?

Yes, several.  Darkthrone together for the first time, Ildjarn, and a few more...

Your website is very artistic and is a perfect display of your wide range of subject matter and your artistic talent. Did you design the website yourself or did you have help? How do you feel about computers and the information age in general?

I designed it all myself, but I had to have some help with Flash, which Iím hopeless at. I am all for computers because they allow me to have my work seen by more people. Perhaps thatís a lazy attitude to some, but I am very pleased with the web as a medium to show my work.

In a couple of shots from your Urban spread you covered a pro-war rally in San Fransico. How did you feel about the war? How do you feel about the Spread of Amercanism and the corresponding anti-American backlash that it has spawned?

I am very much against the war and many of Americaís current foreign and domestic policies. I have felt the anti-American attitude a little bit in Norway, especially since Iím from Bush country (Texas) originally. Itís never serious and people usually change their mind when they get to know me and see that I donít support Bush and his arrogant policies.

Here's the standard final interview question, any final thoughts?


Check out Peter Beste's website for more info and his photo galleries at