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PEOPLEText: Garry Waller

Peter Sutherland is a New York based artist who moved to the city from Colorado in 1998. After arriving and working at a vegan restaurant to get by, his “big idea” of what to really do here wasn’t at first evident to him but after experimenting with a video camera while documenting skate boarders it quickly became apparent. Peter has since embarked on countless “personal projects” involving both photography and documentary film making which have recently been gaining steady momentum for him.

Peter Sutherland, Pedal, 2001

His very first project, entitled “Pedal“, a documentary film that Peter embarked upon not long after arriving to NYC, is a compelling portrait of NYC’s cycle messengers and the fascinating culture that exists within this dangerous line of work. It premiered in 2001 at the South by Southwest Film Festival and in New York at the Bicycle Film Festival, and was later acquired by the Sundance channel, where it aired until 2004. Peter explains to me that he approached something like two hundred messengers during the making of the film, and featured those that illustrated best this slice of life that most New Yorkers regularly see but rarely understand or know anything about. Having no formal training in film & video Peter went out with his camera and shot something close to eighty hours of footage, a lot of it on his skateboard in hot pursuit of the riders as they went about their business.

Peter Sutherland, Pedal, 2001

It’s clear that the sheer amount of footage that Peter got paid off as the stories and lives these messengers unfold in front of the camera. A lot of moments that Peter’s camera captured simply can’t be planned for. Like the one where a young female messenger gets hit full force by a car at a busy intersection as she tries to beat the traffic, only to get up unscathed and take stock of her mangled bike.

It’s undoubtedly the characters with all their eccentricities that make “Pedal” a highly compelling film to watch, giving viewers a snapshot of a subculture that would otherwise be hidden to most people. Peter seems to have a knack of capturing people from all walks of life that he feels drawn to and has shown this with numerous projects. “Autograf” is one of them and is the title of his photographic book in which Peter captures some of New York’s most notorious graffiti artists.

Peter Sutherland, Autograf, 2004

Each one of the fifty-seven portraits is shot in different locations, with New York City serving as a backdrop. In addition, each image is authentically tagged by the individual artist. This collaboration between Peter and his subjects allows for what would ordinarily be “off limits” to most. Peter shot many of the graffiti artists in such a way that concealed their identities due to the delicate balance of what many see as art, but others would call illegal vandalism.

New York has seen a shift in it’s tolerance for street artists like these since 9/11 mostly due tof New York’s attempts to “clean-up”. Despite hiding identities of these street artists , the book is able to do what Pedal did with film by giving viewers a revealing and fascinating glimpse at something you know exists but rarely get to experience first-hand.

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