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Hamptons Life

Dec 15, 2017 4:47 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Artist Uses Photography, Toy Collection To Make Worlds And Art

Photographer Oliver Peterson sets up a shot.  DANA SHAW
Dec 23, 2017 8:33 AM

What’s an artist to do with old talents in a new world? In a cultural climate conducive to immediacy—where anyone with a decent iPhone can purport to be an artist—the production of and appreciation for art is changing. The masters’ techniques of figure drawing and oil painting may feel bygone in an era that is decidedly in flux. Enter Oliver Peterson, a painter and mixed media artist (and a former reporter for The Southampton Press), who takes a new approach to producing contemporary art.

Showcasing a toy collection that has taken a lifetime to accumulate—Mr. Peterson owns “thousands” of collectibles, everything from vintage World War II pieces to modern, multi-point articulation Star Wars figurines—he photographs his toys in hand-constructed dioramas and natural settings.

“I started fooling around with taking pictures of them for fun,” Mr. Peterson said. “And then it just sort of evolved over time, and I got better at it. I take pictures of toys—sometimes outside. Sometimes I make setups inside: hand-built dioramas and props. I look at the world from a 6-inch standpoint and make it work.”

The photographs of his toys gave the collectibles a new purpose. He was able to play with them again—and to revitalize his passion for art, which, after years of showing out east and in the city, had left him “burnt out.”

At the outset, he shot his photographs with a Samsung Galaxy cellphone, but his work, now endowed with a greater sense of gravitas, is currently shot with a Canon Eos Rebel T5i.

Oliver Peterson has enjoyed a circuitous career. His path began in New York City at the School of Visual Arts. From there, he moved on to another passion: writing. After graduating with a Master of Fine Arts in writing from Southampton College, he accepted a position at The Southampton Press.

From there, he went to East Hampton High School, where he taught English for a year before heading to Long Island Pulse, and, finally, to Dan’s Papers, where he has been the web editor since 2012.

The artist’s photographs are a labor of love and take varying amounts of time, depending on the components. He said he keeps a bag of toys with him at all times, in case opportunity strikes.

“It could be as simple as driving by somewhere and saying, ‘This is a cool spot,’” he said.

Or, it could be as involved as constructing an entire set for his characters. Using cardboard, found items, paper, cloth, carved Styrofoam, pre-made dollhouse parts, and other materials, he “scratch builds.” Shying away from Photoshop whenever possible, Mr. Peterson prefers practical effects. He uses Photoshop solely for effects that could not otherwise be achieved with environmental props, like simulating a flying spaceship, for instance, or the swipe of a lightsaber.

Environment plays a large role in Mr. Peterson’s shooting. He has a particular fascination with Tatooine, the desert planet from “Star Wars,” from which Luke Skywalker hails (and where Jabba the Hutt maintained his Hutt Clan palace). For shots taken on Tatooine, Mr. Peterson uses local beaches, like Southampton Village’s Fowler Beach and Water Mill’s Mecox Beach.

“I like everything that goes on on Tatooine,” Mr. Peterson said. “All the different aliens. So much going on. All the characters that you know nothing about. You can almost assign to them your own ideas about them. Let your imagination go about who they are and what they’re doing there.”

In a sense, he is creating a universe of his own within his art, a continuation of a narrative that began a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Mr. Peterson mostly uses Instagram to showcase his work, under the handle @oliversees. With an accumulating online portfolio—nearly 2,600 posts, the majority of which are toy photography—he continues to add to his oeuvre weekly, cataloging four to five new pieces of art a week.

He has shown his photographs as part of a group show at East Hampton’s Ashawagh Hall and hopes to continue to show them in the future.

And, while “Star Wars” may be particularly topical—and of particular interest to the artist, who describes the franchise as “an obsession of mine since I was a kid”—and is prominently featured in his work, the collection of photography is expansive, evoking cultural touchstones such as Rocky Balboa (“Rocky”), Ellen Ripley (“Alien”), and Jim Hopper (“Stranger Things”).

Ultimately, Mr. Peterson hopes to expand his art to a reach beyond popular culture. “I want to keep moving,” he said. “I have ideas for some more grand spreads. I would love to do an interpretation of Dante—like, do a picture for each canto of Dante’s ‘Inferno.’ I also want to do interpretations of famous pieces of art.”

What may have started as a creative outlet for someone with an outsized collection has now become, in and of itself, art. Mr. Peterson is still actively adding to his collection and keeps his hand-constructed dioramas for good measure.

On perfecting his specific craft, he was brief: “Like anything, you get better.”

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Pretty sure that this man was never an English teacher in Southampton a High School.
By S'hamptonNative (78), Southampton on Dec 19, 17 1:00 PM
1 member liked this comment
It was East Hampton High School. Error has been fixed.
By paulampeterson (9), Southampton on Dec 21, 17 3:03 PM
I've been enjoying his art for years. He's really very talented.
By JamesB (3), Southampton on Dec 21, 17 8:51 PM
Art? Please.
By SlimeAlive (1021), Southampton on Dec 28, 17 8:04 AM
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