How This Travel Photographer Captures “Our Planet’s Amazing Diversity”

Peter Guttman is an award-winning photographer and author who has traveled on assignment through over 230 countries and seven continents (source: wikipedia>). What is unusual about his work is that, in a largely digital era, he still uses film to capture stunning shots of cultural and geographical landscapes.

SC: Tell us a little bit about your approach and focus as a photographer.

PG: My photographic passion stems from my interest in trying to depict the pre-digital world of isolated people and indigenous workers. The goal is to utilize the cultural iconography of their locale to distill the mystique of their distant locations. I’ve funneled my artistic impulses into exploration of cultural identity, and carefully select anthropologically telling backdrops to provide cinematic staging. I’ve attempted to develop a narrative that explores our global universality, despite the many diverse threads of our human existence.

I’m particularly passionate about exploring ways of visually depicting my travel discoveries and experiences from unexpected angles.

Peter Guttman's travel discoveries

Woman in blue

SC: What are some of your favorites from your portfolio and why?

PG: I’m most drawn to images that were created only after particularly intrepid adventures or demanding challenges. Shooting landscapes, I’ve canyoneered on fifty mile journeys through boot-sucking quicksand, then slithered through a geological casserole of sandstone slot canyons, and trekked across volcanic methane gas death zones wafting across Kilauea’s smoldering lava fields. Photographing wildlife has sometimes involved hiking through Antarctic blizzards in minus thirty degrees Fahrenheit temperatures to explore the southernmost animals on earth, the emperor penguins; other times it has meant camping alone for a week on a remote Aleutian island with five thousand grunting and snorting walruses, keeping me awake in my tent at night. While documenting indigenous groups, I’ve spent time in Bedouin encampments deep in the Sahara with the sand-blasted Touareg people, and rode horseback in Mongolia to locate the remote Tsataan reindeer herders. One of my all time favorite images is a surreal pastel-colored landscape. It has a snowman I created in front of a rural North Dakota farm scene with a total solar eclipse hovering above. That image landed me my first meeting at National Geographic.

rural North Dakota farm scene

Eclipse with snowman

SC: Do you still shoot with film at times? Any thoughts on digital vs film as a professional photographer?

PG: I shoot film at all times. Avoiding digital, I have stubbornly insisted on rendering these vignettes on film. As a result of my time spent painting and drawing, I’m particularly sensitive about the concept of a canvas. In spite of infinite advances in digital resolution, I remain absolutely convinced that when painting with light onto a canvas of film, there is an ineffable quality of atmosphere, saturated richness and sculptural depth engraved across the blended grains that can never quite be captured by the mathematically discrete pixels displayed upon the cold light of a computer screen.

diving boy in the waterfall

SC: Do you have any broad insights on people and places that you can share – based on your travels and taking pictures around the world?

PG: Across the astonishing array of earth’s homo sapien population, I’ve found that despite the incredibly stark diversity of environmental and experiential diversity, there is at its essence a common humanity that bridges all these distinctions. Nurturing a personal curiosity, and tossing aside fear and apprehensions, I’ve managed to project an openness to new experiences and willingness to share in whatever unfolding opportunities present themselves.

Photography has provided me a passport to enter into the inner recesses of so many intriguing societies and cultural experiences.

Children playing

SC: What’s your preferred way of displaying/sharing your work?

PG: I love the brilliance of images displayed on an iPad screen, and I created the iPad’s very first number one bestselling travel app, Beautiful Planet HD (named one of “eight outstanding apps” by NBC News and one of “five sweet apps” by, which has been adopted by school systems and classrooms all around the world to inspire a new generation about the kaleidoscopic wonders of earth’s cultural tapestry. I’ve also enjoyed seeing my work printed for display in gallery and museum exhibitions. I’ve had my work displayed at the American Film Festival in Deauville, France, the lobby of the United Nations, Sotheby’s, and the Binghamton University Art Museum, among other places. Finally, I’ve found a great deal of satisfaction sharing my work on Instagram, where I’ve attempted to create a seamless, triptych-inspired, gradually morphing exploration of visual themes to showcase our planet’s amazing diversity. I hope you’ll follow me on my visual journey @peterguttman.

Peter is also a long-time ScanCafe customer. Many of the images he shared for this interview, as well as others in his portfolio, were converted to digital by Scancafe’s photo scanning team.

This interview is part of an effort to highlight unusual photography and memory preservation projects around the globe.