Q&A with Peter Brenner, LACMA Supervising Photographer

August 5, 2009
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Self Portrait, Peter Brenner

Self Portrait, Peter Brenner

Whenever I see Peter photographing a new exhibition or in his studio capturing images of the permanent collection, I think, “And he gets paid to do this…” Here’s Peter, a real LACMA vet (twenty-eight years here and counting), on his very cool job.

How does one enter the field of museum photography?

Well, I was working in advertising as a photographer and was pretty fed up with it. Computers were just coming onto the scene, so I began taking night classes at a local community college. I saw a posting on a job board there for an entry-level photographer and I thought, I could try that out for a couple of years…

So you have a commercial background—did you have an area of expertise within that realm?

I shot a lot of fitness, bodybuilding stuff for magazines, as well as one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s exercise books.

What was Schwarzenegger like back then?

He was an extremely pleasant gentleman who knew what he wanted. He was focused during a shooting session but would always joke around between shots. I photographed him at Gold’s and World Gym, or in Santa Monica on the track, as well as in the studio. He was usually on time and sometimes Maria would accompany him. This was before his career in the movie business really started.

What’s the best part of your job?

My favorite part of the job is seeing the individual objects up close and determining how to best document the art, installations, or project. Sometimes we do really unusual permanent collection shoots that require devising equally unusual solutions. One example is the Ardabil carpet shoot we just completed. [Ed. note: The Ardabil shoot was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Tune in tomorrow for a post all about it.]

I’d be interested in a photographer’s favorites from our photography collection—what images really resonate with you?

These are two of my favorites—Jan Saudek’s Train Passing and Edward Weston’s Prologue to a Sad Spring.

Jan Saudek, "Train Passing," 1977, gift of Graham and Susan Nash

Jan Saudek, "Train Passing," 1977, gift of Graham and Susan Nash

Edward Weston, "Prologue to a Sad Spring (Margrethe Mather)," 1920, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation and Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Edward Weston, "Prologue to a Sad Spring (Margrethe Mather)," 1920, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation and Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Allison Agsten