Peter Hoffman: People and Places

ADC Young Guns winner explores the physical and psychological landscape.

ADC’s Photography Month marches on! Throughout the month of March we will be featuring creatives with at least two things in common: they’re card-carrying ADC Members and they have an aptitude for apertures, a love of lenses and a fondness of film. From longtime professionals to young creatives just breaking into the field to enthusiastic hobbyists, you’ll find them all here during Photography Month.

Our next featured ADC Member is also an ADC Young Guns 11, winner. Peter Hoffman is a Chicago-based photographer who uses his skills to “scratch at ideas that my words fail me in.”


Chicago, IL



How old were you when you became interested in photography? How did that interest come about, and how was it fostered?

I was in high school when the interest took hold, and college when I started practicing seriously. Skateboarding and all of the art that is a part of skateboarding and my creative parents both had a lot to do with it. My dad was a surrealist painter and my mom a sewer and quilter who was very visually oriented with her designs. Looking back, I’m not sure I could have escaped going down a path where visual art was a guiding force.

Do you remember the earliest photograph you ever took that moved you?

One of the first pictures I made with intent that sticks with me is a cyanotype of a dead tree in winter. Like thousands of other photographers, I have some pretty terrible snapshots of my friends skateboarding when I was maybe 12 or 13. I also have family snapshots but I’m not sure if that counts.

What type of photography would you say is your specialty, and how did it come to be your specialty? Can one be transient — starting in one area of photography but evolving into another?

I guess in practical terms you could say it’s people and places.

My training and background is definitely that of a documentarian/photojournalist but I am now interested in more opaque and abstract themes. At best I want to engage with narrative in an implied and non-linear way. I still tend to photograph the world as I find it but am more interested in how the images are used. I don’t really think of myself in terms of being portrait/still-life/landscape photographer etc. I’ll shoot anything that falls in line with what I’m working on. I am also pretty comfortable in a studio and will do that if the situation calls for it.

I would hope that one is transient in their own evolution as a photographer. I don’t like the idea of doing the same thing the whole time and I get bored by other photographers who do that. I don’t think that means you can’t shoot (still life/ people/etc) your whole life, I just hope you don’t approach it the same way.

Define your photographic style in a single sentence.

I use photographs to connect with people and to scratch at ideas that my words fail me in.

What’s your favorite camera to shoot with? What’s so awesome about it?

I am more of a ‘right tool for the right work’ type of approach. I’ve always loved the Contax G2 and Rolleiflex TLRs, but film doesn’t make much sense for me, much as I love using it. Currently I am mostly using Sony A7r2 and Pentax 645D. I’d also be lost without good boots or running shoes.

What is the hardest part about making a living as a photographer? Any advice on how to overcome that challenge?

Giving credit to the fact that making a living as a photographer can be inherently quite difficult, I think that once you get past that, the biggest challenge is finding that place where the work you love doing intersects with the work that clients want.

I don’t have much advice on this other than you need to know just how much you’re willing to do/not willing to do when it comes to using your work to sell stuff or please other people. I think that when money enters the picture it’s one of two things: a reward for doing original work the way you want to do it, or a corrupting influence to your creative process. You gotta know which is which and have an idea towards how much that may or may not matter to you. If you want to have any hope of doing interesting work I’d say it should matter to you in some capacity. I realize that I’m lucky to have this perspective, but I think that interesting work is worth more than money.

“I think that when money enters the picture it’s one of two things: a reward for doing original work the way you want to do it, or a corrupting influence to your creative process. You gotta know which is which and have an idea towards how much that may or may not matter to you.”

Is there a particular project of yours of which you’re especially proud?

I self-published a book set in Christchurch, New Zealand called Again and Again. It’s the most complete personal work I’ve made to date collaborating with ADC Young Guns 13 winner Elana Schlenker on the design made it sing. The book touched on some of the overarching psychological themes – anxiety, brokenness, recovery – that come with living in not quite post-earthquake environment. (Christchurch continues to experience random aftershocks 5 years later). Work from that project can be found here.

What would be your dream client/project/collaboration?

If we’re talking commissions, I mostly enjoy assignments that use environmental portraiture and documentary work combined. I would love to spend half or a full day photographing Lauryn Hill, who is an artist I greatly respect. Ideally it would be for The New Yorker, probably my favorite magazine that I haven’t yet had the pleasure to collaborate with. I would also love to document a giant building demolition process, for whoever would want to hire me.

“So, you’re a photographer?” What’s the strangest question you’ve received when someone learned what you do?

It seems like everyone has an idea of what it’s like to be a photographer, but that usually doesn’t actually describe what my life is like. It’s one profession that really is pretty unique to each practitioner. People seem to think it’s either a bunch of travel and famous people, or a bunch of weddings and family portraits; neither of those is me. I don’t travel a ton and I don’t necessarily aspire to, I only photograph famous people on occasion (and while it’s fun, it’s usually no more fun than photographing someone who is not famous), and I often get most excited by images I make by myself, for myself.

“I don’t love photography per se, I just think it’s the best vehicle for me and my interests and has been for a while.”

What are your other creative outlets and sources of inspiration?

At this point I enjoy taking in painting, writing and music more than I enjoy looking at photography. Lately I’m looking a lot of the artists from the Beautiful Losers crew. There are plenty of other photographer/artists I look to, but it changes. My wife, friends and family are all inspiration for me and trail running is a big part of my life, it’s sort of like meditation, and it’s where a lot of my ideas initially come from.

Fill in the blank: “When I’m not shooting, I am…”

…I am spending time with loved ones, traveling, going to galleries or cooking, which I’ve gotten more into. If not, reading and throwing back coffee, watching skate videos or running in the woods. I keep life pretty simple.”

Which professional photographers do you look up to, whether from afar or as mentors?

Ye Rin MokMartien Mulder and Mark Mahaney are some constant sources of inspiration in terms of editorial, commercial and magazine work. They all just have what I feel is a very authentic voice in their work with a great connection to subject matter, whether live or inanimate, and they have all consistently produced good work for years now. A lot of photographers that I was turned on to when I was starting I’ve ended up losing interest in as they get more commercial work and do less personal work, but with these people – I still love to see what they’re up to.

When all is said and done, what is it about being a photographer that gets you up in the morning and drives your passion?

So, for me if I go back through everything I’ve been doing it all circles back to a fascination with how humans and space interact. Photography is just the best way for me to communicate and explore the physical and psychological landscape – it’s the language I feel most efficient at using, usually. I don’t love photography per se, I just think it’s the best vehicle for me and my interests and has been for a while. I love the challenge of trying to visually depict these ideas.

Photography Month takes place throughout March, and is open exclusively to ADC Members. Not yet a Member? Join today!