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Peter Fetterman  : The Collection on the Walls


Because only the print on the wall can show you what the photographer intended.

Seeing the pictures currently on display at Peter Fetterman’s gallery is a revelatory experience. First, because Fetterman is a consummate collector and his holdings represent a lifetime of choosing with a discerning eye. Then because the images reveal themselves to be even more beautiful this way than seeing them on any screen.

Most readers of L’oeil are familiar with Peter Fetterman and his gallery. During the course of COVID, Peter started sending out daily emails featuring a single picture and a short story or a reminisce about it. Eventually, he turned those emails into a book, The Power of Photography, which was featured in L’oeil not long ago. The book is a tour through the highlights of Peter’s personal collection and contains 120 works; largely 20th century and with a humanist bent. Now many of these prints are on display at his gallery where you can see them in all their glory. And this is no small thing because Power of Photography is a show that could easily grace the walls of a museum with its variety and quality.

I have written about the virtues of prints before but this time it seems to me they are even more fully on display. One after another these prints call from the wall, the whites dancing off of the paper in a seemingly impossible way, the darks inviting me closer to see into them. These are prints that satisfy my soul.

Why you may ask and I’ll give you my theory. These prints were for the most part made before the advent of the computer screen. Now I have nothing against computers and inkjet printing. It’s how I work myself, but seeing these fifty-year-old black and white prints has made me question my way of working.

Let me explain; working in a darkened space the human printer makes adjustments directly on the paper’s surface. It’s a single-step process. The darkness in which the printer works changes the sensitivity of the eye and that seems to result in images that approach tonality differently. Now please understand, I’m not saying this is some technical limitation of working with images on a screen. I think it may be brought on by the difference in the way the printer sees the image as they work.

Here’s another thing I think it comes down to. When you have an image on paper it is illuminated by the light falling on it, the room light. Because of this, all the values rise and fall together with the lighting of the room. The printer working directly with a chemical print experiences the print organically from inception. Someone working with an electronic screen does not have this advantage. Each trial print is a translation, and a translation from the screen, not the negative.

And one more thing, the printer working with Photoshop has more powerful tools and more time to work on each element. It may be that results in a more technically perfect print but something is lost in that careful deliberation and perhaps that something is the beauty of chance.

So bottom line, work that has been photoshopped and then printed often fails to enchant my eye in the way that prints made silver to silver do. Yeah, I know, let the flames begin.

But enough of my mad thoughts. Here’s what I’m proposing. Grab your iPhone and pull up some of the pictures from this exhibition. Then get yourself over to Bergamot station and the Fetterman gallery. Once there, hold the pictures on the phone up next to the print on the wall and see the difference for yourself. Because I promise you a visual treat. It’s your chance to visit the inspiring works of wonderful photographers — on the wall where they belong.

Andy Romanoff

Pictures at 
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YouTube Channel at Youtube

Peter Fetterman Gallery
Bergamot Station
2525 Michigan Ave., Gallery A1
Santa Monica, California 90404
Hours: Wednesday — Saturday 11 am — 5 pm
The Power Of Photography is on display until September 3rd.

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