U: Never, the only thing he said to me: as long as I live you will not join the army. The good thing about it is that you cannot blame anybody except yourself. When I was 21 I married and one year later got a child; I wanted to experience how does it feel to have a family. Then I discovered that I had different ambitions and different desires, which I couldn’t explore in Germany.
I didn’t take any pictures but I owned a camera, a Kodak Retinette in a nice leather case. ."Upon returning to Stockholm in 1962, Petersen became fascinated with photography after seeing a picture by Christer Strömholm: “That picture was special. One camera, one lens and he caught the taste of the invisible.”Strömholm’s picture, while rooted in reality, seemed to suggest that the dead were visiting each other at night in the Père Lachaise cemetery.
That “taste of the invisible” is what drew Petersen to join Strömholm’s school, Fotoskolan.
In 1958, when he was fourteen, Petersen’s family moved from Stockholm, where he was born, to Karlstadt in Värmland, “in the middle of nature and all the fairy tales.
It was a lonely and confusing time,” he told me, “full of memories and a warm confidence, close to the lakes and forests.
In his City Diary (2012) he photographs lovers with their bodies entwined, the soft touch of a mother’s hand brushing her small daughter’s cheek and his own battered face after a street fight.
His tome on Rome (2012) has very romantic images, such as a woman’s hatted and veiled face or an old merry-go-round painted horse, but also surreal ones such as that of a fishmonger’s stall with the pulpy, glistening, translucent body of an octopus.
Later on, he also discovered Dutch photographer Ed Van der Elsken’s “Love on the Left Bank” and Agneta Ekman’s “Tall Maja," a book about a forest nymph.
He felt that he needed to be close to people, and that painting and writing were too solitary: “It’s all about meeting people, identifying with them, sharing, listening, being a part of them, being transparent and learning.”So in 1967, he started to photograph the late-night regulars (prostitutes, transvestites, drunks, lovers, drug addicts) in a bar in Hamburg, Café Lehmitz, and kept working there for three years.
U: When I was hanging around the border drinking vodka with the Russians I found a German newspaper in which there was an article about the Provo’s in Amsterdam.