Peter Hapak on how he maintains efficiency in his photography practice

The New York-based photographer has shot some of the biggest names in showbusiness. Here, he discusses his process and what aids his people-centred practice.

10 December 2020
Reading Time
4 minute read

As a portrait photographer who specialises in emphasising his subjects’ unique features using minimal interventions, Peter Hapak’s creative process is meticulous. “Preparation is a huge part of the process,” he says, taking us through his distinct take on how to master the art of portraiture. “Portrait sessions are very challenging because they need to happen in an extremely personal bubble where the talent can forget the presence of the camera,” he goes on. The more he knows his subjects, the better, so research is a common task when shooting well-known celebrities – something the Hungary-born photographer is no stranger to.

Previously he’s photographed the likes of Roger Federer, Nicole Kidman, Kelela, Ang Lee, Sofia Coppola and Richard Linklater for clients including Time, Vanity Fair, Netflix, GQ, Apple and New York Magazine. But no matter who the subject is, it’s paramount that Peter earns his sitter’s trust, which in turn allows him to freely improvise compositionally and discover what’s in front of him. To accompany his precise working process, Peter utilises file-sharing platform Onepage for professional ease. Not just a single feature platform, allows users to share files quickly as well as curate uploaded files into a beautifully laid out portfolio page, making it easier for collaborators to feed back to one another.

“It’s easy to use, fast and offers huge storage,” says Peter. The photographer describes Onepage as “special” for its preview abilities, not to mention how it can include comments and impressions, “which makes the communication smoother between clients and me,” he adds. Onepage allows him to present a project just as he would in person during a portfolio review, but online. In this way, the photographer can also reflect on his latest experimentations. Although his oeuvre is decisively minimal, there is always room for play when it comes to the recreation of light, trying out new lenses, film, printers and so on. As Peter puts it: “Only through a new analysis can I find the new.”

For Peter, photography is in his DNA. His father and grandfather were both photographers so from the very beginning, the camera was present in his life, which “became an obvious tool for me to express myself and translate my vision”. Several artists have influenced Peter to make him the creative he is today. Richard Avedon, Irving Penn and Diane Arbus are just a few but arguably the biggest impact on Peter’s practice to date has been Alexey Brodovitch – best known as art director of Harper’s Bazaar from 1934 to 1958 – who revolutionised 20th-century American photography with his experimental methodologies, encouraging his students to create new perspectives and never settle for mediocrity.

GalleryCopyright © Peter Hapak, 2020

Peter followed his passion for Brodovitch and former pupil Avedon to America, where he hoped to write a thesis on the latter’s work and insights. However, just as he was accepted as an intern to Avedon, the great portrait photographer died, which halted the project then and there. Peter’s time in America had its positives nonetheless, as he started to work for major publications with whom he has since built fruitful relationships. With a camera by his side the whole time, Peter continued to use photography as a way to gather his diverse experiences, a frozen moment in time which could then stay with him forever. “I used my camera as a diary and all my images constructed my stories,” he says.

Recently, his stories have taken on a different atmosphere. With photo studios closing due to the pandemic and commercial shoots drying up, Peter has had to be resourceful in further stimulating his creativity. He decided to take to the streets of New York where he discovered a new realm of photographic subjects. Signs, forms and hidden details of the city that he’d never noticed before suddenly became new compositional joys. “During my long walks in the city, these sights were pulling my eyes with their recurring, unusual patterns so I began collecting them,” he says.

Wandering the streets now provides endless inspiration for Peter, who closely observes its constantly changing elements. He is reminded of some of his earlier heroes – Brassaï in particular, who elevated street scenes into something majestic. It’s a significant mark in Peter’s practice, one which has taught him the value of personal projects as well as the commercial. One day, he hopes to curate his images into books, furthering his editing and design skills; another creative interest in Peter’s wide-ranging repertoire. Considering this new challenge, he says, “I would love to test my limits on those fields too.”

GalleryCopyright © Peter Hapak, 2020

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Copyright © Peter Hapak, 2020

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