Photogs underwater photo makes splash in China

This underwater portrait, taken by local photographer Larry Peters, hangs on a building wall in a city in China.

Picture a woman in a flowing dress, underwater, floating gracefully to the surface.

Now picture that picture 39 feet by 26 feet in size, displayed on the side of a building in a city in China.

Larry Peters, owner of Peters Photography portrait studios in Centerville, Dublin and London, Ohio, took that photograph 18 months ago in a swimming pool at Texas A&M University. Until two weeks ago, he had no idea it had found an audience in China.

“I was on a conference call with Burrell, and that’s when I heard about it,” said Peters who with 15 other photographers from across the United States serves as a spokesman for Burrell Imagine, a photo lab based in Indiana.

Dennis Craft was on the same conference call. He is a Burrell spokesman as well as president of Professional Photographers of America (PPA), an organization to which Peters belongs. Craft traveled to China this fall for a pair of international photography exhibits. When he heard Peters’ name on the phone, he put two and two together. Craft had seen Peters’ underwater picture larger than life on the side of the building.

“He was walking down the street, went around a corner, and saw it. He said it just about floored him,” Peters recounted.

After a few calls to PPA head-quarters in Atlanta, Ga., Peters put the story together.

Every year, PPA puts on a contest for its members. Peters’ underwater photo won a blue ribbon last year and was selected to be part of a 100-photo traveling exhibit in the U.S. At the same time, PPA has been forging relationships with the photography industry in China to broaden its membership. Part of PPA’s promotional materials is a book that features the 100-photo loan collection.

Larry Peters owns Peters Photography.

This year, PPA and other photography associations were invited to participate in the China Jinan Contemporary International Photography Biennial and International University Students Photography Art Exhibition. The exhibits’ focus was on the work of 30 photographers and students from around the world—one of them being Peters, whose photo the organizers saw in the PPA book.
The exhibits took place in October in Qilu, the hometown of Confucius and the birthplace of pinhole imaging. The organizers chose Peters’ photo not only for display but also to promote the exhibits.

Despite knowing nothing of the exhibits until they were past, Peters said he is thrilled with what happened.

“I just can’t believe something I shot was displayed like that halfway around the world,” he said.

Peters has connected via e-mail with Bing Zeng, the liaison between the group in China and PPA in the States. They will meet in January. Zeng is traveling to Nevada for PPA’s annual convention at which Peters will give a demonstration on high school portrait photography.

The two will have a chance to talk about how Peters shot the photograph that serves as their common ground.

The woman in Peters’ photo is a graduate student at Texas A&M, where PPA sponsors a photography school in April each year. Peters has been an instructor for the Texas School of PPA since its inception 19 years ago. The one-week education opportunity now attracts 36 instructors and 1,000 photographers.

It was during the 2007 session that Peters indulged his growing passion for underwater photography.

“I set up backgrounds, my camera and the flashes all underwater, but once you’re down there you can’t communicate,” he said.

Luckily, the graduate student, who has posed for Peters before, understood the instructions Peters gave her before they both took the plunge.

“I wanted her to dive in, then float up. I had no idea she would do it so gracefully,” Peters said. “I immediately knew when I shot that picture that it would be an award-winner.”

The challenges of underwater photo-graphy aren’t limited to communication. Breathing and lighting are hurdles, too.

“Because I have to go underwater, too, I’ve tried wearing a respirator. But the model can’t do that, so I can only be down there for as long as she can. So, I have to hold my breath,” Peters explained.

As for lighting, the water has to be clear and Peters does what he can with a light meter wrapped in a plastic bag.

“The in-camera meter is pretty accurate, too. You just have to do an awful lot of experimenting,” he said.

Many of Peters’ portrait studio clients have opted for the alternative setting, experimenting right along with him.

“I’ve photographed somebody with a computer underwater, with an electric guitar (of course, it was not plugged in), putting make-up on, a nurse with a clipboard, a pregnant woman…If it doesn’t make sense to be in the water, that’s when it looks cool.”

Peters said he takes underwater portraits of about 15 clients per year. In the warm months, he uses the swimming pool at his studio in London, formerly his home. In the winter, he uses the indoor pool at Aquatic Adventures in Hilliard.

Peters has been shooting photography professionally since 1974 and full-time since 1980. For many years, he and his family lived in London. They now live in Clark County.

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