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Peter Peryer (1941–2018)

Peter Peryer, one of New Zealand’s foremost photographers, died on November 18 at the age of seventy-seven. Peryer’s most recognized image may be Dead Steer, his 1987 shot of a lifeless, bloated cow by the roadside. The photograph, which was used in the promotional material for his international 1995–97 exhibition “Second Nature: Peter Peryer Photographs,” was criticized by New Zealand’s minister of agriculture John Falloon for its supposedly negative portrayal of the country’s meat industry.

Peryer was also well known throughout the 1970s for his ongoing portraits of his then-wife Erika Parkinson, which were gathered in the 2000–2001 exhibition “Erika: A Portrait by Peter Peryer.” “They record a charged collaboration that exerts unusual pressure on the conventions of portraiture,” Artforum contributor Anna Miles wrote of the photographs in the summer 2001 issue of the magazine. “This ambiguous pact between photographer and subject makes the pictures even more timely now. Like artists as various as Gillian Wearing and Nan Goldin, Peryer was bent on making his own involvement palpable and recording the complex drives that photographs contain.”

Born in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1941, Peryer studied English and obtained a graduate degree in education from the University of Auckland in 1972. In 1973 he began to teach himself photography. He received a Fulbright scholarship to travel to the United States in 1985 and was made an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 1997. In 2000, he received a Laureate Award from the New Zealand Foundation for the Arts. A documentary on Peryer by filmmaker Shirley Horrocks will premiere next year.

“Peryer’s quotation of picture-making models (Weston, Moholy-Nagy, Stieglitz, Evans, Arbus, and postcards of Polynesian princesses) is romantic rather than rigid,” Miles wrote of the photographer’s images at Dunedin Public Art Gallery. “Everything about the quality of these prints—their gritty photo-primitivism, their darkness, grain, and intimate scale—seems designed to channel you toward the smoldering photographic surface.”