+ By David O’Higgins + Photos by Peter Cane
Over the past decade, Peter Cane has—with blood, sweat, and tears—created a thriving photographic business. And the past 20 years have seen gargantuan upheavals in the photographic industry, which Cane has negotiated with tenacity and aplomb.
The primary influence that shaped Cane’s life as a photographer was his father, a navy pilot and graduate of the US Naval School of Photography. Cane’s father had tours of duty around the globe. Consequently, young Cane experienced the world in a way most of us only dream of.
All things photographic have been in Cane’s blood for as long as he can remember, and his fascination with photography evolved over time. At nine years old, he started taking his own snaps and began discovering his visual aesthetic, his appreciation for hands-on printing in a makeshift bathroom darkroom and ultimately the craft of photography.
After graduating in 1989 from Fordham University, where he pursued philosophy and communications, he found himself on Wall Street, working as an options trader—an exercise in systemic complexity, no less. After the 2008 financial crisis, Cane, along with others, was compelled to consider different ways to earn a living. He saw an opportunity, reawakened his sleeping passion, and went into business as a photographer with a lone camera.
Cane created a thriving photographic business over the course of ten years. But beyond commercial photography, his personal work focuses on melding digital technology with a hundred-year-old printing technique called photogravure, an intaglio printing process where a photo etching is created on a copper plate. During the process, the plate is inked by hand with traditional intaglio inks and printed on a classic, hand-turned printing press. The procedure is difficult to master, but the results can be sublime. It allows a photographer to marry the best of analog and digital worlds.
Photogravure was developed by two original pioneers of photography: Nicéphore Niépce, in France in the 1820s, and later Henry Fox Talbot, in England. Niépce sought a way to create photographic images on plates that were then etched and used to make prints on paper with a traditional printing press. His early images were among the first photographs, predating daguerreotypes (a photograph produced with an iodine-sensitized silvered plate and mercury vapor). Talbot, inventor of the calotype paper negative process, wanted to make paper prints that would not fade. Photogravure in its mature form was developed in 1878, by Czech painter Karel Klíč, building on Talbot’s research. This process, still in use today, is called the Talbot-Klíč process.
Cane uses a coalescence of digital photographic technology and the photogravure technique to create stunning photography for his clients and for his own pleasure. “There is an inherent beauty, depth, texture, and ultimately a uniqueness that can only be achieved by employing the most ancient of photographic printing methods,” he says.
In December 2017, Stockland Martel, once a leading New York City-based photography agency that was in business for more than 30 years and represented some of the world’s most trailblazing corporate photographers, closed its doors. It is a worrying industry-wide trend driven by the development of the digital realm. But when considering the overall climate of his industry, Cane believes that the economic landscape has improved for photographers. He also notes significant changes in roles: “Photographers used to take client assignments from advertising agencies directly,” he says. “Increasingly, they have to be prepared to work with clients on a one-to-one basis. This creates a challenge. Photographers now need to assume more duties such as creative director, mentor, and account manager, among others.”
Cane’s main professional considerations are to not only shoot great photographs but also ensure that his images reflect the best qualities and intentions of the project. Yet it seems he cannot deny that some superficiality has effused from the photography industry, especially with greater ability to generate, touch up, and access photographs via smartphones and social media. This had bred complacency regarding the appreciation of the work it takes to create photographic excellence.
But Cane views this as an opportunity to endeavor to produce images that are useful for as long as possible. “I wanted to get back to creating something by hand, as it gives me complete control over the production process; one where I am in charge of every creative decision, thus ensuring a photographic quality that digital production systems cannot match,” he explains.
In addition to remaining monetarily competitive, he allows his clients to use the photographs he creates for them in any way they wish, for as long as they like, without an additional fee. Perhaps most importantly, Cane is cognizant that clients often don’t have a full idea of what they want, so he collaborates with and guides them.
Cane seems to consider himself an artisan, rather than an artist. Perhaps he sees his artistry as the process of creating photographs, not necessarily in the product itself. By his own admission, he likes to be in control of his own destiny.
His ultimate professional ambition is to attain mastery in both photography and printing. But there is one lingering question: As a professional, what is the thing he couldn’t do without? “My wife” he replies. █