Peter Fraser (photographer)

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Peter Fraser
Born 1953
Cardiff, Wales
Nationality British
Education Manchester Polytechnic
Known for Fine art photography

Peter Fraser (born 1953) is a British fine art photographer. He was shortlisted for the Citigroup Photography Prize[1] (now known as the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize) in 2004.

Life and career[edit]

Early life[edit]

Fraser bought his first camera at the age of 7. In 1968, at school, Fraser saw Powers of Ten, a film by Charles and Ray Eames which over nine minutes takes the viewer on a journey from a couple picnicking in Chicago, out to the imagined edge of the Universe and back, continuing on down through the skin to an atomic level.[citation needed] Fraser went to school in Wales until 1971, then studied Civil Engineering for three months at Hatfield Polytechnic, England, before deciding to study photography. He studied Photography at Manchester Polytechnic between 1972 and 1976, repeating his final year due to becoming seriously ill after crossing the Sahara Desert in early 1975.


Fraser has said that 'The idea that there is no hierarchical relationship between large and small, as everything in the Universe is made of small things, has influenced much of his work and came directly from seeing this film'.[citation needed] Fraser was an early adopter of colour photography in the UK, along with Paul Graham and Martin Parr. He began exhibiting colour photographs in 1982. In 1984, Fraser travelled to Memphis, USA to spend two months with William Eggleston, after meeting him at Eggleston's first UK exhibition opening at the Victoria and Albert Museum the previous year. This experience gave Fraser the confidence to commit to working with colour photography with reference to notions of 'Poetic Truth' rather than notions of 'documentary truth' which prevailed at the time. Therefore, despite the historical pressure of the documentary tradition in British photography at this time Fraser was drawn to making photographs which were in each successive series preoccupied with philosophic and metaphysical questions, alluded to by Ian Jeffrey who said:

"...see Peter Fraser, probably the best colourist anywhere now, and as capable with metaphors as any major poet. Fraser’s work is complete, full, in its resonances and layered meanings, rich with the sort of richness you might find in Chardin or Vermeer."[2]

1983 - 1990[edit]

Between 1983 and 1986, Fraser made the exhibitions, Twelve Day Journey, The Valleys Project, Everyday Icons and Towards an Absolute Zero which led to his first publication Two Blue Buckets in 1988. This book won the Bill Brandt Award hosted by the Photographers' Gallery in 1989 and led to an international audience for Fraser’s work. In 1990 Fraser was invited to be the British Artist in Residence in Marseilles, which led to the subsequent exhibition and publication Ice and Water in which, through the shimmering heat of the Mediterranean summer his subject had become the space between and around objects.

"Untitled" from The Valleys Project, 1985


Having been a chess enthusiast as a boy,[citation needed] and having been deeply impressed by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, he travelled to many countries in the world in the early 1990s to scientific research establishments photographing machines at the cutting edge of technology, proposing a series of ‘Portraits’ of machines shown and published as ‘Deep Blue’.[citation needed] This idea had been encouraged by IBM designers of the chess computer Deep Blue speaking on their website of sensing the first signs of consciousness in the computer that finally beat Garry Kasparov, the World Chess champion in 1997. While visiting nearly 60 scientific sites, Fraser frequently photographed in scientific ‘Clean Rooms’ where particles of dust above a certain size were not admitted. Subsequently pondering these small particles with ‘Powers Of Ten’ in mind, Fraser decided to start photographing ‘dirt and other low status’ material. Simultaneous to this work was a University of Strathclyde commission to make new Art in their Applied Physics Department, where research was being undertaken into the fundamental nature of matter at a subatomic level. This led to these two series being combined into a single new series of photographs, Material in which a democratic notion of all material was proposed. This work was published in 2002.


In 2002 The Photographers' Gallery (London) showed a 20-year overview of Fraser’s work, drawing on photographs from a number of his series making a distinction between very large scale ‘Images’ which became part of the architecture of the gallery space and framed ‘Works’ hung from the walls. In 2004 Fraser was shortlisted (with Robert Adams, David Goldblatt and Joel Sternfeld) for the Citigroup (formally Citibank) International Photography Prize at the Photographers’ Gallery for work which had been exhibited the previous year in the first Brighton Biennial. These photographs were the outcome of a synthesis between two preoccupations, namely his continuing conviction that small things are important, and that the surface of the earth more than ever looks the way it does because the human brain directs the hand to change the shape and nature of materials. This work was subsequently published by Nazraeli Press, USA in 2006. In his text for this book Gerry Badger wrote:

It may seem a long way-and some might feel the connections a mite far fetched-from the simple depiction of objects contained in Peter Fraser’s series, to the universe. But this, nevertheless is what Fraser is asking us to think about as we puzzle over these straightforward yet enigmatic images. In each photograph, he brings a forensic attention upon these everyday objects, yet however elegant each image is in itself, it is the linkages-both causal and casual-we might find between each one, jointly and severally, that we are asked to contemplate. In these relations, Peter Fraser is finding a poetic equivalent not just of the unity of opposites, but also to the simple, obvious yet profound idea expressed by Charles Eames: "Eventually, everything connects." [3]

"Untitled" from Nazraeli Monograph (2006)

In early 2006 Fraser was invited to be an Artist in Residence at Oxford University to make new art with photography for the Biochemistry Department. The department had commissioned the demolition of several older buildings in which it was housed, to make way for a newly commissioned landmark building. Fraser visited Oxford twice a month for two and a half years making photographs at first in the midst of the demolition process using lower saturation colour film, and then changing to brighter colour film once the construction phase began.

In 2009 Fraser was commissioned by Ffotogallery, Wales, to make new work across the entire country during that year. This resulted in the exhibition and publication Lost For Words, the first time Fraser had worked entirely digitally. These works were shown and published in spring 2010, of which Mark Durden in his accompanying essay observed that:

There is a dark strain running through many of Frasers new pictures. The sensuousness, beauty and idealism in his photography of objects is countered by a sense of the impermanence, incomprehensibility and meaninglessness of things. Objects exist not so much for us but against us, obdurate, enigmatic and other.[4]

In 2012 Fraser exhibited ‘A City in the Mind’ at Brancolini Grimaldi Gallery, London. This was a series of photographs inspired by Italo Calvino’s book ‘Invisible Cities’, in which the Tartar Emperor Kublai Khan discusses with Marco Polo cities in his empire Marco has visited on the Emperor’s behalf, but for the Emperor can only remain ‘’Cities in the Mind.

“In London I have been making work which even though needing physical subjects for the images, collectively suggest a City which we cannot physically visit, but can only in our imagination through the book and exhibitions of the photographs”.[5]

In 2013 Tate St Ives exhibited a selected retrospective of Fraser’s work, and published a monograph containing photographs from all of Fraser's major series to date, 12 day Journey (1984), Ice and Water (1993), Deep Blue (1997), Lost for Words (2010) and A City in the Mind (2012).[6]

In 2013 Fraser received an Honorary Fellowship from the Royal Photographic Society.[citation needed]

Solo exhibitions[edit]

  • 1982: The Flower Bridge, Impressions Gallery, York, England.
  • 1983: New Colour, The Photographer’s Corridor, University of Wales, Cardiff.
  • 1984: New Colour, Gallery Oldham, Oldham, England; Arnolfini, Bristol, England.
  • 1985: 12 Day Journey, Harris Museum, Preston, England; Axiom, Cheltenham, England.
  • 1986: Everyday Icons, Photographers' Gallery, London; Photo Gallery Hippolyte, Helsinki; toured the United Kingdom.
  • 1987: Spectrum Galerie, Sprengel Museum, Hannover, Germany.
  • 1988: Towards an Absolute Zero, Watershed, Bristol, England; Plymouth Arts Centre, Plymouth, England; Ffotogallery, Cardiff, Wales.
  • 1989: Triptychs, Interim Art, London.
  • 1993: Ice and Water, Cornerhouse, Manchester, England.
  • 1995: Ice and Water, Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri, USA. Ice and Water, James Hockey Gallery, Farnham, England.
  • 1996: Deep Blue, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.
  • 1997-1998: Deep Blue, Viewpoint Gallery, Salford; Ffotogallery, Cardiff; Cambridge Darkroom, Tullie House, Carlisle.
  • 1999: Peter Fraser, Gallerie 213, Paris.
  • 2002: Peter Fraser, The Photographers’ Gallery, London.
  • 2003: The Inconsiderable Things, Brighton Photo Biennial, University of Brighton Gallery, England.
  • 2010: Lost for Words, Ffotogallery, Cardiff, Wales.
  • 2012: A City in the Mind, Brancolini Grimaldi, London.
  • 2013: Peter Fraser, Tate Retrospective, St Ives, UK.


Fraser's work is held in the following public collections:

Further reading[edit]

  • ‘At the Ruskin’, Oxford Poetry magazine, Magdalen College, Oxford University, Spring 2009, Vol. 13 no 1, pp 31–32 text, and 4-page colour insert.
  • Badger, Gerry. ‘Peter Fraser Material’, Next Level, Edition 02, Vol 01, 2002. pp. 42–29.
  • Beaumont, Mary-Rose. ‘Peter Fraser’, Arts Review, 28 July 1989; p. 42.
  • Beem, Edgar Allen. ‘Close Encounters With the Overlooked’, Photo District News (New York), July 2007, pp 82–86
  • Bell, Adam. ‘ A City in the Mind’, Photoeye, New York, blog 5th November, 2012, Photoeye blog
  • Bishop, William. ‘Photographs by Peter Fraser’, Creative Camera, May 1986; pp. 18–25.
  • Bracewell, Michael. "Peter Fraser photographs 2002-2003". Portfolio, no 39, 2004. pp. 8–13. Reproduced here within Fraser's website.
  • Burnside, John. 'A Liberation from the Ordinary’, Tate Etc., Issue 27, 2013, pp. 54-59
  • Burton, Johanna. "Tiny Jubilations". Citigroup Photography Prize 2004, published by the Photographers’ Gallery, pp. 38–39. Reproduced here within Fraser's website.
  • Chandler, David. ‘Peter Fraser’, Photoworks (Brighton, England). May/October 2007, p74. Reproduced here within Fraser's website.
  • Chandler, David. 'Peter Fraser, Photographs 1981-2012’ monograph, Tate Publishing 2013
  • Coles, Alex. "Architecture with Art in Mind", Salt Bridges, Prestel Publishing Ltd, 2010 pp 120 (text), and pp 88–113 (images).
  • Duffy, Robert' ‘Fraser’s Different Focus’, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 20 August 1995.
  • Durden, Mark. ’Peter Fraser’, Photography Today, Phaidon Press, 2014, pp. 126-129
  • "Focus", SuperMassiveBlackHole, issue 7/2011 ("Colour Theory" (PDF). About, and with samples from, Lost for Words.
  • Haigh, Geraldine. ‘Chromatically Correct’, Professional Photographer, August 2002, pp. 45–48.
  • Hubbard, Sue. ‘Peter Fraser – Triptychs’, Time Out, 26 July 1989.
  • Jeffrey, Ian. ‘Peter Fraser’, Untitled magazine, Spring 1994; p. 17.
  • Jeffrey, Ian. ‘Review Citigroup Prize’, Photoworks magazine, Spring/Summer 2004, pp 54–57
  • Jooks, Heinz-Norbert. ‘Citigroup Photography Prize Exhibition’, Kunstforum 171, July/August 2004, pg 326
  • Ladd, Jeffrey. "Lost for Words by Peter Fraser", 5B4, 25 June 2010.[7]
  • Mellor, David. British Photography: Towards a Bigger Picture. New York: Aperture, 1998. pp. 57–61
  • Mellor, David. No Such Thing as Society: Photography in Britain 1967-1987. London: Hayward Publishing, 2008. pp 127–131, 133-135, 146
  • Rothman, Aaron. ‘Peter Fraser’, Photo Eye Booklist (Santa Fe, New Mexico), Spring 2007, pp 20–22
  • Withers, Rachel. ‘Peter Fraser Material’ (interview), Foam, issue 5 ‘Near’, 2004. pp. 99–117. Reproduced here within Fraser's website.


  1. ^ Searle, Adrian (29 January 2004). "Smashing Pumpkins". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 November 2014. 
  2. ^ Ian Jeffrey, "British Photography Flourishes", Camera Austria 1988, pp58-61
  3. ^ Gerry Badger, "Eventually, everything connects." 2005, From Peter Fraser, Nazraeli Monograph, Nazraeli Press, USA, 2006 ISBN 1-59005-144-0. Reproduced here in Fraser's website.
  4. ^ Mark Durden, From 'Lost for Words', 2010. ISBN 978-1-872771-79-3
  5. ^ cited from the afterword in Peter Fraser’s ‘A City in the Mind’ published by Steidl Brancolini Grimaldi 2012
  6. ^ Peter Fraser, edited by Martin Clark and Sara Matson, Tate Publishing, 2013. ISBN 978-1849761499.
  7. ^

External links[edit]