Tales of mystery and suspense, created in miniature

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I have often said that the scenes happen before or after something,” the photographer said. Marc Peterman tell me. Inspired by crime novels and ambient music, his series Constructed realities takes place in a fictional world, created in miniature. Each image tells a story of suspense, conceived not in real life but in the artist’s imagination.

Peterman started building miniatures after completing several full-scale sets. Miniature models gave him the freedom to create scenes that would otherwise be impossible. “Each scene starts with a story idea,” he says. “I usually write an excerpt from a short story; it can be a sentence or a more elaborate micro-fiction.

“I often have a protagonist in a situation and a scene idea develops from there. I end up with quite a bit of creative source material which includes sketches, stories, journal notes, etc. that I like to surround myself with. I draw what I want a scene to look like and I also often do a technical drawing with dimensions. I have kept sketchbooks and journals for years and use them daily in my creative process to document my work.

Its main materials are balsa wood or cardboard. “After the basic structure is done, I add texture elements and some printed texture elements and the finished models contain very intricate details,” he explains. Depending on the model, the building may take a few days or a week to complete.

The process of generating the fictional stories that inspire the work is much more mysterious, driven largely, Peterman suspects, by his subconscious. “Most of the story excerpts from which I create a scene are taken from real life”, explains the artist. “I also project fictional situations onto life experiences to come up with story ideas.” Literary and artistic works also helped shape his sensibility.

“Tit wasn’t one work in particular that was influential, but a melting pot of many things over time,” admits Peterman. “That being said, some of my favorite artists across various genres include Brian Eno, John Le Carré, Roman Polanski, John Atkinson Grimshaw.” The connection to the last of the four is perhaps the most apparent, as Peterman shares the painter’s affinity for nighttime, misty, gas-lit iridescent streets. Comparisons with Gregory Crewdson might also be appropriate, with one difference: there is no one in Peterman’s photographs.

“I have the impression that the stages are a space that must exist outside of the human presence”, he explains. “Sometimes it’s easier to imagine yourself in a scene if you don’t see another human in the frame.” We become inhabitants of these spaces, walking past Peterman’s storefronts on a rainy night or snuggling up by the fire as the moon rises just outside our windows.

But at the same time, we are also spectators, looking into a world that is not ours. Perhaps looking at Peterman’s photographs is similar to peering into an expertly crafted dollhouse, bringing with it the same wave of voyeurism and anticipation. Peterman’s imagination is a place defined, at times, by a sleeping sense of unease: a light on when it shouldn’t be, a car running off the road, floorboards creaking in the night.

Photography is the ideal medium for Constructed realities, a project that is, at its heart, an investigation into what is real and what is not. He invites us, as spectators, to play the role of detective. “A lot of people don’t realize they’re scale models when they first see them,” says Peterman. “I really like to play with the concept of ‘breaking the fourth wall’ in a scene. If I can reveal something that makes someone question the reality of what they’re seeing, I think it’s a good place to be.

At best, the photographs can almost “deceive” the creator himself, pulling him from this reality towards his own. “The images that I appreciate the most are those that make me think of what else can exist in this world that I create,” he tells me. “The exit is through is a scene that really became more powerful as a finished photo than the original idea. I see the torn boards in the ground and wonder where it leads and what might be hiding there. Elsewhere in the hallway, the lights are still on. We don’t know if someone has just left or is about to enter.

All photos © Marc Peterman

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