In 1967, Swedish-born photographer Gösta (Gus) Peterson shot the first pictures of Twiggy to be published in the United States. The circumstances of the shoot were a bit haphazard: The British model was flying to New York for her first job with Vogue when Gus and his wife, Patricia — then a fashion editor at the New York Times — intercepted her. “My mother basically went to the airport and said, ‘Let’s get her before anyone else,’” the Peterson’s daughter, Annika, told the Cut. “She said, ‘I’m going to run and get a black dress and a hat, and we’re going to make this shoot happen.’ And in two hours they shot this big spread for the New YorkTimes — a double image because they didn’t have time to change outfits.”
The photograph that ran in the Times — a close-up of Twiggy’s face, with a full-length image of her reclining transposed on top — is a centerpiece of “Gösta Peterson: From the Archive,” an exhibit of Peterson’s magazine photography from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, which opens tonight at Turn Gallery, a new art space on the Lower East Side owned and run by Annika.
Though these days Peterson’s work remains somewhat niche compared to that of Richard Avedon or Irving Penn, he was a pioneer of a more informal, personal approach to fashion photography. “It’s so common now to see fashion pictures with, like, a girl in a diner in a ball gown, but at that time everything was still very posed and beautiful and perfect — like Grace Kelly pictures,” said Annika. “Gus was the guy that shook it up. He said, ‘Let’s put that girl on the back of a bike.’ He was trying to get characters, rather than just beauty.”
One of Peterson’s most obvious influences is evident in the work of Arthur Elgort — the Vogue mainstay known for his easy-going, dancelike approach to fashion photography — who got his start as Peterson’s assistant. Peterson, for his part, stayed away from Vogue. “I was offered work with Vogue, and I went to talk to [Alexander] Liberman, and he was very firm that they would select the models, and I would just photograph them. I didn’t like that. I select the models, and I work with the stylist. That was important to me,” he said. “So I never really worked with American Vogue. It’s a little stiff for me. I didn’t really like what they were doing. I still look at it occasionally, and it still looks stiff. It’s very fashion-fashion, and I like the personality.”
Peterson continued, “I selected the people I photographed, and it wasn’t necessary that they were really beautiful. It was important that they had a character, and that they had emotion that was interesting. I latched onto that and showed it in my pictures.”
Click through the slideshow for a look at some of Peterson’s early magazine work, including Twiggy, Naomi Sims, Boy Scouts, and more.