Peter and Lisa Layer Patterns of the Bay

Kim Sikora: Can you tell us a bit about your beginnings as a team of photographers?


Peter Tonningsen and Lisa Levine: We met as artists-in-residence at Kala Art Institute about six years ago and have much in common… We began collaborating through an annual event called Alameda on Camera… We had both participated individually in this event in the past, so proposed collaborating one year thinking it would be fun, but were told it was ‘against the rules’ of the event. However coincidence was in our favor as the random pieces of the map we each drew happened to border each other, so we proceeded to photograph each other’s area while standing on the shared border of our map sections.

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PT & LL: We did this using a multiple exposure technique in which we each photographed on 35mm film, rewound that film, exchanged it, and then repeated that process right over the top of what the other had just photographed, with this shooting and exchange occurring multiple times… thus our collaboration and multiple-image methodology was born.

KS: When you first started out photographing as a team, what things did you first gravitate towards?

PT & LL: Given the nature of the first piece we created together, we started off interested in exploring borders, particularly the borders between divergent neighborhoods… For example, one of the first areas we examined was the border between the Port of Oakland and the surrounding West Oakland neighborhood

KS: How has your imagery changed in the past few years?

PT & LL: Our work has become less about the context of borders and more about the dialog and discovery we have with each other and how that interchange can be developed to distinctively describe and portray place and experience… We have become increasingly dedicated to pursuing public art opportunities as we are thrilled with the challenge of creating solutions for site-specific spaces…

KS: You have a lot of images shot in the Bay Area, and all of them are delightfully complex. Can you tell us a bit more about your shooting methods?

PT & LL: We are both urban at heart, so favor industrial and metropolitan subject matter, especially because of the dynamic and serendipitous nature of these kinds of environments. Regarding our shooting and creative methodology… We are especially drawn to this combination (multiple exposures) of analog and digital technologies, which we believe makes our work especially relevant given the rapidly changing climate of digital photography today.

KS: How did you decide when and where to shoot? Were there destinations with history you tracked down, or was it more or a fluid exploration?

PT & LL: Sometimes the sites we choose are predicated by commissions we are working on, while other times they are simply places that have caught our attention for being visually interesting. Once we start exploring a place, everything about the context of that location becomes of interest… How all that unveils itself to us is more of a fluid exploration. Our preference is to go to the sites together and wander about, talking about and shooting what most captivates our attention.

KS: What kind of feeling, or what experience of your context do you hope to give viewers?

PT & LL: Essentially we hope that our viewers will relish in a sense of discovery and excitement at seeing a familiar place anew. We want to provide aesthetically alluring, yet visually complex and contemplative works, where the audience can take in a location from multiple viewpoints and multiple points in time… For those interested in photography, we also hope that they will be engaged with how our process challenges conventional standards of a photograph document by extending notions of photographic time, space, framing, and authorship.

KS: Can you explain on of your most recent public art installations? What are your goals for public displays like this?

PT & LL: The most recent Public Art project we completed was for Highland Hospital where we were commissioned to produce a series wall-mounted images reflecting the varying communities throughout Alameda County that the Hospital serves. The goal of our artwork was to celebrate the diversity of the populace served by Highland Hospital while providing a familiar sense of home and place to patients, visitors and staff.


Hopefully through such a familiar portrayal of the surrounding environment we contribute to the overall quality of care and wellbeing that the hospital provides by promoting reflection and conversation and helping decrease some of the anxiety that can be part of the hospital experience.


KS: What can we expect to see in the next few weeks of your residency?


PT & LL: The focus of our residency has been to develop a series of prints centered on the replacement of the Eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, which is expected to be completed later this summer. We hope to arrange exhibition of our work at multiple locations on both sides of the Bay in conjunction with the Bridge’s opening celebrations.