Interview
Peter Beste



put these shots under glass. Draw frames around their borders. Light their whites and beiges with bright bulbs. As much as recontextualization attempts isolation, its effect is blatantly counterproductive; these types of musicians, in these types of trappings, are as conspicuous as a handful of black pepper in cream based bisque. Frost (1349; Satyricon), Gaahl and King[ovhell] (Gorgoroth), Nattefrost (Carpathian Forest), Nocturno Culto and Fenriz (Darkthrone), and Høst (Taake); they are wiry and muscular, feral eyed and indifferent, long haired, clad in black t-shirts, bullet belts, denim, leather, spikes, and studs; some in “corpsepaint,” their eyes blackened, fallow cheeks and foreheads the color of urn’d ashes. These men have made it difficult for people comfortably accustomed to theatrics being confined to the theatre. Healthy rationalization tells one it’s a “put-on.” Those willing to take thought a little farther might realize that war paint isn’t being worn outside of the battlefield; the battlefield is here. It’s the green grocer’s market, the City Hall steps, and the vestibule of a cathedral.

Looking over Peter Beste’s website portfolio, it’s easy to see that he’s interested in subculture(s), in marginalization. As subjects are studied, recognition is realized in the bifurcation of regional signs: Rural tables topped with brown food, resting arms topped with India-inked self-tatts, palms and fingers and wrists grimed and greased, begging for a lather of Lava soap. There are common threads stitched throughout Beste’s work, and they’re meant to be pulled.


Nattefrost of Carpathian Forest

We see paycheck-to-paycheck lifers—laconic faces of indifference, lives measured out with bone white plastic coffee spoons; generic cigarettes and dollar lighters finding a quiet omnipresence on meat-�n’-three dining room tables.

Urban areas are crowned with their own crows: Massive human contact doesn’t necessarily connote connection; cyberspace and cellulars act as extended go-betweens. Their locus betrays them. Their cities, culled of all their concrete and chrome, become just another space. Whether open, or confined, the face must find a way to relate to its realm. Thankfully, what the camera captures is always only a matter of interpretation.

Interpretation, insofar as it must lead to “explanation,” isn’t something one’s going to find in the photography of Peter Beste. Perhaps that’s what makes it so compelling: photos of leathery-faced eastern Europeans fade into domestic scene and place. What is technically far away besieges the senses: A toilet bowl of stale piss vies for attention with two Swedish mouths confused with cones of ice cream. Attract and repel is played like Punch & Judy, and with subject matter like this, it’s not just the kids that enjoy the act.

A Texan who relocated to New York, Peter Beste spent nearly five months in Norway with some of the most compelling—and intimidating—musicians alive, most of which possess an understood skepticism in regard to any sort of media attention. His photography had already shown a fascination for marginal hip-hop artists like Lil Flea, and Twista; he easily found analog with the Norwegian Black Metal (NBM) scene, a self-sustained movement slowed by story, rarely understood, often maligned. After taking a few pictures of some of the Norse Horde in the States, Beste began to pursue his NBM project.


Fenriz of Darkthrone and Isengard

“I took some live shots of Gorgoroth, Marduk and Dimmu Borgir in the States before I went to [Norway],” Beste told Stylus. “Getting access to the bands on their turf was a bit easier because I had some work to show. I tracked down everyone I could via e-mail, and many of them agreed to meet with me. They were pleased with the work so they put me in touch with some people that were harder to get in touch with.”

NBM is maligned for a host of reasons: It’s tied to church burnings; it’s fascist; it’s pagan. Some even think it’s ridiculous—a man painting his face, covering himself in spikes, and screaming about a “war against Christ.” For most people, it’s difficult to think of this outside of the tongue-and-cheek, or prank. Even more difficult perhaps, is realizing that most of these people are deadly serious. How did you get your subjects to speak so freely in regard to their ideologies?

“I’m not sure,” admitted Beste. “Maybe it’s because I got to know many of them on a friend level and some of them felt comfortable talking to me. Also, they can tell that my interest in them is honest and I’m not going to mock them at all.”

You recently joined the legendary Mayhem for a few dates in Norway. How did this come about? What was it like to see them reunited with Attila? How were the shows? Pictures?


Frost of Satyricon/1349

“It was a great experience. I had been talking to [Mayhem lead guitarist] Blasphemer and [Mayhem drummer] Hellhammer about doing a few dates with them because I wanted that for my project,” said Beste. “Officially, it was for a story the London Observer did on Black Metal/Mayhem. I got a few good pictures. Probably only one or two will be used for this project. Atilla was great—an amazing guy and an amazing vocalist.”

A couple of the Gorgoroth shots on your website are designated to have been taken in Krakow – were these taken at the notorious “Black Mass in Krakow” show?

”Yes. I hope the footage gets released one of these days”

As is often the case with stereotyping, people tend to leave little room for nuance in thinking. Especially with something like NBM, one immediately thinks of [Burzum’s] Varg [Vikernes] with a gas can. How different were, say Fenriz and Ildjarn from Nattefrost and Gaahl? Is Fenriz really the type of guy that sits back and drains Carlsbergs all day?

“Going over there the first time I was kind of expecting a basic ideology among the guys—but they all turned out to be very different,” explained Beste. “Fenriz is a very strange and funny guy, and yes, he likes to drink. Ildjarn is quiet and anti-social, but very friendly. Nattefrost is very cool and enthusiastic, but a bit crazy of course. Gaahl is very interesting, funny, and I’ve never met anyone anything like him.”


Mayhem. Live in Kristiansand, Norway, 2005.

A lot of your photos tend to highlight the connection between NBM and nature. Even more intriguing is the connection made with camaraderie, i.e., Mayhem at a pub—or even family, i.e., Emperor’s Samoth with his daughter. Were these personal aspects they tried to veil, or were they forthcoming?

“For me, NBM and nature are very closely related. It is synonymous with the mystique and magic of Norway. Also, Norway is very beautiful, that I felt I had to show that in the photos.”

How much longer will your NBM photos be shown around the U.S.? Where can people purchase the book, prints, et cetera?

“Prints can be purchased through my site or at exhibitions. A Japanese publisher released the book, so you can’t buy it at stores outside Japan. I have a few from time to time through my website. I am currently looking for a US/European publisher.”

What have you got planned for the future?

“I’m working on a number of projects—mostly music related,” said Beste. “I will be returning to Norway also.”


By: Stewart Voegtlin
Published on: 2005-11-02
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