The Intimate Roots Photography of Peter Dervin
This week we explore the intimate photography of Peter Dervin from Seattle. I called his photos “intimate” even before I saw his imprssive resume, as they reveal a certain familiartity with his subjects that comes only with time and tenderness — both for the artists and for what they are expressing. His photos have been featured many times in this column and ND’s newsletters. Now, we get to know the person behind the camera, and witness first hand that his love of music is not only exemplified in his photos but also in the following narrative which Peter also wrote. ND readers are indeed fortunate for him to share so much with us.
Now, in Peter’s words:
My journey in photography started as a youth when my Grandmother gave me my first camera. I’d sneak my camera into shows every once in a while when I felt bold enough, catching The Tubes or some other local bands in Los Angeles. In 1980 I went to Anchorage, Alaska, to work, and during that summer, the Grateful Dead came for their only Alaska dates and played at the West High Auditorium for three sold-out nights during the solstice. I was able to go to the June 21 show, the longest day of the year where the sun never set over the horizon. I brought my camera with me and captured about a dozen photos from the evening.
As the years flew by — my career, getting married, having kids, and relocating to Seattle from Los Angeles — my passion for music took me towards radio, where, for over 18 years, I was a program host (DJ) at my local community radio station KSER.
For years, I’d take my camera with me to local festivals such as Bumbershoot, shooting from the crowd and keeping the photos as personal keepsakes. Then with the advent of the internet and digital photography, I started sharing my photos on fan-based webpages. I had scanned my old 3 x 5 prints of the Grateful Dead and posted on their web page. Then on June 21, 2010, thirty years to the day, the Grateful Dead Archivist, David Lemieux, who had seen the photos that I had posted, contacted me and requested usage of them for an upcoming CD release.
So, with my first printing and credit of some of my earliest photos being released on the Grateful Dead Road Trips CD, Vol. 3 No. 4 – Penn State-Cornell ’80 in 2010, I became inspired to pick up my camera and become more serious about my concert photography.
In 2010, my photography took off, capturing moments at Bumbershoot and then the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco. I converted my old radio show webpage into my online photo gallery and began my adventure. Fortunately, having so many friends in the Seattle music scene, I was afforded access to many shows and venues.
Through my friendship with Ed Beeson, who had owned the legendary Backstage in Ballard, he asked me to be festival photographer at a small startup festival called the Slow Food Roots Music Festival that featured headliners Dave Alvin & the Guilty Ones and Jimmie Dale Gilmore & the Wronglers. Ed then went on to establish the Live! at Benaroya Hall concert series for the Seattle Symphony, in which again, I was asked to be house photographer for those performances.
I then became involved with one of the premier music websites in the region, Northwest Music Scene where I’m a regular contributor. I then began to contribute to No Depression as well.
In 2014, I became the house photographer for the Edmonds Center for the Arts, where a wide variety of musical genres perform. On one evening, the Mavericks played to a sold-out audience that ended up as one crazy dance party. No Depression selected one of my photos from this show for a two-page spread for the inaugural tabletop print edition in 2015. Upon its print release, the Mavericks, who had just won Best Duo/Group at the Americana Music Awards, saw my photograph and since then it has been used in many promotions for upcoming shows and their PledgeMusic campaign.
This year has been a busy one, from covering the Portland Waterfront Blues Festival and the Winthrop Rhythm & Blues Festival, to upcoming festivals like Bumbershoot and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, and in between, running from show to show to capture the essence of the musical experience that we all enjoy.
What I love most about concert photography is being able to catch that moment where the artist, musician, or band instills the passion that resonates to the fan, where I hope that the image transcends the feeling. It just gives me goosebumps of being able to capture those memories.
Jerry Garcia / Grateful Dead
This is one of my earliest photos of Jerry Garcia with the Grateful Dead in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1980. What makes this photo so special to me is just the fact that he’s looking right at me, I could only imagine what he might be thinking.
For me, finally being able to see and hear Brain Wilson for the first time live was really cool, let alone being able to photograph him performing. Truly one of the greatest.
Louie Perez with Los Lonely Boys’ Henry & Ringo Garza
I am fortunate to have gotten to know the guys in Los Lobos, which has allowed me the opportunity to photograph them many times. In this photo, David Hidalgo was not available so Henry Garza of Los Lonely Boys with his brother Ringo Garza sitting in with Louie Perez at the Portland Waterfront Blues Festival.
Mike Campbell / Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
I had never photographed Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers before so being able to twice in one year was pretty cool. When they hit the stage, I caught this photo of Mike Campbell just as they kicked into “So You Wanna Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star” with him looking right at me, with a big ‘ol smile. I couldn’t have been happier.
Lucinda took the stage at the hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival just as the sun was staring to cast its shadows among the trees in Golden Gate Park. I just loved how this photo captured the feeling of the California sunshine and Lucinda with her guitar.
Dr. Ralph Stanley
As one of the legends in Bluegrass, being able to capture such a striking photo of Dr. Ralph Stanley, well, it gave me the shivers! His steely blue eyes, his stoic appearance, his presence, says it all.
Having never photographed Young before, this was a bucket list moment for me. Having been a long time fan, just having this opportunity was special. I hope I get to do it again.
One of those special moments when you catch a show and the place goes crazy, with both the band and fans having one hell of a time. This photo became even more special when it was selected by No Depression to be featured in the print edition that came out in 2015, which the band then saw and loved as well.
Dave Alvin with the Knitters
I’ve been fortunate to photograph Alvin many times. Always a great guitarist, singer-songwriter, and musical troubadour, Dave is one of my all-time favorites, whether he’s playing with the Guilty Ones, the Knitters, or with his brother Phil Alvin, Dave is one of the best.
Crosby, Stills & Nash
Another bucket list photo opportunity was to photograph CS&N. They are true legends in rock history, and sadly this may be the last of seeing them perform together.
Alejandro Escovedo with Peter Buck & Scott McCaughey
Ok, Escovedo is one of those underrated musicians. I’ve been able to catch him several times and have loved every gig I’ve been to. Now for this evening, he had the likes of Peter Buck of R.E.M., Scott McCaughey from the Young Fresh Fellows, along with Kurt Bloch from the Fastbacks and Drummer Bill Rieflin, whose played with everyone from R.E.M. to King Crimson. How could this not be fun!
I’ve now photographed Bradley several times. The man is amazing. If you’ve never seen him perform, don’t miss him the next time he comes through your town. You’ll come out a changed person.
Earle has been a long-time favorite since the release of his first album “Guitar Town.” I’ve now been able to photograph him several times at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, and each time out, he cranks it out. I just love this guy.
Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell
I have a fond place for Emmylou Harris. Back in the ’70s, my grandmother, who gave me my first real camera, was a real estate broker in Studio City, California. My Grandmother sold Emmylou Harris a home in L.A., which also resulted in me going to my first Emmylou Harris concert at the Universal Amphitheatre with my Grandmother, which I think was the only time we ever went to a show together.
Catching Bonnie Raitt at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival was just cool all-around. This was my first pit access in front of the big stage, with the sun shining brightly. Bonnie was playing with such passion and beauty, it was simply a great moment.
Another Hardly Strictly moment was when Robert Plant took the stage with his Band of Joy. I never had the chance to see Led Zeppelin live (which is a whole other story), so being in front of one of the greatest rock singers was pretty cool. I remember the crowd just going nuts, especially when he did a couple Led Zep tunes. Oh it was glorious!