A N   I N T E R V I E W   W I T H   P E T E R   V I D A N I

Peter lives in New York. Peter doesn’t get paid for his photography and it most certainly isn’t what he’s best known for. So why would I want to interview him? Well he’s the lead designer of Tumblr. That dashboard you spend so long scrolling through each day? Yeah that’s his doing. And your theme? Yeah that was most likely him too. And that’s why I decided to ask him a few questions about how photography fits in on a site with such an emphasis on displaying images.

You seem to predominantly use 35mm. Does a slower analogue process bother you in an increasingly digitised environment?
The slow process is one of the reasons I like it. I know it sounds campy but it’s true. I’ve borrowed really good digital cameras from my friends, and there’s a lot to love about them. But what makes them great is what makes them less rewarding than film. You know right away that you blew the shot and you take 10 more until you get it. In the end you get this perfect shot, which is cool. But when I’m shooting film I think about it differently. I think each shot is $0.75, so I just take one. It might take me a week or a couple months to finish a roll. Then I have to wait another day for it to develop. By the time I go to pick it up, I’m ecstatic. I’m looking at a party I was at three weeks ago. I totally blew a portrait. It’s grainy, unbalanced, and the lighting sucks. But it’s the only shot I have of this person.
The camera I use is totally lazy anyway. It’s fully automatic. I have no idea what they’re going to look like. Sometimes it’s really good at low-light and I get this faded, grainy monster. Sometimes it’s all black. I have no idea how it works. I bought it because I was shooting everything with my phone. I like to post photos to my blog, but I want them to stand out. Instagram is cool but after awhile you know right away when you see a photo that it’s Instagram. I just wanted mine to be a little different. Flickr is great for this. I looked through my favorites from over the years and saw people tagging their photos with the camera and film they use. Then I checked out groups for that camera and found one that I loved.

When I’m trying to make a photo, I generally try have an audience in mind, like one specific person. Often times it’s myself but every now and then when I’m shooting something, I’m like “If only I could show the Coen Brothers this" or "Man, how cool would it be if I could work with Tim Baber on this”. Have you ever shot with anyone else in mind?
All the time. Not just photography, but every creative thing I ever do. It’s a shortcut, the way I see it. If I ask myself, “How would Peter Vidani do this?,” I’m just going to answer, “Peter Vidani isn’t a real photographer so it wouldn’t be interesting.” But if I ask myself, “How would so-and-so do this?” I can shamelessly imitate their style. After you do this again and again with different people, you stop imitating, and, without thinking about it, you’ve meshed together a few different influences. You’ve asked yourself how they would do it so many times that eventually you see the different parts they were putting together and you tweak them. But in the beginning, it’s so essential to imitate other people and not feel bad about it.

How much of an influence does photography have on the design elements of Tumblr? Do you think experience in one area helps when developing the other?
I think it influences it as much as any creative work influences your life. It’s doing something that you weren’t asked to do, and I think that forces you to care about something that shouldn’t really matter.
Photography in particular has a lot in common with designing an interface. It’s sort of a game finding the right balance in a square. You have this square, and it has a bunch of little stuff inside it. In photography you can sometimes rearrange that stuff, but most of the time you’re just going to move the camera. When you design an interface, it’s the opposite. You can control the objects inside the frame with ease. I think the balance of a photo and the balance of an interface have a lot in common.


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Peter Vidani currently resides in New York and can be found online at the following:
Own Site | Tumblr | Twitter 

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    Set design for theater, and production design for film/movies have those same considerations. Everything the audience...
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