Never content with static life, Peter tried a number of professions. Between odd jobs, he trekked into the untrodden wilderness whenever there was a chance. That’s where he found his calling: photography. Over the years, he has built an enormous archive – photos and video that sometimes follow a landscape or a character over a period of more than thirty years.
Born in a small village, Peter has lived close to nature since childhood. True to his own life history, he has always sought his motifs in nature and later also in the rural landscape.
”My first exposures were with a reflex camera near the sea on the northern part of the island of Öland where I grew up. I saw a bottle shining in the bladder kelp on the beach. Next I was facing into the light through the alders across the icy wetlands. It felt as I was an Einstein with the most precious technology ever invented dangling on my chest.”
At the age of twenty Peter was accepted for pilot training in the Swedish Air Force. Learning to interpret the sky in three dimensions with absolute accuracy, instinctively honed his sense for perspective. Being suspended in the air added a feeling of fragility, how easily a life can perish. He resumed his trekking through the mountains and started formulating his thoughts about documenting nature that would later shape him as a photographer.
It was not Peter’s fate to become a professional pilot. He got a teaching degree at the University of Umeå and moved to the city of Oskarshamn to work in a school. Being a teacher gave him time to take up photography in a more serious way and he got into the habit of going into the forests and fields before and after school. In his spare time, he also joined the project to save the white-tailed eagle, which lead to his first book project, White-Tailed Eagle.
The book made it possible for Peter to quit teaching and focus on photography for a number of journals and newspapers. Foto, the leading Scandinavian magazine for photography, became an important client. For a couple of decades Peter gave hundreds of illustrated lectures, talking about the importance of biodiversity, of saving precious nature and landscapes. An important vehicle for this was a large travelling photo exhibition, produced by Sven Odqvist. It was called When the Wind Turned over the Land and toured for years across the country. It reached a large audience and in some places it was so popular that it was exhibited twice.
In 1999 Peter was presented with the WWF Panda Award from the hand of King Carl XVI Gustaf for When the Wind Turned over the Land. This book features Styrbjörn Ejneby, a farmer working with traditional methods to preserve biodiversity. The book was an instant success and was printed in five editions. As a continuation of the book, Peter started filming his farmer friend Styrbjörn. The idea was to make a thematic film about biodiversity. But on the first day of filming, the focus shifted to the interplay between man and nature. This was triggered by the fact that Styrbjörn was diagnosed with terminal cancer and he started wondering about how the well-kept farm would survive after his death.
Life and Death of a Farmer became Peter’s first documentary film. He started working with the editor Tell Johansson (Aulin), who has co-authored most of Peter’s films. Life and Death of a Farmer has aired ten times on Swedish Public Television (Svt) and also in Germany and France (Arte). Peter became known as a filmmaker, who doesn’t shy away from using his art to tackle the most fundamental questions in life.
The Horseman premiered in 2006 and became a huge success with the Swedish public, both in cinemas and on TV, where it set an audience record for documentaries. The film features Stig-Anders Svensson, an old style farmer with three Ardennes workhorses, his way of living a challenge against the norms of society and modern agriculture. His bearded countenance and good humour in the face of a devastating storm endeared him to millions of Swedes.
Peter Gerdehag’s international break-through came with Women with Cows (2011). The film features Britt and Inger, two strong-willed women, the last two hand-milking dairy farmers in Sweden. Britt is physically crippled, unmarried, totally focused on keeping her cows. Inger is her reluctant helper, a widow who would happily get rid of the cows and spend more time with her grandchildren. Peter’s close-up fly-on-the-wall cinematography gives full play to their struggle, emotions and conflicts, which fascinated audiences at home and abroad. The film festival in Cracow gave Women with Cows its prestigious Golden Horn award and the International Documentary Association (IDA) gave it the award for best cinematography.
Deep Sea Productions has been the production company working with Peter Gerdehag since 2006. Together they have also made The Fairest Island (2008) and The Land That is no More (2012), the latter in co-production with Svt. Several new films are under production.
In 2016 Peter Gerdehag will finish a photo book about the farmers at Kroxhult, i.e. The Land That is no More. There will also be a photo exhibition in Varberg about a farm called Djurarp, which until recently had a herd of unique cows, especially bred for hand milking. Peter is also active with lectures and presentations on his favourite themes of biodiversity and respect for the deep heritage of the Swedish rural countryside.
”There are so many values in life that we do not seem to afford or spend time on in our day. If we forget our heritage we become humans without roots, which means that we can harm nature and its diversity, which will finally be to the detriment of our selves. The people I portray possess an element of contentedness that so many modern people are totally out of touch with.”