Santa Monica photo gallery owner Peter Fetterman readily admits what so many who worked in Hollywood wouldn’t: he was a failed producer.
“I’m responsible for one of the worst movies ever made in the history of cinema,” Fetterman says, referring to the 1982 box office bombshell “Yes, Giorgio,” starring Luciano Pavarotti. “It was the ‘heaven’s door’ of musicals.” A year earlier, after meeting Pavarotti, Fetterman pitched the idea of making a film with the world’s biggest opera star to then-MGM chief David Begelman, who agreed it would be a big success. They grossly miscalculated. The film earned $2.3 million domestically, losing around $45 million.
That experience, along with a few “ridiculous” meetings about projects that went nowhere, was enough to drive Fetterman out of the company. “I realized, ‘I don’t have the stomach for this. I can’t play tennis or golf with agents,” he says. The London native had produced a few independent films in England before assuming he’d rather be a struggling filmmaker in the California sun. Early memories of being transported sitting in dark rooms watching classic movies like David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” and John Ford’s “Grapes of Wrath” had inspired Fetterman to pursue a career as a producer.
As self-soothing therapy to compensate for his agonizing misadventures in Hollywood, he began collecting photographs and devouring stills: “I needed to go home and watch something that had meaning, some beauty, a certain inspiration.
Fetterman had purchased his first fine art photograph a few years earlier, shortly after moving to Los Angeles in 1979. While having a small dinner party at a commercial photographer, he became obsessed with one of the pictures on the wall. – Max Yavno’s black. – and white print of the premiere of William Wyler’s 1949 romantic drama ‘The Heiress’, starring Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift, filmed at the Carthay Circle Theater in Los Angeles. The job, which he bought from the party host, cost him $400 – a huge sum for someone just getting by. “I had a net worth of about $2,000 and was driving a battered Pinto, so I should have spent the $400 to put decent brakes on it.” But he was forced to buy the Yavno.
“It’s autobiographical,” he says. “I traveled 6,000 miles to pursue a career, and this image embodied all the career aspirations of a young filmmaker.”
The photo would become the cover of Fetterman’s recently published book, “The Power of Photography”, featuring 120 images from his personal collection of some 7,000 photos. Fetterman believes that any collection is autobiographical and a journey of self-discovery: “You react to a certain image because it reminds you of a memory or a personal moment.
The photos are on display at the Fetterman Gallery in Bergamot Station, where he opened in 1994 as one of the cultural campus’ first tenants. “Four years earlier, I was a ‘private dealer,’ which was an understatement for my rent-controlled apartment in Santa Monica and the back of my Honda Civic doing house calls,” he says. “I started out as the Tupperware lady.”
Realizing how happy he was with beautiful images, Fetterman decided to turn his passion into a new way of life, and he reinvented himself as an art dealer – something he felt would never have happened. could only happen in America: “I decided to find a way to become a gallery owner photographer and be surrounded by images that move me, inspire me.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, forcing Fetterman to close his gallery for more than two years, he panicked. “I was so depressed. I was almost paralyzed,” he recalls. “I’m sitting at my kitchen table, and suddenly the words ‘the power of photography’ echoed in my brain, and I thought I needed to cheer myself up. So I’m just gonna do a seven day blog with pictures that have meant something to me all my life, and I’m probably gonna wrap it up after seven days because nobody would care.
To his amazement, Fetterman was inundated with positive reactions from people telling him how his selected photos and reflections had uplifted them during those dark times, so he still publishes his daily email newsletter. When he received requests from publishers suggesting he turn his blog into a book, he had the idea. The calm of the lockdown gave Fetterman the time he otherwise wouldn’t have had to achieve those goals.
“Up until then, my life was like being in a rock ‘n’ roll band traveling from one art fair to another, and I never had the mental freedom – neither the time nor the peace of mind – for designing this, so it was a small silver gift given to me out of the sadness of COVID.
Fetterman grew up in a small London flat with no art or books, the child of parents who dropped out of school at 13 and struggled to earn a living. He is grateful for the quality of life his profession has given him over the past four decades. “I’ve been blessed,” says Fetterman, who just celebrated his 71st birthday. “The gods of photography must have taken care of me. I couldn’t have imagined the life I’ve lived and the people I’ve met. He befriended and collaborated with countless important artists over the years, including his “photographic hero” Henri Cartier-Bresson, a pioneer in the art of street photography and considered one of of the great humanist photographers of the 20th century.
“Meeting Cartier-Bresson was like meeting Rembrandt,” says Fetterman. “How did a poor kid in an apartment building ever have the chance to meet Rembrandt?” Cartier-Bresson and his photographer wife Martine Franck introduced Fetterman to a number of other famous photographers, including Sebastião Salgado, Sabine Weiss and Robert Doisneau. Salgado calls Fetterman’s book “a testament to his deep love for the world of photography and photographers.”
Over the years, Fetterman has cultivated a following of Hollywood collectors, including Diane Keaton, Tom Hanks, Jodie Foster, Steven Spielberg, Whoopi Goldberg, Blake Lively, Emmy Rossum, directors Alejandro González Iñárritu and Ridley Scott, and cinematographers Emmanuel Lubezki and Roger Deakins. .
“Peter Fetterman is one of the great lovers and supporters of photography,” says Deakins. “It’s a joy to see Peter’s personal collection which covers such a wide range of photographic styles and is so inspiring. It embraces the work of many artists and the diversity of their individual way of seeing.