Philly Creative Guide

Creative Personality

Peter B. Kaplan | Height Photographer

Interview :: Peter B. Kaplan
by Juanita Berge, 1 Jul 2008

This month's Creative Personality is Peter B. Kaplan, a Height Photographer working in the Delaware, Philadelphia, Baltimore and DC area.

His work is in the permanent collections of corporations and museums worldwide. His photos are buried in four different time capsules: beneath the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. His work also appears on 173 different postage stamps worldwide.


PCG: What is height photography?

PBK: Similar to aerial except I climb to get the view point. I also shoot from choppers, small airplanes, hot air balloons and blimps.


PCG: Did you invent the genre of height photography?

PBK: I didn't invent "Height Photography" but I sure perfected and went way beyond most other photographers when it comes to Aerial/Height Photography.

© Peter B. Kaplan 2000

PCG: How did you get started in this? Why?

PBK: Once the World Trade Centers were finished, while standing at the bottom of the north tower and looking up, I had an itch so I scratched it and created my first "Pole Shot".


PCG: How many shots have you made?

PBK: Who knows – I know over 125,000 just on the Statue of Liberty alone and I'm still going.

© Peter B. Kaplan 2000

PCG: Are you alone up there when you shoot?

PBK: Usually I have an assistant. Lots of gear needed to do this type of photography.


PCG: What does your typical gear bag look like?

PBK: It depends on the climb – sometimes safety belts, gear hooks, various lenses from 13 to 600 mm, poles, extra ropes, sometimes body harnesses.


PCG: What's your (photography) equipment?

PBK: Nikon since the mid 60's. That is one of the great things that I love about Nikon - I can use on my newest D3, if I want to, a lens that I bought in the 60's. Of course it wouldn't do everything that the new lens do but I have a few old lens that the new lens can't compare to, such as a 200 macro, or the 6mm 220 degree fisheye.


PCG: What kind of planning goes into one of your shoots?

PBK: Lots, some have taken me up to two years and two have taken 5 years to capture the final image.


PCG: How do you get permission to all of these high places?

PBK: Reputation, insurance and lots of persistence - two took 4 and 5 months.

© Peter B. Kaplan 2000

PCG: You must be on good terms with a host of ironworkers, building supers, engineers, commissioners and the like?

PBK: I've kept up a relationship with a lot of the ironworkers I've worked with over the years. I photographed the remains of the World trade Center. Dickie the ironworker, to see his reaction to the antennae on the ground. He (and others) had installed that antennae.


PCG: Your website, www.peterbkaplanstock.com, has some mesmerizing images. How do you get pictures that are seemingly shot from mid-air?

PBK: I extend the camera out on a pole anywhere from 4 feet to my biggest 42 foot pole.


PCG: Have there been any real dangers or near misses?

PBK: Thank God, no.


PCG: What were the 3 most fantastic shoots for you? What was the toughest?

PBK:
1. WTC building of the antenna – Since then I've always said I was the highest person in NYC and I wasn't even on drugs.
2. Statue of Liberty
3. Bald Eagle essay for Life magazine

The toughest was last December – in San Pedro, California when we climbed the Vincent Thomas Bridge. We did not go up the cables as I usually do with bridges, but we went straight up the tower on ladders over 200 feet. It took us 1 hour and 17 mins but the view was worth it.

© Peter B. Kaplan 2000

PCG: Is there any image you've wanted that you just haven't been able to pull off?

PBK: I invented a process called ADK and want to travel to all of the State Capitals to shoot them in the ADK process. But that would take a good year and lots of traveling.

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