Sailor Spotlight: Peter Slack
Peter Slack is one cool dude. Growing up in the famous Slack family from Island Heights, NJ, he was engrossed in sailing at an early age. Since then, photography has become his passion. And he's really good at it. You can often find Peter in the middle of the course chasing down anyone worth taking a picture of -- and as a racer, I appreciate that he blends in well and never interferes with the race! His omnipresence on the water encourages sailors to hike harder, look tougher, and stay upright! But his photos go beyond sailboat racing; he's worked for well-known television networks, he's chased tornadoes, and he's hunted wild-life - all trying to capture a moment. If you have a minute, check out some of his work on his website Peter Slack Photography.
Every group needs someone to tell their story. Barnegat Bay is lucky to have Peter Slack documenting ours.
Name: Peter Slack
School: Lynchburg College
Yacht Club: Island Heights Yacht Club
1) Peter, I know you laugh when I say this, but it's true: you are one of the best photographers in the world. What made you get into photography? How did you start? That might be one of the silliest things I’ve ever heard…but thank you. Back in the late 80’s when I wasn’t trimming jib on my father’s e-scow (IH-44), I’d watch the races from our Whaler. One day Dan Crabbe (T-8) gave me his Canon T50, showed me how to load the film, and I shot all afternoon. It was an “auto wind” auto everything, so I just zoomed and focused. I got some decent shots, so I borrowed my Father’s Pentax K1000 (manual camera) and started shooting regularly. Eventually I purchased a Nikon 8008s. I worked in New York City, and on weekends the parking lots on 25th St. & 6th Ave would turn into Flea/antique markets. I’d buy used equipment there.
Photography since then has been a “hobby;" it has never been my occupation. I think I received some “composition” genes from my mother as well as creative genes from my father. All of our family albums exclude my mother who was always shooting the images.
2) We see you all the time taking pictures during the BBYRA Series and at many other major events. Do you only photograph sailing and nautical subjects, or do you work outside of that area? What have been your favorite types of subjects or boats to photograph? I really enjoy being out on the water. So during the summer months the images I shoot are mostly of regattas I’ve been hired to photograph. When I was in Kodiak, AK producing a show, my pages were littered with shots of eagles, fishing boats, and Coast Guard helicopters. When I was in the Midwest chasing tornadoes all I photographed were the clouds, weather, and tornadoes if we were lucky. When I’m shooting for myself, I try to capture whatever is in front of me, so I can show it to everyone else that didn’t happen to be there. It’s like trying to explain something amazing you just witnessed to someone after the fact I photograph whatever speaks to me visually. The most enjoyable conversations I have with people about an image I’ve captured is the “heart” of photograph. If they’re able to see what I saw during that moment then that’s enough for me.
3) Please brag a little here because I'm very curious. What do you think makes you such a great photographer? Do you think it's because you are a sailor and come from a sailing family so you know the shots and angles that people want to see? I’m not big on “self promotion” or bragging. Whenever I talk about something cool I’ve done I use a different voice and make fun of myself while talking about the experience.
Photography is subjective. I’ve heard a lot of people call themselves “great photographers.” They speak glowingly about their images using all sorts of adjectives. There’s a great line in the movie “Cinema Paradiso.” Alfredo, a movie projectionist tells young Salvatore an aspiring filmmaker going to America “I don’t want to hear you talk anymore. I want to hear others talking about you.” If you’re the one that’s talking about how great your work is, chances are, it’s not…
I’ve never called myself a photographer unless someone’s screaming at me to get off the racecourse (and I was hired to be there!). There are some images that I’ve shot that I CAN’T WAIT to get back and post process. I love those images, but that doesn’t mean everyone else will. Anybody can buy a camera and a zoom lens and put the word “photography” after their name and claim they’re an artist or photographer.
I never claimed to be a great photographer… but my advice? Bring your camera EVERYWHERE. Purchase prime lenses, stop zooming your frame in and out. Physically move closer to your subject. Learn how to use your camera. Aperture, ISO, shutter speed…understand what all these things do to vary your depth of field, and light that exposes your image. A lot of people I see out there shooting don’t seem to put the work in, and have no idea to manipulate the technology between their two hands.
The answer to the 2nd part of the question is “yes,” it helps to understand favored ends of the line, laylines, and tendencies of different boats. There are certain A-Cats that sail up on their ears which make for dynamic shots, and there are those in the E-scow fleet that have tendencies that I can rely on to get an image that I’m happy with.
If you’re shooting on the water the most important person on the boat is the driver. My brother Kirby is the best I’ve ever worked with; he’s fearless, and he understands the fleet. He has a really good eye, and he understands composition; I can say two words to him and he understands what I want. Ben Defonzo drove for me at the 2018 ACC’s. He was already a “rock star” in the fleet so he could get as close as he wanted to because all the kids love him. Richard Weber did a great job at the E-Scow Nationals. I could go on.
4) The Slack family is well-known around Island Heights and Barnegat Bay as being a big sailing family. Tell me about your own sailing experiences. What were your junior years like? I spent my summers as a kid in Island Heights sailing Diamonds at IHYC. “Old Skool.” Our boats were made of wood…that actually came from trees. Fred Slack (my dad) and his father were an integral part of the creating the IHYC Junior Sailing program…so I didn’t really have a choice. I sailed Modified Laser (Laser M) for IHYC and OGYC, I crewed on a scow, then I skippered one (IH-11). The boat was battleship grey, and was older than dirt - I think a ’72? In the late 80’s everyone was playing off of the “E” in the E-Scow logo so I was going to paint black eyes on the port and starboard bow add some gills and name the boat Shark “E.” The sail cover was actually going to have a dorsal fin on it (haha). BUT the boat was so old that it eventually just broke down like the Blues Mobile and was scrapped.
In my college years during the summer I taught at Ocean Gate and Island Heights as a head instructor for about four years and had a BLAST. It was such an amazing experience working with kids, and teaching them - and learning from them. Every day they unwittingly make you realize what’s really important in life.
5) A couple years ago you made a documentary about the E-Scow class at the E-Scow Nationals. Do videography and photography go hand-in-hand? For those who don't know, tell me about this project and what it meant for the class. Laura Darling, from LEHYC approached me in 2015 while I was working on a show in SC for Discovery. She wanted to hire me to shoot aerials for the Nationals. I spoke with her for a while, and I explained that I’d rather produce a documentary of the event. I called in some favors with directors I’d worked with in television and put a five person crew together. Then I called in favors from friends and outfitted their boats with ION cameras for three days. About 10yrs ago I had an idea to create a mark with a platform to shoot from, and Mike O’Brien made it a reality. The idea (what I pitched) was to let the fleet narrate the documentary - the kids, the seniors, and the backdrop of beautiful Beach Haven. There were many that didn’t know me, and the key when you’re shooting a documentary (at first) is approaching it as if you know nothing about sailing. That technique forces those you’re shooting to “over explain” things that helps the audience to connect the dots and learn more about sailing.
I’m not really sure what it meant to the class, but Sailing Anarchy said some really nice things about it, and I feel we represented the fleet well. I had twelve cameras each day to cut from, and I believe I was editing from 3 Terabytes of drive space. It took a while to edit!
The difference between video and stills? Grab a video camera, zoom all the way in and have someone tickle you while your shooting. That’s what it’s like shooting VIDEO out on the water. The wave sets in the bay are closer together, not like the ocean’s longer sets, so there’s constant motion. It’s a double edged sword. You pray to Neptune for mayhem, but if you’re shooting video it’s almost impossible to hold a steady shot. Still frames are much easier because you’re “stopping” the action.
It helps knowing the people you're shooting. It helps when the fleet trusts you empirically. That’s when you get in and get the best stuff.
Thanks for letting me go ON AND ON about this. It’s interesting to write about the process.