Gosta Peterson, 94, Fashion Photographer

April 25, 1923 - July 28, 2017
Gosta Peterson,  April 25, 1923 - July 28, 2017

Gosta Peterson, a renowned fashion photographer whose work appeared throughout the 1960s and ’70s in such publications as Mademoiselle, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Marie Claire, Esquire, L’Officiel, Life, and The New York Times Magazine, died at his New York City residence on July 28 with his wife and two children by his side. A summer resident of Amagansett since 1958, he was 94.

Among his career milestones were his Times photographs of the model known as Twiggy, a British cultural icon of the ’60s, and a “Fashions of the Times” cover photo of Naomi Sims, the first African-American to appear on the cover of an American magazine.

Mr. Peterson’s work ranged far beyond the glamorous, however. His son, Jan Peterson, described him as “a photographic auteur and contrarian in the world of fashion photography, with deep convictions about style. He often used ordinary people in high-end fashion photographs, which he set the trend for, and he was known for his graphic compositions.” He declined an invitation to work for Vogue because the magazine would not let him select the models.

His son, who assisted his father at different times during his career, elaborated on Mr. Peterson’s singularity among the fashion photographers of his time. “If you look at his pictures, most are idea-based. He had a story, or something he wanted to convey, or something quirky he was thinking about that he wanted to re-create. He sought to investigate the model as a person, not as a model, and he tried to find some inner truth about that person.”

Gosta Reinhold Peterson was born on April 25, 1923, to Ernst and Elsa Peterson in Orebro, Sweden. He studied illustration and graphic arts at the Anders Beckman School of Advertising, Illustration, and Fashion in Stockholm and moved in 1948 to New York City, where he worked for a time as an illustrator before embarking on a career as a photographer.

He married the former Patricia Louis on July 10, 1954, after having met her at a party in Westhampton. In 1957 the couple rented a house on Windmill Lane in Amagansett, and bought it the following year.

Mr. Peterson brought the same independent spirit to that property as he did to his work.

“As far as the garden and house were concerned,” said his daughter, Annika, “he used to call it a ‘tent with furniture.’ It was really about the outdoors. He wanted Jan and me to learn the land and garden chores as a way of connecting us with it.”

The unmown grasses in front of the house elicited the curiosity of passers-by. “Some people think it’s neglect,” said Ms. Peterson, “but we worked really hard to make it look like that.”

Her father was known for his “margarita hour,” she said. “Someone would say, ‘There’s a light on,’ or ‘The flag is up,’ and they knew they could drop in. My mother remembers Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe waving as they sped by while she was brushing her hair on the front porch.”

For both children, family life and their father’s work were inseparable. “I was always in the studio,” his son said. “Studio life was home life. At one point, when they were renovating their home, they moved into the studio for two or three years.”

“We were all involved with his work,” said Annika Peterson. “We’d go to the studio after school, it was very much a part of our lives. With all of us there was a sense of family in that studio. It was very much a shared experience. I think it’s in our bones. I very much consider both my mother and father as people who cared and taught us the gift of seeing.” Jan Peterson is a filmmaker, and Ms. Peterson  owns the Turn Gallery on East First Street in Manhattan.

Their mother was the fashion editor of The New York Times Sunday Magazine during the 1960s and ’70s, and the Petersons often collaborated there. In 1978 she became vice president of Henri Bendel, and her husband became the exclusive photographer for its advertisements.

“So much with him was his own personal stamp,” said Annika. “He believed in the importance of character and of being an individual. Our family was a strong unit, but it was all about the individual links in that unit, finding who each of us was, and celebrating that.”

She told of calling recently to make a Hampton Jitney reservation. Asked where in Amagansett she lived, Annika said, on Windmill Lane. “The reservationist said, ‘My favorite house is on that road. Do you know that quirky man with the tall grass who puts out the Swedish flag? I sketched that house once.’ ”

“His world touched other people.”

There are no plans as yet for a memorial service. The family has suggested memorial contributions be made to the Amagansett Historical Association, P.O. Box 7077, Amagansett 11930.

Among Gosta Peterson's career milestones were his Times photographs of the model known as Twiggy.Gosta Peterson
"He often used ordinary people in high-end fashion photographs . . . and he was known for his graphic compositions,” Gosta Peterson's son, Jan Peterson said.Gosta Peterson
A photograph from 1965Gosta Peterson
Salvador Dali, photographed for Esquire in 1971Gosta Peterson
A 1966 photograph that appeared in The New York TimesGosta Peterson
At left, a 1966 image from Harper's Bazaar; at right a 1977 imageGosta Peterson
Gosta Peterson
Gosta Peterson
Gosta Peterson