Local photographer John Peters follows the bliss of ‘yes’
A few years ago John Peters and his wife and stepson were living in Durham near where Burdick Road turns a sharp ninety-degrees. A car traveling at high velocity that missed the left turn in front of his house would surely fly right into the middle of it.
Turns out that’s exactly what happened one bizarre night in 2000. The family had just finished watching a movie, and had retired to other rooms, when a teenager who had been drag-racing slammed into their humble abode, engine roaring, and landed smack-dab in the middle of their living room, where they had all been gathered moments before.
“It sounded like a bomb went off,” recalled Peters, who had just gotten into the shower.
No one was killed, or even seriously injured.
Around the same time, Peters’ best childhood and lifelong friend ("closer than blood brothers,” he notes), Brian Murphy died of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Moreover, Peters had been dealing with his father’s Alzheimer’s, as well as being evicted from his house.
For the next year or so Peters retreated to Bidwell Park, to contemplate, to grieve; perchance to heal.
Fortunately for the Chico native, the one-two punches of catastrophes in a short span led him through a dark night and into a new dawn of beauty and healing, which are evidenced by his photographs of Bidwell Park as well as his more “surreal” photographic art.
Suffering from insomnia, Peters stayed up at night working with his photos in Photoshop, making them surreal or abstract without knowing why at the time he tended to choose black, or dark and gloomy colors. He would later progress to brighter colors, which he considers now “a little beacon in that darkness,” symbolic of his recovery.
“I showed my work to my wife and son, and they thought it was ‘kind of interesting,’ “ Peters said.
He posted his portfolio for sale on a Web site but found few takers. He was feeling so low that he stopped writing songs and playing the guitar, something he had been doing for 25 years.
But then, fortune would have it that his wife, Lorie, bought him a digital camera. “I started taking pictures in the park to deal with the grief,” he recounted.
Mostly he took pictures of his dog during their long forays through Lindo Channel, where he and his friend Brian had spent so many happy days as children, exploring and playing, and of all the familiar trails and swimming holes in Bidwell Park.
He printed both the surreal and the park photos on 16-by-20 matte paper. He was initially disappointed that his surreal photos weren’t selling, and surprised that people were more interested in buying his nature pictures of the park.
“I thought, ‘Why not do a project on Bidwell Park?’ “
For the next year Peters went to all the places he used to go with his friends. The result is now on display at the Chico Creek Nature Center.
“John’s photos are beautiful,” gushed the executive director of the Center, Tom Haithcock. “John shares a philosophy with us at the nature center about increasing awareness for the beauty of Bidwell Park.”
In addition to the prints on display, Peters set up a computer slideshow display of more than 100 pictures taken in the park. All of them show a keen aesthetic for composition, color and lighting. Many shots of the swimming holes, the oaks and the canyon views will be familiar to natives, but there are many surprisingly serendipitous and unique photos that only someone who has spent a lot of time traipsing the creeks and dales would find.
Although his visits to the park were indispensable to his recovery from grief and trauma, Peters’ main goal for the Upper Bidwell Park Project has been to expose locals to the geological wonder.
“Many longtime residents, as well others newer to our community, don’t really have any idea what this local treasure offers us all, and why it’s so important to maintain and protect it for everyone’s sake,” Peters said. “The reason I keep doing it is because I’m finally doing something where so many people keep saying, ‘Yes!’ So I decided to follow the “ ‘yeses.’ “