Mid-week long read: shoot on Sunday …
Whenever he had a few hours off, Ed Peter would head to the other side of New York’s East River. There, in Brooklyn, he would park up on a hill above the port and take in the view. “Watching the sun set over Manhattan was incredible.”
Ed worked for Porsche for most of his adult life. It was everything Porsche from Monday through Saturday, but on Sundays the Stuttgart-born ex-pat would indulge his other great passion. Ed would roam the often-empty streets and suburbs of 1960s and 70s New York with a camera, documenting the changing landscapes with his beloved 911s in the foreground. “New York impressed me immensely back then,” he recalled some 50 years later from his home on the Killesberg in Stuttgart. “It was overwhelming because everyone was so open and you could talk to anyone.”
And everyone wanted to talk to this mysterious man, who had parked a Porsche somewhere in the middle of this sprawling metropolis, pulled out his Edixa camera and started shooting. “That wasn't a problem at all in New York back then,” he said. “I just had to shoot fast because people just flocked to the cars.” The small, curvaceous 911 stood out among the wide and angular cruisers that lined the streets of New York in period, and Ed enjoyed the attention. "They always asked, 'What fantastic car is this?' Some people didn't even know then that Porsche existed.”
Born Erdhardt Michael Peter in 1931, Ed came to Porsche in 1964 — quite literally as it turns out. He was unhappy in his job at another car manufacturer, and made an appointment to see Porsche’s sales manager. He wanted to know if Ed spoke any English, and as luck would have it, Ed was playing a lot of basketball against the Americans stationed in Stuttgart at the time. So he answered in perfect English, albeit with a distinct American accent. “That really impressed him,” Ed remembered. He soon found himself assistant to the export manager, and two years later he was given responsibility for the US market.
Ed’s love of photography arrived a little earlier, when he travelled to the 1957 Monaco Grand Prix alongside motorsport photographer Julius Weitmann. “Back then, we were speeding around the race track in such huge boxes. There were no crash barriers at that time either.” Thrilled and fascinated by what he saw, Ed pursued photography as a hobby thereafter, almost always with cars as the subject. By the time he arrived in the US, it was taking up most of his free time.
Sunday was usually shoot day. This was when he would drive to the Hudson River on the New Jersey side, or to Harlem in the morning. On the Hudson he would regularly have to speak to the police, having parked a brightly coloured 911 somewhere untoward to get the perfect shot. “But the police were always friendly,” Ed said, “and my Porsche always helped me in that respect.”
In his lifetime, Peter captured thousands of Porsche cars to their best advantage, usually a 911 and more often than not a Cabriolet or Targa. But he never had a favourite angle. “A Porsche is beautiful all over," he said. "It's all a matter of looking — and I've always photographed intuitively.” And it was important to him that the car fitted in with its surroundings. “The great thing back then in New York was that the cars and the architecture fitted so well together. Somehow it looks like they were taken yesterday — if I didn't know any better.”
There is definitely a timelessness to Ed’s photographs, but they are also fascinating snapshots of an increasingly distant period in the progress of one of the world’s most remarkable cities, and of one of its most important cars.
Ed never again photographed as much as he did during his time in the US. In the 1970s he returned to Germany, became division manager of sales and export, and retired in 1993. Luckily for us, he decided to digitised tens of thousands of slides and store them on his computer. “Most of the photos didn't leave my apartment," he said of the vast and captivating archive. "They were my personal diary." A diary too beautiful not to be shared.
A few months after our interview, on 16 June, 2019, Ed Peter passed away at the age of 87.