Photojournalist Peter Guttman, ’76, travels the continents in search of life-affirming work
Fly to the tip of South America. Board an icebreaker to cross the great passage. Helicopter to mainland Antarctica and hike through minus 40-degree temperatures.
This is the journey that travel photojournalist Peter Guttman, ‘76, took to reach his subject: emperor penguins.
“[Photojournalism is] about stretching the boundaries of your comfort zone and basically trying to overcome fear and anxiety to basically push into new frontiers of living life as fully as possible,” Guttman said.
Guttman is a photographer, writer, app creator, artist, lecturer and adventurer who has traveled the seven continents throughout his career. He has gone tornado-chasing across the United States, exploring in Panamanian jungles and gorilla-tracking in Ugandan rainforests.
As a preteen, Guttman was determined to pursue medicine and he assisted scientists Willem Johan Kolff and Robert Jarvik in researching and developing internal power sources for the artificial heart.
“When the very first article was written about me, I was 12 years old,” he said. “I was offered a job when I finished college and I could’ve been the [next] Robert Jarvik.”
When Guttman started at Binghamton University, he was on a pre-med track. However, after a short time — and a lot of thinking — his life took a new direction. He graduated with a major in geography with the goal of traveling the globe.
“I just realized that the world was so huge and vast and I really wanted to sample it in a full and complete way,” he said. “I felt that if I stayed in medicine that wasn’t going to be happening.”
After college, he worked as a tour guide, traveling and developing a photography portfolio throughout the United States. Meanwhile, he was learning the art of storytelling with his tour audiences, telling captivating tales of the trees and roads outside of the bus windows. But Guttman wanted to go beyond the boundaries of the United States, so he got a job with Fodor’s Travel, which brought him to different continents.
He ultimately began pitching his photos to different publications, and eventually established a career in photojournalism.
“I found it vastly more compelling to follow my own dreams and impulses and explore those things that drove my curiosity in the strongest way,” Guttman said.
In his words, the photos are a “whirlwind kaleidoscopic roller coaster” ranging from exotic Indiana Jones-style adventures to quirky local stops around the corner.
Guttman has authored eight image-driven books featuring his travels. His photography was also made into Beautiful Planet HD, a best-selling travel app.
His work has been celebrated with numerous news features and awards. Guttman was the first recipient of BU’s Alumni Achievement Award and received the George Eastman Power of the Image Award in Beijing, China.
The subject matter of his photography ranges from the seemingly mundane to the overtly spectacular. Guttman’s photos have been used primarily for photojournalistic purposes, but he considers himself an artist in his approach.
“I’m primarily going through life as an artist,” he said. “I use my journalistic talents as a tool and a skill in order to convey my artistic impulses in a manner that can help inform and educate and illuminate and illustrate my feelings and my ideas.”
After more than three decades as a photographer, Guttman still has a long list of trips to take, including hiking to the peak of Mount Everest and experiencing the culture in Yemen.
According to Guttman, his own sense of mortality drives him toward more adventure.
“The limited time we have, I see it as such a blessing and I think that’s what spurred on that first and only midlife crisis in Binghamton University,” he said. “If I was only going to have this one limited lifespan, I was going to try to cram it with as many experiences as possible. I saw it as my only way of cheating Mother Nature was to live as many lifetimes as possible.”