Photographer John Francis Peters grew up in Upstate New York's Hudson River Valley. But because his mother is from Los Angeles and his father moved to San Diego, he always saw California as a place he could escape to, both literally and metaphorically.
“What my mom and I experienced [in Upstate New York] was a lot of hardship,” Peters explains. “California was always a part of me because of my parents. It was always a place that I could envision myself living in one day. I spent my summers there. It just had a really good energy. And so much diversity in one block. That was something I didn’t have Upstate.”
It was that experience that inspired Peters’s project California Winter, in which he photographed travelers seeking to discover themselves, to push against capitalist culture, and to run away from abusive homes. Some of his subjects include young veterans, hippies, and a guy who has been walking the country ever since his divorce. The project, according to Peters, relates back to his family’s nomadic, free-flowing lifestyle and his life in two different worlds.
One might see Peters’s California Winter series as a project about homelessness, but he cautions against that.
“We live in a world where everything is so tidy and homogenized. You can go anywhere in the world and see the same stores, the same trends, and the same habits. I’m interested in the people who push back on that, who find alternative ways to live their lives, who feel the system we have accepted isn’t working for them,” Peters says. “My subjects are not confined to being ‘homeless people.’ Upon first glance, I think that is the biggest misconception of my work.”
Peters’s art, including his California Winter project, is documentary photography. But it is not shot in a traditional "photojournalistic style." Although he captures found moments and engages with the environment around him, his work is not meant to simply inform. Instead, it serves as a bridge to different dimensions that people live in and pass through.
“What’s important is that we’re always pushing the dialogue of how to interpret different parts of not only ourselves, but our world,” he says. “A lot of people tend to repress and disregard the abstract relationship we have with life, but an artist’s job is to investigate that.”