Departments — 14 August 2015
Following the light: Remembering Peter Langone


Editor’s note: We were saddened to note the passing Aug. 12 of photographer Peter Langone, at home in Fort Lauderdale at the age of 65. Mr. Langone worked on a number of projects for the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, which this year is dedicated in his memory. “Artistically, no one during my 27 FLiFF years has contributed as much to the Film Festival,” says Gregory von Hausch, President and CEO of FLiFF. “FLiFF will hold a celebration of Peter’s life on Tuesday, Nov. 10, at 5:30 p.m. at Cinema Paradiso in Fort Lauderdale. All of Peter’s close friends and invited.” Mr. Langone also contributed to City & Shore Magazine, including a memorable cover story on Donald Trump in the July/August 2004 issue. He was the subject himself of a cover profile by Matt Schudel in our Sunday magazine, Sunshine, on Sept. 4, 1994, which we excerpt here in tribute to an extraordinary life, artist and man.

By Matt Schudel

Far below the equator, toward the southern tip of Chile, a weathered fisherman was bringing in his catch from the sea. He pulled a sea urchin from his haul, shook it in a plastic bag with vinegar and spices, then swallowed it whole.

He beckoned to the American photographer standing on the dock. He handed a fresh urchin to Peter Langone, who ate the spiny seafood raw, made a friend and found a subject for his camera.

For Langone, it was the kind of moment that can never be planned, but that he always has to be prepared for. He photographed the fisherman, with his wry, weather-hardened face, and emerged with a glimpse of the South American soul.

“There’s a certain overall energy that just … happens,” says Langone, trying to describe a phenomenon that cannot be put in words. “When that moment comes, you have a great picture.”

Chances are that even if you’ve never heard of Peter Langone (pronounced lan-GO-nee), you’ve probably seen his work. He is a commercial photographer whose pictures have become the advertising images of Alamo Rent-a-Car, American Express, Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, Heineken, Kodak, Ryder Systems, numerous cruise lines and other major companies.

His name seldom appears on his work, but that does not lessen the level of his art. It takes the gift of imagination to create a lasting, memorable image that will make people want to spend money.

At 44, Peter Langone is one of the very best in the country at what he does. For six to nine months of the year, he travels all over the world, managing photo shoots that cost well into six figures. He has three agents who handle his work. He leads an exciting, even glamorous life.

“I make my living with a camera,” he says. “I look forward each morning to going to work.”

But that simple declaration doesn’t go far enough. It can’t explain the larger purpose that keeps Langone on the move, keeps him peering through the lens in search of the perfect colors, the perfect light. Even in the most ordinary commercial projects, he seeks a spiritual dimension to give his work – and his life – a deeper meaning.

“There’s an energy force that you can feel if you allow yourself to feel it,” he says. “This is my definition of success – feeling that energy.”

LANGONE WAS BORN AND RAISED in Queens, N.Y. (“I’m 100 percent Italian.”) He started working as a photographer at 16, when a friend’s father bought a camera to keep the two boys out of trouble.

“I became interested in the darkroom end of it,” Langone says. Before long, he was taking pictures and developing film for the whole neighborhood.

“My study of photography was trial-and-error,” he says. “Photography was then and is now my hobby, my love.”

He left college (New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology) to come to Fort Lauderdale in 1970. He was 20 years old when he opened his first studio.

“The reason I moved here,” he explains, “is that Florida has my favorite time of year – summer – all year.”

He began with standard studio photography: weddings, bar mitzvahs, family portraits – “everything everybody does.” In the early years, he drove a cab in Fort Lauderdale to support himself.

In 1977, he went out on his own and cultivated corporate accounts. He took pictures of executives for annual reports and gradually moved into the high-budget advertising accounts that have become his signature. Today, his average price for a two-week photo shoot runs from $80,000 to $250,000, and his work has taken him from Buenos Aires to Bali.

Langone travels with 18 to 24 cases of photographic equipment, weighing up to 1,600 pounds. He registers his equipment with U.S. Customs when he leaves the country, so that he can get it back in without paying duty. He uses 35mm, 2 1/4-inch and 4-by-5-inch cameras. In those two dozen cases, he has backup systems for everything – lighting, cameras, lenses, batteries.

“Under no circumstances is our film X-rayed,” he notes.

He once left his assistant behind in Spain to negotiate through the U.S. embassy for two days to keep his film from being X-rayed. Another time, he had to open each roll of film – more than 1,000 in all – at a German airport.

LANGONE WEARS NO WATCH. He has silver bracelets on his wrists and three earrings in his left ear. His hair is fashionably long, and his usual office outfit is jeans, T-shirt and sandals. On most mornings he’s up by 5:30 to watch the sunrise, to do his T’ai chi exercises and practice Chinese meditation.

If he weren’t so successful, so easygoing and earthy, it would be tempting to dismiss him as another lost soul of the Aquarian Age. But he believes his professional success stems directly from his intuitive approach to life.

“This is how we shoot in a foreign country,” he explains. “We follow the light. The `light’ represents the sunlight, but first of all you follow the light within yourself.

“It never has failed. I’ve never had any danger, never had any problem.”

He has photographed ships in Greece, gauchos in Argentina, fishermen in Florida and a “retired” headhunter in Asia. In six weeks, Langone might go from Fort Lauderdale to California, back to Fort Lauderdale, then on to London and Italy. For his vacation this year, he plans to go to India to take pictures and to explore Hindu meditation methods.

“The important thing I’ve discovered about travel,” he says, “is feeling the heartbeat of a place.”

There was the time in Istanbul when he met a Turk over breakfast. Neither spoke the other’s language, yet somehow they communicated. The Turk invited Langone to join him for a cup of coffee.

“I talked in English, he talked in Turkish, and we laughed,” Langone recalls. “We didn’t understand each other – but we understood each other. We shook hands, smiled, and I left. This is life.”

When several boys traipsed after Langone as he was shooting a scene of a boat on a river in Istanbul, he turned his camera on them as they clowned and played. The resulting image – a universal scene of mischievous innocence – has won several awards.

A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO Langone spent seven weeks in South America, photographing local scenes for a cruise line.

“I went from hot weather to 200 miles from Antarctica,” he recalls. “It was a great experience.”

In Buenos Aires, he was scheduled to photograph tango dancers in a dingy dance hall. Instead, he strolled along the streets until he saw a house he liked. He knocked on the door and paid the owner a fee to use the outside of the house for his photographs, which he shot from an apartment across the street.

But before he took the pictures, he and his assistants painted over some graffiti on the house and spent four hours setting up lights. As Langone shot the nighttime scene – a couple dancing the tango on a balcony as musicians played on the street below – an old woman watched from her own balcony next door. Charmed by her presence, Langone included her in his photograph.

“If you have a great light, a great subject, and a great time of day, you have a great picture,” he says. “Everyone is in tune, everything is flowing, the magic moment happens – and I’m pushing the button.”

He spent time on an Argentine estancia (ranch), getting to know the gauchos. In his moody photograph of father-and-son gauchos, the hazy streak of light was produced by Langone’s assistant, kicking up dust with his sneakers.

In a swamp near Jacksonville, Langone was photographing a fisherman as he tossed his handmade net in the water. In another boat off-camera, a smoke machine created the effect of early-morning mist.

Langone, shooting from a dock and slapping mosquitoes, gave orders through a walkie-talkie in the bottom of the fisherman’s skiff. After the fisherman had thrown the net 50 times, he complained that he was getting tired.

“Don’t complain,” Langone told him. “The sun looks great. Throw it again!”

That’s when Langone got just the right shot, with the net framing the sun.

Much happens in the taking of a photograph that the world does not see. Those familiar shots of new cars driving down empty western highways don’t just happen. A water truck drives ahead, wetting the road, and the photographer follows the car in a helicopter to shoot from the proper angle.

A simple scene of a swimming pool will require silver reflective panels and sometimes Plexiglas structures for people to float on.

This week’s Sunshine cover photo shows a woman in a yellow swimsuit lying on a red beach. It looks like something shot with heavy filters or manipulated by computer graphics, but that’s not the case. The scene was shot on Fort Lauderdale beach; Langone spread red fish-tank gravel over red shower curtains, which he held in place with two-by-fours in the water. He used tungsten film to make the ocean look a striking blue.

Langone did manipulate an image when he photographed a sleek ocean liner, the Renaissance Line’s Silver Cloud, off the coast of Greece. He had only one chance to get the picture, cutting across the path of the ship in a small tender, 20 feet in front of its prow.

“The adrenaline rush was amazing,” he recalls.

Back in the studio, he liked his photo of the ship, but he didn’t like the sky behind it. With electronic equipment, he superimposed a sky he had shot in Asia, leaving the ship to sail through Greek waters beneath an Oriental sky.

“When I was getting into photography,” Langone says, “people tried to make it mysterious. But I have no secrets whatever. It has nothing to do with the camera. It has to do with your vision.”

FOR 24 YEARS, FROM CAB driver to jet-setting commercial photographer, Langone has always come back to Fort Lauderdale. He has six full-time employees, drives a Mercedes convertible and lives in a custom-designed penthouse apartment near the beach. If he doesn’t have to be at his studio, he sometimes spends the day at the beach, speaking with clients around the country on a portable phone. He likes to tell them exactly where he is, especially during the winter.

“After 24 years, I still feel I’m on vacation,” he says. “I don’t `like’ Fort Lauderdale. I love it.”

Langone is the divorced father of a 10-year-old son (Peter Jr.) who lives with his mother but has traveled with his father to Italy, Greece and South America. Langone makes a videotape of his son each year, to document his passage through life.

“He represents innocence, pure energy and happiness,” says Langone. “When I watch my son, money is not important.”

He often shoots photographs for Fort Lauderdale charities, working for free. He has done a series for the Daily Bread Food Bank, in which well-known Floridians, including Don Shula and Sen. Bob Graham, hold a sign reading, “I’ll Work for Food.”

His walls are full of national advertising awards. In his first foray into video last year, he did a spot for a Palm Beach mall and won a local advertising award as best director.

In stark contrast to his glossy, high-profile advertising work, Langone works on several private projects in black and white. He is shooting a series of photographs at Fort Lauderdale nightclubs, plus a second series of interesting people around town. Gallery 721 in Fort Lauderdale handles his work.

Peter Langone has no plans to retire, to slow down, to shift to a new career. There are too many scenes to shoot, and there is always the light that leads him on.

“I’m always wanting to take a picture,” he says. “To keep making beautiful pictures is what I want to do. The childlike excitement has never left me, and I hope it never does.”

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