Pipe Dream sat down with Peter Guttman, ’76, an author, photographer, adventurer and lecturer who created two book series and has authored eight books featuring his extensive travel discoveries collected during assignments to 240 countries. He is also is the creator of Beautiful Planet, a travel app that features his photography and writings. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Pipe Dream: How did you get into photography and storytelling, and how does it relate to your TED talk, “Ensuring Your Soul Doesn’t Grow Gray Before Your Hair Does?”
Peter Guttman: I had my artwork exhibited when I was in kindergarten, and it opened a door for me. I was always interested in drawing and I actually took up photography, which became a way of expressing myself artistically with the immediate gratification. I became a tour guide, which helped to hone my ability to speak, discuss things and try to inspire people with what they were seeing around them. I was traveling across North America on trips that were between three days and 31 days long with a tourism company and spent a great deal of time on a microphone, discussing the beauty of what was going on outside the window. As I discuss in my TED talk, to me, the main epiphany in my life has been being more interested in crafting a life than making a living. So when you say career, I have half a dozen aspects to it, from lecturer to fine artist to app developer to creator to photography to writer to author. So I express myself in many different ways. I’ve always had an intent to attempt to stuff as many experiences into to this one mortality span as possible, which is the gist of my TED talk.
PD: What was it like to make an app as a photographer?
PG: An app developer contacted me and said he wanted to use all my content for the app. He’s actually doing the coding, but I’m doing all the writing, images and geolocation. It became the iPad’s very first best-selling app for travel, which was exciting.
PD: This year’s TEDx theme is “Ignite.” How does that theme tie into your work and your talk?
PG: It’s interesting that one of the lines of my talk is about how a particular experience sparked my final epiphany, and I think the words “spark” and “ignite” are sort of in the same family. It’s all about epiphanies. My talk is about my journey stumbling across epiphanies and each epiphany is a kind of philosophical ignition of purpose.
PD: Do you think your soul has ever gotten close to growing gray before your hair did?
PG: Yeah, that was during my time here on campus in Binghamton when I had my one and only midlife crisis, as detailed in the talk I’m going to give. I used to live in Bingham Hall in Newing. The main thing to do is try to understand yourself enough to be able to identify what your most authentic sense of excitement is. When you can identify that, you need to steer toward it.
PD: What do you think is the best story you’ve ever told through a picture?
PG: I can’t tell you the whole story because it’s in my talk, which you are welcome to attend. But it’s about building a snowman in front of a total eclipse. That image landed me my first meeting with National Geographic. Those were my starving artist days and I took a Greyhound bus out to North Dakota.