Peter Bjerg: Old Ways to a New Order

Our world has been in a constant state of production and consumption since the industrial revolution. As we gain more knowledge about how to make production faster and cheaper, many people have forgotten the romanticism in craftsmanship. The transparency of the resources we use to make goods today is harder and harder to track. We often neglect the stories and origin of the products we use.

Coffee is a prime example of rapid production, but fortunately, as specialty coffee gains popularity, more people are interested in what goes on behind the scenes of coffee processing. There has been a constant fight between craftsmanship and industrialization for centuries. As machinery and factories increase production, the quality has drastically declined. Looking back at the Arts and Crafts Movement, it took a large group of dedicated artists and craftsmen to remind us of the importance of quality, aesthetics, and craft.

When speaking about the Arts and Crafts Movement, William Morris is a name that comes up often. A multi-faceted designer, poet, artist, and printmaker, he is a major contributor to reviving the traditions in textiles and prints. He believed in the value of craftsmanship and quality that comes with time. Like William Morris, Peter Bjerg is a Danish analogue photographer, and a creative designer that wears many hats.

Photography is one of his professions, but he is also a social proces designer, both freelance and in a job as municipal “democracy co-worker for and wi th the youth”. He is the creator of ISSUES Magazine, coffee lover and definitely a tinkerer. Both William Morris and Peter Bjerg have one thing in common: the appreciation for quality, traditions, and the quest for perfection. In the world of coffee, traditions, quality and time shape the beverage that many people love today.

Learning old ways and applying innovation to tradition is a large part of the specialty coffee industry. Through understanding Peter as a creative individual, we will explore the idea of a new order that he has created for himself in search of the ancient Greek concept of Arete and how keeping it doing things analogue helped him perfect his craft through touch and feel. With the rapidly changing specialty coffee world, perhaps reminding ourselves of old ways is the next step to a new wave.

Peter has always been interested in photography ever since he was young. He learned black-andwhi te ana logue photog r aphy a t s chool and l a te r became a model to help fund his col lege to pursue film school studies. His experience of being on both s ides of the camera gives him ins ight into how to connect wi th hi s subject s and produce photos that vibrate with emotions.

When speaking with Peter, he mentioned that Arete is a Greek concept that he resonates with. Simply put, Arete is the pursuit of excellence in what you do. Peter’s pursuit of excellence is through the tactile process of everything he does. His approach to photography is similar to his approach to making coffee. The more manual and aware the process is, the better. He believes that “the world doesn’t really need another photo”, but it’s enjoyable to make a good photo, in many ways. The very act of seeing someone, a face, a gesture and transform it into a photograph, with all the steps technique and decision that is at play. It is the subject and the connection to the subject during the process that is important, but also the connection of the photographer and the machines and materials used in the photomaking. “I aim for high quality by a touch-and-feel effort combined with a curiosity for exciting knowledge out there. I have a very tactile approach, but I also love to study the advice and skills of others,” he says.

The tangible results with coffee or photography, come from the hours of fun, mastering the skills and process through experience and touch and feel.

Peter doesn’t purposely talk to his subjects to make them feel at ease. Instead, he relates very directly to the subjects. He explains that it’s his responsibility how they look in the photograph. “ My subjects can’t change the way they look. I can, with the way, I use the light, the way I angle the camera. They should never think about the way they look. But they have to establish some level of trust in themselves and with me, or at least the camera, so that there is a good handfull of “here I am”, and whatever feeling and look that brings. We are in the middle of making a photo, a portrait, together. And with an ordinary person, not a model or showperson, perhaps this interaction, this state of being is only there for five minutes out of a whole hour. And you know for sure, when it’s there, and when it isn’t.”What Peter describes is like making a good cup of coffee. You need a process in which what is inside comes to its full potential. You need to reveal its inner greatness and flavour. To do that, you need to roast, grind, steam pretty decisively. Peter comments “I don’t roast my subjects for a portrait (like Avedon someties did), but I am very direct and know I have to work at it, to work them, give them a good steam and a nice cup to land in.”

A Craftsman’s Mindset

Peter’s quest for Arete isn’t just in the final product itself. He is dedicated to understanding every detail of his process. Rather than purchasing a new espresso machine, he chose a faulty second-hand lever espresso maker. He is interested in tinkering and fixing the machine to understand what he is working with; constantly looking for a meaningful connection with his surroundings. Instead of following strict guidelines, Peter prefers to learn by doing and from experience. By creating this relationship with everything he does, it is as if he is giving a voice to the objects, or the projects he works on. It is no longer a single-sided creation, but rather a conversation with whatever he does in the process. “I enjoy the quest for Arete, by knowing the main variables and then applying hands-on practice and attention to every tactile feedback from the things at hand. It’s much more fun than following strict recipes and weighing out everything, I think.”

Passing on the Arete

Another “conversation” Peter has created is the ISSUES magazine. It is a creative workshop where teenagers get together to discuss issues they care about, and then they make a magazine out of that, in words and artwork. He believes that the younger generations have a lot to say but they often don’t get to express it enough. It is a platform for them to have creative freedom to express what they want, and how they want it. A conversation that creates new perspectives of young voices often unheard or misunderstood. Peter also hosts workshops teaching people photography and eco-friendly film development. He teaches the caffenol method which uses coffee as one of the main components of developing his films. Aside from being a delicious beverage, coffee also contains a chemical compound called caffeic acid.

This chemical compound is not only present in coffee but in many other foods like strawberries and beer. A mixture of ingredients including coffee is concocted to create this environmentally friendly film developer. It takes longer to develop the films but the results are beautiful in their unpredictable way. Through this tactile and engaging workshop, he teaches his participants how accessible it is to develop their film with common household items that are not harmful to the environment. It is clear to see that Peter’s quest for Arete isn’t by taking shortcuts. He is committed to understanding the process, what makes sense and what is right. While the world is moving towards frontiers we don’t understand, Peter chooses to slow down and learn the way to connect with his surroundings. The coffee industry as it moves through different waves is also experiencing its quest for Arete.

This is no small fleet, as commodity coffee still makes up the majority of the coffee consumed around the world. Coffee farmers are often underpaid and overworked in the commodity coffee market. Coffee transparency is a great way to understand where your coffee is coming from and ensure that your coffee producers and farmers are being paid a fair share for their hard work. There are many different components within the coffee chain from bean to cup. It is easy to neglect the big network of people who have connected with the coffee that is in front of you.

With higher coffee transparency comes well-paid workers and higher-quality beans produced. What coffee professionals and enthusiasts can learn from Peter is the importance of creating conversations and connections with people and our surroundings. By doing so, we can generate dialogues with everyone involved in the coffee journey. This is a crucial step to raising the standards of the quality of coffee and more importantly the quality of the lives of people who work so hard to bring this much-loved beverage to our daily routine. Revisiting what makes specialty coffee great and improving its transparency of origins and trade is the old way to a new order.