Self-portrait with rooster
Peter Peryer


Peter Peryer
Self-portrait with rooster
Production date:
Accession No:
229 x 229mm
Black and white photograph

Collection Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth. Purchased from Monica Brewster Bequest in 1982.

Peter Peryer’s Self-portrait with Rooster is a strangely arresting image. As a composition it is spare, containing only a few elements. However, these elements — figure, clothing, rooster, wall — have been carefully combined to produce a photograph that is as unsettling as it is compelling.

The rooster is a surreal inclusion in the photograph, providing a hint of the comically absurd or the curiously out-of-kilter. This sense of strangeness, of something being not quite right, is repeated in the details of Peryer’s dress. His suit is old-fashioned, even for 1977 when the photograph was taken. His hair has been swept over to one side of his head by a wind that doesn’t appear to be affecting anything else in the picture. The photograph seems like a still from a movie in the way that it hints at a larger narrative. What has happened here? What is about to happen?

Self-portrait with Rooster has a brooding anxiety that is offset by a touch of the theatrical. Man and rooster look equally ill at ease. With an injured expression, Peryer clasps the rooster to his chest protectively. Roosters, with their associations of virility and machismo, are usually depicted strutting proudly, displaying glossy plumage. The rooster that Peryer clutches so anxiously seems rather bedraggled. As well as their popular association with male sexual potency, roosters also suggest the Biblical story of St Peter. When Jesus was arrested, St Peter escaped arrest himself by fearfully denying his relationship with Christ :before the cock crowed” as Christ had predicted he would. The two Peters, photographer and saint, are conflated into a tragic-comic figure who stands, back against the wall, as if before a firing squad, glaring anxiously down the camera’s lens.