Mastering One Passion at a Time

Alum trades teaching for a vibrant career in photography

By Courtney Dunham

Marshall E. Peterson Jr. believes that you can’t be married to more than one person – or in his case, more than one “love.” And for now, he’s having a passionate love affair with photography.

The 1995 alum is finally making a big impact in the Spokane area with his photography after headlining dozens of photography shows and television specials in Latin America and several European countries.

The former teacher, who received his teaching certificate at EWU, taught for six years and absolutely loved it. So much so that he was often the first faculty member to arrive and the last to leave each day. He credits his amazing experience at EWU for preparing him to excel at teaching. The one-time musician and artist eventually decided that he had mastered the teaching profession and was ready for a new challenge.

“You’ve heard that expression that it takes 10,000 hours to master something?” he asked. “Well I believed that I had done that, so I wanted to explore another challenge.”

Peterson then picked his biggest challenge to date, which was to move to another country where he didn’t know a soul or speak the language. His life change landed him in Guadalajara, Mexico. Not knowing any Spanish, he purposely picked a non-resort city where he’d have to throw himself completely into the culture and learn to survive.

“It was like throwing myself into the ocean,” he said. “It really motivated me to learn the language and their culture as soon as I could. In order to live, you have to jump in and swim.”

Peterson immersed himself in as many cultural events that he could. Being a longtime musician – a drummer – it felt like a natural fit to start shooting photos of the musicians and venues of Latin America. He met a man who was starting a magazine, so he started shooting photos for that publication and became its editor. It was there in Guadalajara, which he calls the New York City of Mexico, where Peterson honed his craft and became Marshall the Photographer.

His photos received national attention, which eventually led to television specials and two published books of his work. He proudly browsed through his most recent book, SUB35 (Under 35): Portraits of Young Guadalajara, reciting a brief tale of everyone whom he had photographed. Although he built up quite a reputation for covering the Latin America music scene, it is his deep love of portraits that he’s focusing on now full time – and it’s what brought him back to Spokane.

“I spent almost 10 years in Mexico and had an amazing experience,” he says. “I just felt like it was time to come back to my community and show here.”

Peterson held his first show in the United States at the Spokane Public Library last January. The library gallery hosted an exhibit of stunning photos of the Mexican music scene. The show, Rock, Paper, Smoke!, featured selections from his first two publications, Rock Tapatio and Smoke Tapatio.

He said his hometown has changed quite a lot in the decade he was away, and he now proudly calls it a “vibrant and livable city.”

After mastering teaching, then Mexico and Spanish, Peterson said he’s ready to settle down now for a while in his community and continue to master his photography.

“I find it so interesting to capture people with my lens. And to focus on it back home, where my mom lives, just makes the choice that more certain.”

To see more of Peterson’s work, visit marshallinspokane.com.

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