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Bread & Roses Blog

News and information from Bread & Roses, a non-profit organization that presents live music to bring hope, healing and joy to the community.

Peter Merts, Volunteer Photographer: Images of Joy in Shows for Isolated Audiences

Darkness Into Light at the Pomeroy Recreation and Rehab Center in San Francisco, Chris Donohoe at Center Point in San Rafael, Aline deForge and Emmanuel Presselin at The Tamalpais in Greenbrae, Marisa Nordstrom at Marin Learning Center in Marin City, Fancy von Pancerton at North Bay Children's Center in Novato,  Miss Kitty at the Marin Learning Center, The Bread & Roses Holiday Chorus at Vision Impaired of Marin in San Rafael, Sylvia & the Silvertones at Center for Elders Independence in Oakland, Aaron Kierbel at BAHIA in Oakland, these are just some of the recent institutional shows that Peter Merts has helped us document (and are seen in this order in the above slide show).

A San Rafael photographer, Peter has been a volunteer for Bread & Roses Presents for over thirty years. He is a great example of the many ways that donated professional services help to accomplish our mission and move us forward. We have been fortunate that photographers including Robert Altman, Jay Blakesberg, Ken Friedman, the late Jim Marshall, Bill Nichols and many others have contributed to our cause.

Peter first heard about our program when he attended a B&R Festival of Music in the late 70s at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley. A few months later, he was at his job in a Marin restaurant where he noticed our founder, the late Mimi Fariña, was one of his customers. He introduced himself and asked if he could help. He began as a volunteer by providing food backstage for three days at the next festival. Not long afterwards, he was a staff event coordinator until he left in 1982. He’s been volunteering ever since.

Of his motivation to keep giving back all these years, he said; “The B&R mission is powerful and that has much to do with my longevity. I get a real lift from witnessing the performances and the joy that they bring. I love being around artists and a part of the B&R family—the volunteers, performers, staff and board. And once I started, I never wanted to stop.”

Since 2003, Peter's main contribution has been through photography. He has a special gift for capturing the magic between artist and audience. Of his volunteer work, he says; “I love the challenge of documenting the institutional shows. All of us who have attended a B&R program know the magic that happens in them. I have set myself the challenge of trying to capture this magic in images. It is ultimately an impossible task–but its pursuit has driven vast improvement in my skill as a documentary/event photographer.”

Recently retired from a career in information technology, photography is the main thing that Peter does these days —mostly as a volunteer. He credits his experience with B&R as being pivotal to giving his life meaning and expanding other opportunities as well.


"It was through photographing a B&R institutional show in 2008 with dancers Mamta and Kusum at the Fairfax San Anselmo Children’s Center that I met a couple who ran a free school for poor children in Rishikesh, India. From this connection I was invited to India, where I spent ten days at their school, documenting the children and their activities,” he said.

“The biggest spinoff for me has been my involvement, over the last ten years, in documenting prison art programs. I was photographing a B&R concert at San Quentin when I was asked about taking photos of art classes for the inmates as well. I jumped at the opportunity and am now involved in photographing programs in state prisons throughout California," said Peter.  His photos are also featured in "Paths of Discovery:Art Practice and Its Impact in California Prisons," a book he co-created with writer Larry Brewster.

Below is a slide show of the B&R institutional show photos he's taken through the years. We’ve also got some of Peter’s photos in our office in Corte Madera. Stop by when you have a chance to take a look. And let us know if you might have a professional service you’d like to contribute, or would like to volunteer or offer support in other ways.

Photos by Peter Merts

Post by Marian Hubler

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Wednesday, 20 September 2017

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