It is that willingness to think before he snaps that makes Serling, 31, one of the photographers PEOPLE'S picture editors turn to most often. In the past year alone he has trained his lens on five shipwrecked Costa Ricans (July 11), Hugh Hefner's former playmate Carrie Leigh (May 9), Hair-spray director John Waters and 28 others. "Peter has an incredible ability to conjure up dramatic pictures," says PEOPLE Picture Editor M.C. Marden. "He puts a lot of thought into each shoot—you can always see his mind working."
Raised in Connecticut, Serling majored in philosophy at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he took pictures for the campus newspaper. His first job after his 1981 graduation involved photographing cars in Detroit. He headed for New York after six months, landed a spot assisting portrait photographer Arnold Newman, and within a year his work was appearing in such diverse publications as Opera News, Parade, GQ and West Germany's Der Spiegel. His first assignment for PEOPLE, shooting artists and their art at the now-defunct Manhattan club Area, came in 1985.
Even in his off-hours, Serling, who is single, is fond of meditating on his craft. "I'm interested in the reality of the image and how it relates to our illusion," he says. Not that he is concerned with aesthetics exclusively. "I'm also interested," he adds, "in making a living."
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