How I Came to be a Photographer

I was born in the middle of the winter in Stockholm, Sweden in 1945 as Pierre Ove Stefan Rosenmalm. My mother was a single woman who worked at sea as a cook. During a period at home ashore, she met my father. According to old documents he was a French refugee who had already left Sweden by the time I was born. It is not clear if he ever knew of my existence.

Nine months old

Seven years old


Being a poor single mother in the 40s was not acceptable and I was taken from my mother at five months of age and placed in a foster home. I never came home to her again.
When I was a year and a half old, I was adopted by my foster parents and now got the name Pierre Ove Stefan Stenström. I lived with them until the age of six when they, several foster children and I were all poisoned by carbon monoxide from a faulty chimney flue. My adoptive parents became so ill that they did not feel capable of caring for me and placed ads in the newspaper to find me foster parents.

John Zoetterman and I in 1953


I was placed in a succession of foster homes for a period of two years until I finally landed with John and Mai Zoetterman who adopted me at 8 years of age. Now I had my third surname, Zoetterman.

My new father, John, was an avid photo enthusiast and this rubbed off on me. Therefore, I started photographing almost instantly. It gave me a sense of security to do something important together with the head of the family in my new home. He gave me my first camera already then, a box camera.

My father was away in business with LM Ericsson most of the time and I grew up in a calm home with my dog Ali and my mother who adored me and encouraged me in everything. She was a piano teacher and also painted naivistically in oil. My best moments for many years were those every day when I came home from school and we sat in the kitchen and talked and drank hot chocolate and coffee.

One of my first photographs of my mother Mai, the photo of Ali and me was taken by my father John

my first cover in1970

In the beginning of the 1960s it was common for magazines and newspapers to publish photos of pretty girls with some text about them. These photos were often taken by young photo enthusiasts such as myself. I sold my first photo in that way in 1962.  

First sold photo

By 1963, I had turned 18 and was probably rather difficult as many young men often are. I didn’t want to work at LM Ericsson like my father but instead as a photographer. My father gave me an ultimatum: if I wanted to be a photographer I first had to go to sea to prove that I was a man and then I could choose myself what to do with my future.

That was when I joined the merchant marines where I worked from June 1963 until December 1965. While on the ships M/S Mimer, M/S Mode, M/S Vasaborg and M/S Stocksund in Rederi AB Svea, I visited all corners of the world.

My entire time at sea I concentrated on developing my photography. I took a correspondence course in photography, first 12 black and white sections and then a color photography course in five sections. 

I saved my money, drank Coca-Cola, purchased photo equipment in Japan and dreamed of later buying a Hasselblad camera. When the rest of the crew enjoyed themselves in bars, I went out taking photographs instead. Unfortunately it was quite expensive with film so I was never able to take as many photos as I wanted.

When I came home to Sweden again, I worked as a photographer's apprentice at Ateljé Sundahl from January 1966 to September 1966 until I joined the Swedish navy on September 15 as the deck head on a minesweeper. I stayed in the navy until December 1967.

Twenty-three years old, in 1968, I was accepted to the renowned photographer Christer Strömholm’s 3-year photo school with a photo story about a ship’s cook.

The pressure in school was quite hard with many tasks to complete and report in a short space of time. It forced me to learn how to plan my photography in a way I hadn’t done before.


With Mats Wilander in the BananaBlue studio at  Västmannagatan in Stockholm 2009


 The students were expected to already know the craft of photography, lighting and developing film. But now we learned advanced photo technology and how to crop/define the image already in the camera when taking the picture. We studied photo, film and art history which made us judge our own work from a historical perspective.

Under the inspirational and charismatic guidance of Christer Strömholm, my eye for photo was honed while I also developed my personal expression. He made me believe in myself and encouraged me to find my own strengths. He never wanted us to be copies of him.

Since school, I have mainly worked as a professional photographer. On the side, I have also continuously photographed for myself, everything that I find beautiful and interesting.

I have always been interested in form and shape and I consider women to have the most beautiful forms. I started photographing women very early and with age I have also become more sensitive to how many women feel bad about how they look.

I feel that all women are at their best when they are themselves. Anorexia, self-mutilation and low self-esteem are all expressions of a world that doesn’t value all these wonderful, competent, unique and irreplaceable women. I want to change that perception.
  Pierre Zoetterman
February 10, 2013
Text by Louise Forshell