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In The Studio: Peter Fraser, photographer

'The luminosity of Flemish portraits and still-lifes attracted me'

Peter Fraser is a major British photographer, whose importance has been acknowledged by the Photographers' Gallery, London, which staged a 20-year survey of Fraser's work in 2002. He was shortlisted for the Citibank Photography Prize in 2004 and counts among his students Wolfgang Tilmans and Jeremy Millar.

We are sitting today in his comfortable sitting room in south-east London, where he works and lives with his second wife, a therapist. The room, like so many live- and work-space environments is dominated by work – in this case an impressive set up of computer and printers and desk at one end of the room.

I am immediately drawn to one of his photographs – a deceptively simplistic still life of a basket of grapes and apples. What captivates the eye is the detail – the bloom of the grapes and the blush of the cheeks of the apple. Fraser declares that this is the quality of the prints he has been making with a pigment printer and has completely transformed his working process, making him discard previous work in the series. "It was seeing the purple of a beetroot or red cabbage," he says earnestly, "I knew this was something different".

Fraser's choice of still-life as a subject is not surprising; he lived in Holland for several years, earning a living washing dishes in a hospital while spending his free time in museums. "There was not a lot of photography to look at, so I spent my time looking at 15th-century Flemish painting of landscapes and still-life. It was the luminosity of the portraits and still-lifes that attracted me."

Fraser, born in 1953, had his first solo show in York in 1982, although he admits that it was only fairly recently that he was making a living from photography. He started his photographic career in Hebden Bridge after returning from Holland before landing up in Manchester. There he completed his first set of gritty urban landscapes, the subject of his first exhibition. I suggest that the subject matter was semi-documentary and he says "No, I am not a documentary photographer," leaving me to explain that whether he agrees or not, the early works together provide a documentation of a time of urban grittiness. He admits that "artists make propositions in their work".

Fraser is quick to confess his admiration for the American photographer William Eggleston. The two met at an opening at the V&A museum; Fraser was there with a borrowed ticket given to him by the photographer Martin Parr.

Fraser was inspired enough to pack up his possessions and go to Memphis, Tennessee. "It was not long after arriving in America that I realised I was a European and returned to England". Fraser says that Eggleston with his "ability to find beauty in the banal has changed the way we look at the world". Fraser has the same ability, albeit with European-shaped eyes.

Peter Fraser, Tate St Ives (tate.org.uk) to 6 May