Anders Petersen is noted for his intimate and personal documentary-style black-and-white photographs. He studied photography under Christer Stromholm in Sweden, 1966-1967. In 1967, he started to photograph the late-night regulars (prostitutes, transvestites, drunks, lovers, drug addicts) in a bar in Hamburg, Germany, named Café Lehmitz, and continued that project for three years. His photobook of the same name was published eight years later, in 1978, by Schirmer/Mosel in Germany, and then appeared in France (1979) and Sweden (1982). Café Lehmitz has since become regarded as a seminal book in the history of European photography.One of the photos from this series was later used as the cover art for Tom Waits' 1985 album Rain Dogs.
In 1970, he co-founded SAFTRA, the Stockholm group of photographers, with Kenneth Gustavsson. At the same time, he taught at Christer Stromholm's school. He has been director of the Göteborg School of Photography and Film. He began to photograph for magazines, and he continued his personal photo diary work, which continues to this day. He has photographed for extensive periods of time in prisons, mental asylums, and homes for old people.
In 1978, Petersen received a grant from the Swedish Authors' Foundation. In 2003, he was elected Photographer of the Year at the Recontres d'Arles. In 2007, he was one of four finalists for the £30,000 Deutsche Börse Photography Prize.
Petersen has published more than 20 books, mostly in Sweden, and has had solo and group exhibitions throughout Europe and Asia.