Some of the best photographers and filmmakers in the world walk through our doors every day. ARC Presents is our series highlighting their work.
“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Great artists are always restlessly searching, experimenting, reinventing. The inability to be satisfied with one’s work is perhaps the most useful quality for development of a unique style. David Joseph Perez is always searching, and what a search it is. Each series on his site offers its own painstakingly envisioned world, which each succeed at his stated goal of ”sharing a moment on a level where people get inspired to live life and be beautiful and share experiences with each other… by looking at a picture.”
I had a chance to sit down with David recently to discuss his work, his career path and his goals as a photographer.
David Joseph Perez: I’ve been shooting seriously since I got to New York, which is about five years ago. I assisted for the first two years and freelanced as a photographer for the past three years.
I really got into it my senior year of college. I studied philosophy at Arizona State University, which is the biggest party school, and I don’t know if it was the beautiful women that changed mind from going to law school to being a fashion photographer. Nevertheless my senior year of college I made a decision to become a photographer and never looked back.
Actually, my first job when I came to New York was at Adorama Rentals. I thought it was the perfect place to come to learn about equipment, because coming out of college with no knowledge of the ins and outs and nuts and bolts of the equipment involved, wouldn’t even get you taken seriously.
After that I started working at The Space, which is a studio right down the street on the weekends to further my knowledge of the equipment and how everything worked behind the scenes, and then I was able to position myself as an Assistant.
NLB: How’d you get into assisting
DJP: Just calling people, reaching out to agencies – when I got to New York I didn’t know one person. That’s how I got the job at The Space, I just walked in there and talked to the owner and he hired me that day. And just meeting people from there.
NLB: Seems like you have strong visual ideas going in. How do you develop them before the shoot? How do you prepare?
I try not to think in a certain style or put myself in a box. I’m sure other people will look at my work and categorize it, but the way I go about creating, I try to let it happen organically. I have such a strong appreciation for all different types of women, for example. My taste, aesthetically, for Fashion photography is the same. It would be very hard for me to say, “I just like this type of photography – just ‘glamour,’ fashion photography or ‘edgy’ or ‘underground’ – there’s a lot of different types of styles.
I can personally identify with styles ranging from Juergen Teller to Mert and Marcus and those are very opposite. I’m not going to worry about my work not looking consistent. I don’t approach a shoot in that way. I do approach a body of work and think: “what am I missing? What could I use that’s not here? And then I go from there. Three years solo dolo into photography is really not that long of a time. I’m still exploring
DJP: Yeah, I’m not afraid to try… I’m very grateful to have my commercial clients to keep enough rolling in to keep me doing what I like to do, which I don’t even think about making money off of. More like a kid.
DJP: And it really comes down to that, just playing. As far as my personal fashion work goes, I’m not trying to succeed at anything, I’m just playing.
NLB: Is your site mostly tests?
DJP: Most of it is unpublished work, but I wouldn’t call it tests, because a lot of tests are a girl against a white wall, with white t-shirt… So I try to take it a little bit further than that. But I haven’t really published a good 50% of it and the other 50% have been published. I don’t really care about being in any magazine. If and when that time comes, great. But right now I’m blessed to have commercial clients to keep me feeling successful at the commercial end enough so where I can have a fashion editorial side.
NLB: What’s your commercial stuff like?
DJP: My commercial stuff revolves around e-commerce. They have a look, they know what they want, they don’t expect me to come in and creative direct anything. I just have to go in and give them what they want, which I equally appreciate. It balances it out for me. If I was only doing my own thing I wouldn’t appreciate that. Even though it’s not my personal aesthetic, just knowing that I can do it makes me feel more confidant as a photographer.
NLB: Going back to your inspirations…
DJP: Within fashion photographers? Definitely Steven Meisel.. I hate to be the cookie cutter newbie photographer, but that’s who got me started. If it wasn’t for his work, I wouldn’t be here. I don’t know him personally, I wouldn’t really care to, but I like his work alot. What his team has put together – the consistency is just mind-boggling. And it’s not just everything that he does that I’m a fan of, but more of his work ethic and consistency in putting out work. Not getting caught up in the hype of the fashion world, he just stays focused on his work.
I like Juergen Teller… I like photographers who have a definite, unmistakeable style. That’s Steven Klein… photographers who I can see their work and know it’s them. That’s not to say their work is predictable, but it’s at a level that no matter what they do, you can tell that they shot it. They made a brand out of their aesthetic and point of view. And that’s amazing, like staring a pseudo-religion. The Terry Richardson Religion…
NLB: Yeah, I see some of his influence in your work.
DJP: I used the flash 580 for a year and a half, mainly. Mixing that with other lights.
NLB: Seems like you’re into gels too.
DJP: Yeah, for the first couple of years I strayed away from it, trying not to fall into a cliche of new photographers who want to gel everything up. But after a year of not doing it, I realized, that’s another box you’re putting yourself in of what you can and cannot do. So if I feel right about it, that’s all that matters. And trusting my own instincts, even if it means falling into a box. So what? Gel it up if I feel like it looks good. And color adds so much emotion, you’d be a fool not to. I feel like there are so many photographers nowadays that are trying to be ultra cool, where they don’t even use color, it’s just all black and white. You’re that cool that you don’t like color anymore? Color is such an expression of life.
The color temperature of most fashion photography is daylight. And if you look around the natural world, you’ll rarely see that color temperature – everything is being reflected off a surface, or shining through something – there’s very different hues around. And if you’re aware of that as a viewer, just walking through the world, you want to translate that through your art, or at least I do.
DJP: Honestly, it’s a matter of being in a good mood, for me. When I’m in a good mood, it’s hard not to be inspired by your surroundings. Somedays I feel like I’m more aware than others, and the days I’m more aware, I’m more inspired.
NLB: I feel like you get good responses from your models.
DJP: I try. I mean, you only see the work that I want you to see (laughs). I’ve had models cry on me because they thought I was too hard on them. But at the end of the day, it comes down to me doing what I need to do to get (within limits, obviously) to get what I want out of it.
NLB: How do you work with models, generally?
DJP: I’m very verbal. I wouldn’t be able to handle myself on the other side of the camera. I’m very talkative so when I’m creating there’s no real separation between me and the model. I like to aim for that. Because she’s just like clay to me… with all respect.
That’s one scenario. Another scenario, which I love, is when a model essentially understands what I’m trying to get out of her and where I’m trying to go, so she can help the process even more. So it’s even better when I don’t have to say anything. Or when I do it’s just making it even better, because she’s already giving me what I need. It’s very tiring talking non-stop for an hour-and-a-half, two, three hours, shooting a girl, because I want her to move… and plus, at the end of the day, those shoots don’t really look natural, because she doesn’t get it. And you can’t fake it. Seasoned eyes know when something is authentic or not.
So that’s another thing about fashion photography is that everything gets on a schedule and expectant for things to happen. And that’s the hardest thing to do in the world. It’s like trying to make magic happen.
DJP: Yeah, catering and all that. So imagine being the one in charge of all that. Even the Art Director, who’s supposed to be in above in the heirarchy on a photo set, looks at the photographer and puts the pressure for the most part on the photographer: “Give me this. Give me that.” That’s a bad Art Director. A good Art Director helps to produce and make that magic happen and allow the photography to capture technically on film, which is what my passion is. I’m not an Art Director. I try to art direct sometimes. Most of the things you see on the site are my Art Direction. But I love working with Art Directors that know what they want… have a clear vision of what they want and how to achieve it, outside of the photography aspect of it.
It’s not all me on the shoot in working with the model. The model is affected by everybody on the shoot. Especially new models, they don’t know how to block everybody out. You can feel their self-consciousness about all the eyes on them. Supermodels have the ability to block everything out, which is really mindblowing to see them work, the focus. And that, in turn, allows the magic to happen. It’s all about the vibe on the shoot.
Over the years I’ve learned how to push people’s buttons, I’d like to think in a good way, to help them to let go.
NLB: What do you shoot with?
DJP: I started shooting with Canon for a long time. I shot with the Contax G2 for a couple years. Now I shoot with Nikon, digital.
NLB: And what would you shoot with ideally, without budgetary restraints?
DJP: Ideally, Hasselblad with digital back. Why, you gonna bless me with that? (laughs)
NLB: What are your long term goals as a photographer?
DJP: I love making money, but I realized that making money there’s a gap at feeling fulfilled as a photographer. And that gap really just just comes with sharing a moment on a level where people get inspired to live life and be beautiful and share experiences with each other and travel – everything that life has to offer – by looking at a picture. I’ve got that experience from looking at pictures. I just want to be able to invoke that experience in other people, even people not interested in fashion photography. I think women are the most beautiful thing that I ever, ever, ever laid eyes on. And to be able to take that feeling and translate it through my work, that’s my ultimate goal. But I like making money too! (laughs)