Ysa Perez is a photographer based in New York City. She's worked for a long list of publications that you might have heard of like GQ and Spin to name just a couple. She has worked with a number of musicians including shooting some of the first photos the world saw of A$AP Rocky and Danny Brown. She took time out of her busy schedule to talk with us about her work, inspiration, and the ultimate dream shoot.
Fingers on Blast: When did you first pick up the camera? Could you tell right away it was something you'd stick with?
Ysa Perez: It wasn't like, "My dad gave me a camera at 4 and I never stopped." At a young age, I was really into being on the computer, playing with my mom's Photoshop 7, I was that kid -- but I didn't know what I wanted to do exactly. I went to school initially at University at Buffalo undecided, and one day, these photo students at RIT hit me up about being their subject for an assignment. I agreed and when I was in their studio, I was really curious. They give you all this equipment? "Yes." And this studio? "Yes." What major is this? "Advertising Photography." I said, Ok, I'm transferring. I was completing foundation courses at UB anyways, so transferring was still a possibility. I had limited photo knowledge. I had a good eye, but technically I didn't know shit. It was overwhelming. Had no clue what 16-35mm meant or that an 8x10 camera even existed. I really am grateful I went to such a technical school even though I was envious of the NYU/Pratt/SVA life. Now I don't regret it. It worked out
Fingers on Blast: A good portion of your work involves musicians. Are you musical yourself? Do you prefer to shoot live performances or portraits?
Ysa Perez: I play the violin if that counts ? But, yeah I really love music. Almost as much as I love photography, so it eventually made sense to marry the two. I spend a lot of time looking for for new music which means I stumble upon a lot of up and coming people. In turn, I have a desire to photograph them. A good majority of my work is derivative from commissioned shoots but it's also friends I just know. I realized early on to take advantage of my social circle, and I think so far it's been mutually beneficial. I definitely hate shooting live performances, it just isn't my thing. I don't use cameras that are able to adapt to those situations either. I use an archaic (and at sometimes, impractical) medium format camera and love daylight. It's not even solely that, I just prefer one on one with the subject. My camera is really heavy, so it's a challenge to connect with the subject while simultaneously trying to focus the thing. It might seem like I enjoy making things harder for myself, but I love my process.
Fingers on Blast: Do you have any favourite shoots or publications to work with?
Ysa Perez: Definitely. Most recently, Debbie Harry. I mean, Debbie fucking Harry. Couldn't even stand next to her without reliving teenage bedroom moments of dancing to 'Rapture' and memorizing the whole rap bit. I don't really get star struck to be honest, I really mean that. I don't give a shit who you are as long as you comply with what I'm asking, but like I said, Debbie fucking Harry.
I have the best time when there's no real ego in the room. Just me and the subject getting to know one another, and leaving the situation with what I hope is a successful portrait. Might seem old fashioned but, I still like to work that way.
Fingers on Blast: It seems as though your photos are amazing because the subjects are comfortable with you. Do you have an advantage shooting people you know? Ever have an awkward shoot?
Ysa Perez: I think that is really sweet, thank you. I mean, I have an advantage for sure, I know a majority of the people I shoot and of course that makes things easier. There's already an established rapport. That's half the work, winning someone over isn't easy. I'm also like 5'2 and non threatening (I think.) That helps when you are in a room with 15 dudes rolling blunts and you're trying not to be in the way. Sometimes yeah, circumstances are difficult. Meek Mill - that was slightly awkward. It's upsetting when it didn't work out your way or, you didn't really get everything out of the person, but, not everyone is there to be your best friend so it's understandable and I don't take it personally anymore. I watched him actually record verses for his Dream Chasers mix-tape so, I'm not mad. He's so dope.
Fingers on Blast: How does it feel when you shoot an artist early in their career and your photos become the first glimpse the world gets of an artist?
Ysa Perez: It's exciting of course. I've watched people blow up like Asap and Danny Brown a few months after I shot them. Let me clarify that I'm not taking responsibility for their successes AT ALL, only saying I was there at the right place and right time in order to witness it and I love that. it's special to me. I almost would rather shoot someone early on that doesn't have many photos vs a huge band that's been photographed numerous times. I've found that big artists or bands don't care as much, you can understand why. It's just the nature of a big artist like that, why should they care? If I can kick it with someone and smoke some, leave with a few rolls I feel good about, then I've had a good day.
Fingers on Blast: You've mentioned before that Drake is someone you want to work with, is there anyone else that has joined the list of dream jobs?