UNEXT by ERIC PERRY
A series on the Michigan Barber School
A CONVERSATION WITH PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC PERRY
How many years have you lived in Detroit? My whole life
How long have you been working as an artist? I’ve been a photographer since I was in 10th grade
What is your preferred medium: 35mm photography
What is currently your favorite:
Website: Adventures by Bert Stern (it’s a book… I’m a page turner more than web surfer)
Work of Art: Pete Townshend’s The Mini Opera
Piece of advice: A wise man once told me “EP, count to ten”
Do you collect anything?
I’m currently trying to downsize but I have a few collections- leather bags, rocks, tear sheets from magazines, textures (via photographs)
Was there an artist you admired that inspired you to be an artist yourself?
Charlie Schridde- he was a commercial car/ people illustrator turned car photographer and my mentor.
How would you describe your subject matter or the content of your work?
Passionate. I am drawn to people and places that radiate passion, whether it’s love of craft or simply joy to be alive… that’s what inspires me to shoot.
What inspired you to do a series on the Michigan Barber School?
I first visited the college because of an interesting poster I saw that said “Afros needed!” a barber was trying to break a world record so right away I knew the atmosphere would be interesting. I continued to come back because the deep sense of pride and tradition was inspiring. Grooming is truly an art form to these students and instructors, this is a beautiful thing to capture.
You have been working on this series for two years – has it inspired your current work? If so, in what ways?
It’s been interesting to look through the collection of images from this series because a timeline of change is visible. When I began shooting at MBS I carried over tendencies from commercial work but recent images are much more environmental and representative of moments. This has spilled over to other personal projects, I am exploring people and places in a whole new way. I’m immersing myself more instead of having my subject step into my world of fast paced portraits on white.
Do you have a preference for photographing people vs. places? Do you find a connection between the two? What are the biggest distinctions or challenges for photographing each?
I tend to be drawn to people because of the experience I share with my subject. However, there are times where the zen of shooting places is what I crave. Even if the surroundings are busy, documenting the place becomes an internal and peaceful process. The relationship between subject and photographer becomes the biggest difference between people vs. places.
The commonalities become apparent during a shoot or sometimes much later when I look through my images. For a long time, I have related images of people to places in diptychs based on traits that echo each other. I see parallels between the character of a place and the presence of a person.
Photographing at the barbershop helped me experiment with these parallels while shooting. In a place where the environment is drenched with the inhabitants personality and people largely identify with their surrounding, the two become inextractible.
Do you have a day job? What is it? How does it influence your current work?
My personal projects actually influence my day job. I am a commercial photographer. When I began my career I was always chasing what I thought was a “commercially acceptable image.” 25+ years later, I see how important it is to allow my personal aesthetic to influence my commercial work.
You have done a few projects that focus on the people of Detroit – what have you learned from that experience that you didn’t expect?
I didn’t expect Forward Detroit to become a fuel for me to delve further into portraiture. Over the course of 6 months I photographed hundreds of people in a pop-up gallery in Greektown. Every person was so different from one another but they all wanted to be seen. From the shiest person to the most vivacious, if I invited them to hang out with me for a few minutes in the studio, the vast majority where excited to be captured. The way people allowed me to see them and their deep interest to see the portraits I took of others was a wonderful and unexpected gift.
What are you presently inspired by— are there particular things you are reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
Quadrophenia, by The Who, is an album that has inspired me at different stages of my career. At the moment, that record really resonates with where I am today as a photographer. There is a collective story line told through the songs about a guy that finds himself having to choose between two movements that were huge in the late 60s British rock scene- the mods and the rockers. The character has to face himself and process an internal confilct that battles who he is and how he wants to be seen. Many times I find myself having to make peace between the commercial world and my personal vision, either by melding the two or allowing myself to trust one over the other.
Do you see your work as relating to any current movement or direction in visual art or culture? Which other artists might your work be in conversation with?
My work is a reflection of my personal interactions with individuals or a scene. Especially in regard to portraits, the people I capture are a space of time that a person has gifted me and in return I can share a tangible relic of that moment with them. I don’t photograph with the intent to make a grandiose statement. At the core of it all, I am looking to connect and capture the beauty of the human spirit.
Special prints of all the above pictured works will be available at the exhibition for $25 and all proceeds will benefit the Michigan Barber School.