Anarchic bonfire nights don’t come up often in modern civilisation, but they are said to ignite sparks of creativity in willing minds. Mr Perou’s photography has secured a special place in our hearts since we first laid eyes on it, crisp as autumn leaves, daring yet balanced like his best-placed shots.
Perou defines himself a “voracious hoover” of anything related to art and entertainment, a primordial love which allegedly pushed him towards photography in the first place. Still, it is quite difficult to pinpoint where exactly his talent comes from.
We hooked up with this great photographer to discuss his humble beginnings and discover the secrets behind his art. As most secrets, it is definitely a story worth reading.
Where are you from and how did you get into the industry?
I'm from a sleepy village in Sussex famous for anarchic bonfire nights. I started my working life as a butler to the local viscount up at the big house. Realising a life of servitude wasn’t going to do it for me, I left for the big city and a degree in photography film and video arts at the university of Westminster, when it was still the polytechnic of central London. I scraped a degree, leaving with big aspirations and little clue. I did some standard assisting in photo studios learning about the business, met the people starting Dazed and Confused magazines and worked as an assistant picture editor of sorts. Until my taking pictures for other magazines overtook me asking other people to take pictures for Dazed.
Where are you based now and who do you work for?
I’m principally based in London but I still travel worldwide. I am ‘eyes for hires’. I work for whoever pays me for looking and sometimes for those who don’t.
Some of my past and present clients include magazines like GQ, Esquire, Vanity Fair, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, Dazed & Confused. Advertising agencies, like IRIS, BBH, Publicis. Record companies, like Warner Group, Universal, Sony, Mute. PR companies. Design companies. Vivienne Westwood, Adidas, Reebok and Levis in fashion. Publishing companies. Oxfam and The Big Cat Sanctuary, for which I produced the Big Cats project, in terms of charities. Lastly, some corporations too: Ford, Canon and Heineken.
Explain your creative style and process
I identify as a ‘people photographer.’ Although last year I spent a lot of time photographing live tigers, lions and other big cats in a photo studio I set inside an actual lion’s den! And my next book is all urban landscapes at night. I am easily bored and always excited for the next mission.
When I first started taking photographs people said my work was ‘fucked up’. I think that was a reference to the subject matter more than my technical skills. These days people tell me my work is clean, whatever that means. Even when I go out of my way to shoot something dirty.
I work for whoever pays me for looking, and sometimes for those who don’t.
I am old school: I learnt on film but now shoot digitally. I can do anything photographically except take pictures that look like I don’t know how to hold a camera or light well; the current anti-style of photography will pass me by. I aspire to become fashionable once more, whenever skills will be back in fashion.
Please provide one sentence about your spotlighted work on Creativepool
It would have been easier to photograph the BIG cats I met on long lenses, from a distance, in daylight, like everyone else does.
How has technology affected the way you work (if at all)?
I was late getting into digital. And in the in-between, I shot on film then made multiple scans of negs for extended latitude. Eventually I got me a digital Hasselblad and haven’t shot on film since. I can still make digital files look like film (with a click of a button), but you can’t make film look like digital. Truly, only hipsters are confused about film not being dead.
I used to spend a lot of money on film and processing and I used to make a lot of money selling people prints. I kind of miss the whole process of shooting on film and how slow it all was, even if you rushed the process. Digital made everything immediate and immediately disposable. It de-valued what we do and now anyone can ‘do’ photography. As a result, I think photographers are way less valued than how we used to be.
Which leads me to have a love/hate relationship with Instagram. It troubles me that there’s a dumbing-down of everything. Too easily can people these days confuse Instagram-ographers with photographers and vice-versa.
If you could change one thing about the industry what would it be?
I’d really love it if the over-abundance of so-called photographers out here didn’t play 'race to the bottom’, trying to undercut each other and give away all their rights, to the point that people don’t realise there is any monetary value in good photography.
What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?
Photography for me isn’t a job. It’s not just a lifestyle either; it is my obsession. I am compelled to make photos. I have to.
Sometimes this can feel like a burden, but if I am not making photos, I’m not Perou the photographer… then things get very confused.
If photography ceases to exist, so will I.
I am a voracious hoover of everything I sense in any way: all music, all films, all art, great books, the news etc. The one thing I deliberately pay no attention to is other photographers’ work.
If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?
This is it: This is all I can do. If photography ceases to exist, so will I.
What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?
My Magnum Opus will probably be my first published book, that’s coming out May 2020. I’ve been working on it for 21 years. It’s imaginatively called ‘Marilyn Manson by Perou: 21 years in Hell.’
How do you recharge away from work?
Honestly, I relax by taking more photos: I shoot reportage of everything, between my other shoots. Making photos is my happy place.
My other happy place is riding on my Harley Bobber, on a sunny day. I love to eat local food in far flung places, especially if my wife is with me. She’s the main reason my company is called ‘Lucky Perou'
What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives in the industry who are looking for commissions?
Make as many friends as possible. At the end of the day, you need people skills for alljobs.
Don’t sweat about your place in the industry, and only do work that makes you happy. Be yourself, don’t try to fit someone else’s idea of who you should be or try to do what someone else does.
Stay strong. Be tenacious. Never give up. Believe in yourself and keep the faith. Fortune favours the driven, more than the talented. More than anything, keep pushing forward.
What’s your one big hope for the future of the creative industries?
That we won’t all be replaced by AI.
Are you a photographer as well? What do you think of Perou’s art and tips? Let us know in the comments below!