If you’ve been paying attention to ASAP Rocky’s explosion on to the national stage you are already familiar with Ysa Pérez, you might just not know it. Hailing from Rochester, New York, Ysa was the first professional photographer on the scene for team ASAP, shooting some of Rocky’s most iconic images thus far. More recently, her shots of Meek Mill appeared in the Oct/Nov issue of Vibe Magazine for the story Street’s Disciple. To diversify her bonds Ysa served as a loyal foot soldier for NYLON and GQ Magazines working on those other moments that happen outside of hip hop. RESPECT. caught up with her on the shores of Williamsburg, Brooklyn to hear a few word on Cassie, the come up and why Rick Ross should follow her on Twitter. Catch it all here.
Tell me about yourself and how you got started with photography.
My name is Ysanya, but no one ever says that, can’t pronounce it. Think it started when – well my story’s weird cause I’ve never been one that explains, ‘Oh I’ve been taking pictures all my life or my dad got me a camera when I was four.’ But I was always around art cause of my mom, shes a graphic designer. I was a super nerd when I was younger and when I went to college I went to a normal generic college, University of Buffalo, and I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do. I was gonna do graphic design actually, but you needed a portfolio for that. Later I heard about RIT’s photography program – I was used in a project for them – and I started asking questions. I asked what the major was and when they said you didn’t need a portfolio I was like, “Oh okay! That’s what I’m gonna go for.” So I literally knew nothing technical. I would go up to the cage and say, “I want a zoom lens” and they would be like, “What 16-35, 17-40? What, what lens?” and I would be like, “uh, uh I don’t know.” The knowledge is so overwhelming. It seemed like I would never really get there and then when I finally got to a point where I gained all the technical knowledge I started coming to New York all the time. Back and forth however I could – bus, train, plane – and that’s how I started meeting people, meeting the right people that would introduce me to artists to take their pictures. So I pretty much was the girl that would hang out in the club waiting for that moment to be like, “Can I take your picture!?” I had a really shitty digital camera and I was just so eager. Then I finally acquired more work where its what I just started doing. Just grind it out for a little bit. Well, I’m still grinding.
What is the focus of your work?
It became pretty apparent to me that I’m not a technical photographer. I mean I’m not setting up lights or constantly checking my exposure and all those things. It became obvious to me that I like documenting what’s already there. And I like, this sounds so cheesy or cliché, but I like getting an honest expression out of a portrait. You know its intimidating at first when you meet people, when you meet someone like Moby at a place when you’re like 20 and you have a camera and you’re like, “Uhhh” it takes awhile for you to get through that and get through the awkwardness of actually demanding what you want out of the photo. Cause I would usually be like, “Oh. Okay. I’m done, that’s it, thanks for your time.” Because I felt bad that they were waiting for me and I finally stuck it out to really getting what I wanted which was something honest and something real. Like, “Oh she was there, hanging out and that happened.” Instead of a set up, look cool for me, I have no interest in that at all.
So when you’re shooting its very conversational. Talk to me about that whole style and process.
For the most part yea, I’m just hanging out with them, which is lucky. That’s usually the best case scenario, you vibe and something happens. The worst case scenario is you meet somebody and you already have that feeling off the bat that it’s not gonna go how you want it to and it they’re gonna like, “Yea, I’m here for my picture” and then done. It’s always such a bummer because it’s so limiting. Yea we vibe and as we’re talking about something, about anything, usually about them because I’m there for them as an artist. Then I just snap away and then put it down, but that’s secondary to me. The photos are secondary. When I see the photos I think about that time we had together – “Oh, thats the time I was in that studio” – they’re definitely secondary. I know its intimidating to get shot, its a really weird thing. I would like to think I naturally hang out with people.
How do you break the barrier if there is one?
It’s so hard when its not working the way its supposed to. “How can I show this person I’m cool!? Roll with me!” It’s very frustrating. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you leave and you feel super defeated because obviously you wanted to do a good job and you had an image in your mind of what you were really trying to accomplish. Sometimes you just gotta leave and be like that was that, it wasn’t that cool. Because its music sometimes you kind of have to, not name drop, but sort of, like, “I’m cool, I know this person! So you know, let your guard down!” There’s a lot of shell and you want someone to be natural and the way they are. So sometimes I have to throw a little anecdote of something or I try to make someone laugh, but that’s hard too. That involves a joke *laughs*.
On the flip side, who’s been your favorite person to work with?
A time I got “star struck,” if that ever has happened, cause usually just dudes, was when I met Cassie. That’s someone in a million years I never thought I would take their picture. Its harder with women, that’s a whole different thing. It’s a lot more intimidating, especially when you’re working with someone like Cassie – she’s super pretty, super rich. It’s always scary because you’re hoping they will be cool, “I hope this person’s cool, I hope my impression of them doesn’t change, I hope they’re not a dick!” When I met her, she was just super nice and our time was so limited. She took pictures with everyone when we were walking down the street. That was such a cool moment because when I left it wasn’t tainted. I wasn’t like, “God she’s such an asshole,” I was like, “Wow, she’s so sweet!” I think I look fondly on a lot of people because I get to shoot a lot of people before they’re big and that makes me happy. It’s exciting to me.
Talk to me about the technical side – what do you keep in your toolbox?
I use Mamiya RB super big analog camera and a Contax T2. Those are literally the only two things that I have and a light meter, obviously. I don’t even own a digital camera. It sucks because usually when I do need one I have to ask people to borrow one. Me using film is nothing about thinking I’m better because film is this prestigious thing, its just my schooling. We learned film, we learned that foundation before all this digital stuff started to happen. I learned to just really love it. I used to take digital pictures all the time and in comparison of where I’m at now it’s so different, you find your niche of how you want to take pictures. That’s how I found I want to take pictures. When I shoot film, it looks like me, it looks like my work. When I shoot digital I can’t really cross over just yet. It’s not the same feeling for me at all. Everything on my website is all film.
How do you go about getting your photos out to the public?
I pay a lot of money. People have this misunderstanding that if you shoot film then you’re in some dark room. You could with black & white, but with color you don’t really process your own stuff. I literally don’t have the time. Or a scanner. If I had a scanner I could definitely get it sent out to be developed and I would scan it myself, but I don’t so I usually send it to this one lab that I used for a couple of years. I used to intern at Nylon four years ago and that was the lab they would use. I send it over and in a couple of days they either send me a CD or a PDF. I get low-res back. It sucks because you don’t have hi-res. As far as instant transmission to put on my website or the Internet, that works for me.
A sampling of Ysa’s work [portfolio_slideshow include=”19851,19849,19850,19852,19853,19854,19855″]
Talk to me about ASAP Rocky, you had some of the first pictures of him.
A couple of months ago this friend I have in Paris sent me a track and I listened to this one and it was sick. This was a time when Waka Flocka and Rick Ross and all that kind of rap music, which I love, was coming out. That one song was so refreshing and my friend told me who he was so I started Googling. I didn’t see any pictures of him so I really wanted to take his picture, not only because I wanted to get ahead of the game, but because I was so intrigued. You know when someone is about to blow up its going to be different, its not going to be the same. Chances are that after that experience taking their photographs won’t be that cool, so I really wanted to get on it early. I went to this party and this kid I knew said he worked for them and I asked him to put me into contact. It took a really long time, they’re really hard to contact.
Then I did them and it was the most natural experience ever. Probably the most natural set of photos he’s ever going to get, not the best, that doesn’t mean the best photos he’s going to get, but the most natural for sure. We were just in some girl’s house and we just smoked some weed. That’s not gonna be forever. It’s funny, once those were released I got so many people writing me. It wasn’t particularly about them or them being good, but “How can I contact him!?” I would say, “I literally can’t help you, I have no idea.”
What’s your dream shoot?
Drake. Drake. Drake I love you. Specifically because, well I love Drake, when I worked at Nylon, this is because Drake wasn’t Drake yet, like 2007, they asked, “Do you want to shoot for Drake?” I was like, “Who the fuck is Drake?” And I looked him up and I was like, “Yo this is the kid from Degrassi!” I watched that show growing up because we’re like the same age and I was like, “Uh huh, this is Jimmy from Degrassi.” And it literally had to be that weekend that he blew up because I never got to do it. They keep being like, “Sorry he’s doing this, he’s flying out to this.” I was like, “Whatever I don’t care” and then, well you know Drake’s story. I was like, “Hmm I should of done that.” That would’ve been my dream shoot. I love Drake so much.
I like photographing people that I’m a fan of, it makes it better. It’s not as inspiring to be with somebody that does whack stuff because you don’t vibe at all. That’s why I like hitting up people I respect, that I think are doing cool things. I would like to deviate from musicians. I would like to do actors. I shot Andrew Garfield before the Facebook and Spiderman movies came out and that was really cool. It was another moment were it’s like, you’re so cool right now, but it’s not gonna be like this forever. After this it’s gonna be red carpet. I was like, “Are you excited to be in Spiderman cause that’s gonna be so dope.” He was like, “Yea, I’m kind of excited.” And now months go by and when I see him on TMZ I’m like, “God that’s so weird, I was with that person.”
Talk to me about your influences. Who are your favorite photographers?
People like Jason Nocito. People that photograph what happens to them. I’ve always been a fan of that. I work at GQ as well so everyday I’m inspired by something because we get physical prints that are sent in from respected people that have been doing this for 20 years. That’s 10, 15 times longer than I have and so its always changing. I don’t have one go to photographer that I seek inspiration from. I’m always inspired because of my environment. I’m literally looking at pictures all day. I’m always downloading pictures so my knowledge of photographers is just so much. I can appreciate someone else’s work even if it’s not the work I would do. Someone like Ben Watts, completely different aesthetic than what I do, but I can still be like, “that’s dope.”
Do you use twitter?
I just deleted it off my phone. Its such a nervous tick. I really don’t like it. It makes me feel, not only pretentious, but like I can’t figure out anything to do for these five minutes while I’m waiting for somebody? I actually don’t care about what anyone is doing! I think twitter is a necessary evil, it helps me tremendously. For right now I’m so busy I don’t need another distraction because I’ll go in on tweeting something stupid. I’ll be like, “Ehh, I lost a couple of followers from those remarks.” So I want to keep it solely for what it’s for – new work, promoting. But yea I Twitter the fuck out.
If you could have one person follow you on twitter who would it be?
I would love if Rick Ross or Drake followed me on twitter. That would be dope. But I have no idea why people follow me. It always freaks me out when people approach me about it in real life. Of course be flattered, if someone pays attention to you, you should always be flattered. It makes you feel weird though.
What are three things you always have to have on you?
My phone, my work & metro cards and I can’t carry my analog camera, but I always have my Contax – its always in my bag, its the best camera in the world!
To find out more about Ysa or to catch her portfolio check out: www.YsaPérez.com
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