Photographer Ysa Pérez Shares her Five Favorite Shots
PHOTOS : COURTESY OF YSA PÉREZ
Best known for her portraits of famous figures like Lil Pump, Adriana Lima and Tyshawn Jones for magazines like Rolling Stone, Allure and Vice, and brands like Puma and Adidas, photographer Ysa Pérez caught up with WestwoodWestwood recently and shared with us some of her favorite photographs that she’s taken over the years.
In October of 2017 I went to Oaxaca, Mexico to photograph what was meant to be a quick two-day portrait. I found myself asking when would I be back to this remote part of the country, and contemplated staying a big longer to photographically investigate the city. I ended up staying 40 days alone, finding myself in the middle of Diá De Los Muertos/Day Of The Dead — the time of year when Mexico celebrates and welcomes back the dead. Spiritually, Oaxaca changed my life completely. I had never, ever, come even close to experiencing something so beautiful and a tradition so unique. It is not their “Halloween,” which is a common misconception; the holiday is taken very seriously by the entire people. The amount of care and preparation that goes into building the Ofrendas (altars/shrines dedicated to the deceased) and to transforming the entire town for the celebration blew me away. Oaxaca is one of the poorest states in Mexico; Día De Los Muertos brings opportunity for families to collect money from tourists. They send their children out, who know exactly what to do. The little girl in this image was working it in front of two obvious Americans, who were photographing her with some obnoxious DSLR. I waited for my turn, took the photo and she smiled and said very confidently, “Dame un regalito,” pointing to her basket. This means, “Give me a little gift” — which really means, “Give me money now.” I had to wait eight months to develop all the film, but in the back of my head I constantly wondered if that photo came out. I couldn’t stop thinking about that little girl and that exact moment. It’s one of the most beautiful photographs I have ever taken — the way she’s holding her dress, the flower on her head, the intricate traditional Catrina make up. I just hope to one day reunite with this little hustler and give her a copy.
I found Arthur through the internet, scouting for subjects in the US for a project. When I expressed interest in photographing him, he explained he was from Bordeaux, France. Six months later I found myself in Paris for work, and I took time off to meet him. Visually he was better in person. Photographically I fell very in love and just wanted to nonstop shoot him. Some people just have it. There was something about his look and attitude that I gravitated to, and when I feel strongly like that, I completely go for it. His first love is skateboarding, so getting a quiet moment with him was difficult. But this day we spent a few minutes on some portraits. I love the green of his fit against his eyes, his grungy hair. Mostly this image represents for me the memory of experiencing the beautiful city of Bordeaux.
This is my niece Bella in Rochester NY in 2011. She’s the daughter to my sister Isandra. I always cry when I look at this photo; it’s just a feeling that comes up for me. Her stare, her pose, her comprehension at a young age to pause for the camera — even as a young girl she had intuition to understand she was my muse. Now she’s navigating becoming a teenager. So for me, being able to remember her as this beautiful innocent little girl is extremely special to me. She’s almost 13, so at this point I have hundreds of photographs of her, but this one is still the strongest by far. It’s timeless to me. I never get sick of looking at it. It reminds me of why I love photography so much, capturing a moment to be frozen in time.
I met Kahlil in 2017 when he rode a dirt bike past me at the Marcy JMZ stop in Brooklyn, NY. We developed a relationship, which later turned into me photographing his friends and world. He would pick me up on his bike and drive us around Williamsburg, free, running together from everyone and everything. I’ve never experienced being on a dirt-bike, let alone developing trust with an unknown (at the time) 19 year-old young man. But I trusted him, and he trusted me. This is one of my favorite days we had when he drove us around and we ended up at the waterfront. Hands down my favorite photograph of Kahlil — his expression, the way he is covering his face, the strength in his arms, the NYC skyline behind him, the backdrop of the blue — all of it makes it for me.
In April of 2018, I was living in Miami, Florida. At the time I received an email gauging my interest in photographing Adriana Lima as she worked out and document her fitness routine. I’m from the time and age of the Victoria Secret catalog days. I’ve recognized her in photos for so many years of my life, but of course never would have imagined one day meeting her, let alone photographing her at a boxing gym. As a mutual trust began to develop — at first what was meant to just solely be capturing content for her social media — the images I took started to shift into more intimate photographs. For many months I stayed quiet because as someone that also trains, I know how crucial that time is. I never wanted to interrupt her work out, I just simply wanted the access. Last year she announced a campaign collaboration with Puma, where I was brought along to document behind the scenes. This is image from March 2019, the last time I saw her, with one of her long-time make-up artists, Fulvia Farolfi. I feel very fortunate to have witnessed this quiet moment, as outside that door was a team of people waiting to shoot the next Puma campaign look. As one of the most photographed people of our time, the pictures I love the most are these — the moments that not many people get to see. I’ve always had a fascination with access, but this journey taught me a lot about being a fly on the wall and just bearing witness.