Ysa Pérez, Photographer
Born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York, photographer Ysa Pérez is known for her raw and undeniably authentic eye for youth culture.
Get To Know Ysa Pérez
We talk to Ysa about doing whatever she wants, wherever she wants, whenever she wants.
When did you first take an interest in photography?
Honestly, my interest with photography started with my education–it was when I transferred from a liberal arts school as an undecided major to The Rochester Institute of Technology for Advertising Photography. I literally knew nothing about it technically, but I was always aware I had an eye for aesthetics. I’ve been growing up on the computer since using Photoshop 7 on my moms ’90s Mac.
How did you take something that was a passion and turn it into a full-time career?
It wasn’t a passion initially, I had to learn first. I definitely transferred into a really sophisticated major with very little research, like it was nothing. I’ve always made moves based off intuition. I was quite bored at the University at Buffalo fulfilling my foundation requirements, then got asked by a group of students to pose in their project. Once I saw the access to the facilities at RIT I said, “What major is this?” and immediately transferred. While learning the mechanics of a 4×5, analog color, analog black and white photography, the whole 9—I would routinely take the midnight bus from downtown Rochester to arrive 6:45AM Penn Station. I hustled the shit out of nightlife; I was the girl backstage, I was the girl you knew of with the camera–I not only ran it, but ran it with the club kids of New York circa 2007-2012. It was one of the most exhilarating times of my life and youth. Being from a small town like Rochester, New York City’s influence was love at first sight.
What’s your favorite thing about being your own boss?
Doing whatever I want, where I want, when I want. Not asking anyone for shit.
How do you feel about being a photographer in the age of social media? Do you think it has a positive or negative impact?
Ah, the two words put together I hate the most—social media. Consumer friendly DSLRs on the market for everyone and the saturation of imagery we are fed on a daily basis has led the masses to not really understand what a “good” photograph is.
It has also allowed mostly everyone to believe they too are a photographer. Now let me clarify; you don’t have to go to school like I did to become a photographer, I do believe there are young talented people out there that this service gives a platform to, and a voice I didn’t have access to while in photo school. And let me say, there is no age to just start picking up a camera, I understand that. But I also strongly believe that the average person in the age we live in doesn’t know a fuckin’ good photo when it hits them and that is a direct result of our eyes being 24/7 fed as we scroll Instagram, scroll our laptops, and stare at our phones while we walk down the street. There is little appreciation and we start to become desensitized. This is my personal opinion based off my traditional photographic education, and my years working as a photography assistant at GQ Magazine. When I had that job, I saw the direct before and after of pre-social media life, 2010/2011. When the iPad hit, when magazines had to start digitizing, when money started to come to Web, that’s when imagery went wild.
But I have to say, recently I have started to see the benefits for a photographer like myself. I’ve been shooting real shit, for a real long time and I’d get passed on, passed on. Now the world really craves real, raw imagery we connect with, because what we see on a daily is so fabricated and we have become out of touch with each other and ourselves. We want to connect, but as “connected” as we are with our devices, we are lost and don’t know how. I truly believe my work, although it has remained the same for the last 10 years, is now becoming refreshing for others to see, because they too are tired of seeing the same shit. It was a huge struggle to not maintain my frustration trying to force photo editors to see what I saw all along—but as an artist, it is imperative to stay true to your process and know deep down the work will always speak for itself.
Do you have a favorite photograph that you’ve taken?
Man, asking me if I have a favorite photograph is like asking me what’s my #1 Seinfeld episode, or favorite track. Can’t do it.
I can however say, the work I currently have been focusing on the last 5 weeks in NYC photographing 19-year-old Kahlil and his group of friends in their neighborhood of Williamsburg. They have been some of my favorite photographs I have ever shot. I’ve never really had a project so close to my heart. I’m grateful that even after doing this 10 years, I can become re-inspired again by the power of photography. The ability to connect with these 17-22 year olds through my tiny 35mm camera has changed me forever. Those are my guys.
Who are photographers you’re inspired by?
I mean, if I could in 20 years have a retrospective of my work at all similar to Jamel Shabazz, I would die extremely happy.
Lauren Greenfield is also a G, her work with youth culture has always inspired me. When I see work and my initial question is “How did they get that picture?” I’m in love. I’m in love with access.
Do you have a dream subject? Past or present?
It used to be Drake in my early 20s before I grew up and got over it. Right now, my heart’s breaking for Puerto Rico. I’ve never met my real father. He started emailing me out of the blue last year, and I began conjuring the idea of going there, to not only meet him, but shoot a project on where I come from, as I moved to the states when I was 4. With the way Puerto Rico is right now, the dream is becoming a nightmare. I’m currently selling prints and polaroids ALL in donation to Puerto Rico. I’ll be in Miami end of this month and am planning to head to Puerto Rico myself solo to take on one of the heaviest projects of my life.
What’s up next?
On to the next one.
NYC Through Ysa Pérez's Lens
When we asked Ysa to take a few self portraits (which you can check out in the article above) and document her most recent NYC trip, she came back with more than we could have imagined saying, “This was sick to do, because I haven’t taken self portraits since my self-timer college Flickr days. It was a challenge because I’m with a 35mm point and shoot all day so I had to extend my arm out, frame what I could, and hope for the best. Also had to look pretty weird selfie-ing myself with an analog camera at dinner, but it was definitely worth it. All of these photographs are an accurate representation of my last five weeks in New York.”
Even More Ysa
From Daniel Caesar to Cardi B, Ysa has shot musicians and artists all across the world–check out some of our favorites below.