Brooklyn-based photographer, Ysa Perez recently made a short trip out to Detroit for SPIN Magazine to go inside of Violent Js home for a recent interview story. He is one of the most recognizable members of the Detroit-based Insane Clown Posse. Ysa is no stranger to photographing famous and talented folks though- she shot Uffie for her Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans album cover, Solange, ASAP Rocky, the Arctic Monkeys, as well as other Detroit artist, rapper Danny Brown [more on that below]. Aside from SPIN, some of Perez’ other clients include GQ, The L Magazine, NYLON, Brooklyn Magazine, XXL, and Fools Gold Records. PLAYGROUND DETROIT sat down with Ysa to ask about her experience photographing with Detroit musicians Violent J and Danny Brown.
How did the opportunity to work with SPIN come about?
When I moved here [NYC] during college a few years ago, I applied for internships at NYLON and SPIN while I was a student at The Rochester Institute of Technology. I interviewed with all of them and started as an intern at NYLON magazine. I never heard back from SPIN – but I kept in touch with one of the photo editors there, sending her new work every six months, checking in…but now I realize I wasn’t ready for an assignment yet. I was just really eager to begin shooting, although a majority of what I have accomplished was when I attended school. When I graduated from RIT I immediately began interning at GQ and a couple months later was hired full time as a photo assistant. My time there was very special- I learned how photo editing works — that photo editors keep an eye on emerging photographers and have them in the back of their head until the time comes with a job that makes sense. Learning that things don’t happen when you instantly want them to was very valuable. I worked at GQ a year and a half and left in November to pursue photography, then finally a couple months after I got a call from SPIN saying they had a project and if I were interested.
“So, we have a piece on artists in their home environments…” I was super excited, so I asked, “With who?” and she replied, “Violent J of ICP [Insane Clown Posse].”
So you took your first SPIN assignment?
I never thought I’d meet ICP- I didn’t know anything about that world, the culture, their music. I wanted to shoot for SPIN though and had never shot for them before and I thought, ‘How will I make this work?” But it was a challenge for me, so I said I would do it. Soon after, I was on a plane to Detroit.
What was it like to meet Violent J? Describe meeting him and his family for us.
I flew in to Metro Detroit from New York and the writer for the story picked me up from the airport. He is from Detroit originally, and he told me a lot about the city and its history on our way there. We drove straight to Violent Js home in Milford, to a nice family-sized house with a big yard in the middle of the woods. His fiancé welcomed us into their home wearing a do-rag; it was a normal suburban house. He has kids, there were little backpacks and little shoes all hung up on hooks. They even had a bunch of Starbucks treats placed out on the table waiting for us, which was so sweet.
I just thought, “Oh, he’s a family guy!” They had a typical living room- couch and TV, he has his own “man-space”, with arcade games and chainsaws, a home office filled with Kurt Cobain figures, wrestling figures all in their cases, and a bunch of Juggalo robes hanging. But the family-ness came out the most to me about him, he was great with his kids. They had baby kittens that they were excited to show me. I only had six hours to shoot his environment, and realized that this was really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to be in his home. I wanted to be most of all respectful and tried to relate to him as my subject as much as possible. I asked to go see his kids rooms; the girls room was all pink decorated with Hello Kitty, the boys room was blue. The way his daughter just looked at him, you could tell she adores him. I decided to focus on him and his family, because that’s what struck me the most about him.
Did SPIN like how the shoot turned out?
They loved the photos and were very happy with the results — which was really nice to hear. It was my first big assignment for the magazine, so I wanted them to be happy with my work. In the end, I know the pictures they chose for the story had to fit their parameters and it didn’t represent my exact experience, but I’m extremely happy I was able to do the story for SPIN…
Did you get a chance to check out Detroit at all? Milford is not a very accurate representation of the actual city of Detroit…
I did have the opportunity to go downtown after the shoot with the writer- he asked me if I wanted to go check out the city, but I really had to digest what had just happened. That was quite an experience for me, so I went back to my hotel to start uploading my work. I really wish I wasn’t so overwhelmed and exhausted from the whole trip and would have been able to go check it out. I would love to have the chance to go back, though.
You definitely need to go back and experience the D the right way! So, now tell us, how did you also end up shooting Danny Brown?
He’s so cool! I love him. I don’t know, it was random, I have a circle of music friends and it came up randomly from my friend Dave in Chromeo. We usually agree on rap music and were brought up with hip hop so when he said, “My brother’s got this new dude on Fools Gold, he’s dope,” I took it as the truth. We YouTubed him and I was like, “Yup.” So that was it, they introduced us and I just spent an afternoon with him.
You photographed him while he was in NYC?
Yeah, this was last summer I think. I met him and his manager in the L.E.S. at a clothing store. He was in the corner, very quiet, on his phone Tweeting. We went outside so he could smoke cigs. We walked around the area for a bit looking for places to shoot. I didn’t really know how to relate to him though, I wish I connected a little more but he was so quiet…I didn’t talk to him as much as I wanted to. Quiet actually intimidates me more than anything. I’m like 5’2″ in a pink dress, I get it — I’m a stranger. I wanted to know that I was cool, I was down, you know? It’s hard to gain someones trust in a short time though. I am happy to have met him, I’m definitely a fan. When he does speak, he’s a funny dude and sweet. And happy to see where he is now… If the opportunity ever comes again to take his picture – going in this time.
Check out more of Ysas work at www.ysaperez.com.