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As a fashion, portrait and music photographer at the top of his game, Perou has the kind of career most up-and-comers would give their right arm for, but he's not about to lecture on how to get ahead in photography. Personality is a huge factor in Perou's work and for the sake of his job he's turned himself from a shy would-be missionary who wouldn't say boo to a goose to someone who tells the Queen (ok, Helen Mirren) what to do. Perou travels everywhere and never looks back, here he tells EIZO how he gets the job done.
Did you always want to be a photographer?
Definitely not, I had no clue what I wanted to do. I thought I was going to be a long-distance lorry driver because I really liked that 1970s film called Convoy, and if not I would be a missionary because I was a born again Christian. But I worked out being a long-distance lorry driver wasn’t quite as glamorous as it seemed and I had a crisis of faith and abandoned Christianity in favour of the debauched and the dark side of life...
So you fell into studying photography?
I didn’t have anything else to do. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I studied photography by default not out of a deliberate plan. I did a B-Tech, then I did a degree, then I took pictures. That’s it, the past is boring...
But people always want to know how you got to where you are.
I can’t make it interesting! People’s routes to success are unique to them. The world’s events and circumstance collide in such a way that if it works out for someone then that’s just chance. I have been on TV, I dress like a twat, I drive around in an obnoxious car with personalized number plates, all of which works for me. But if someone was to try to copy it exactly they’re not me so it wouldn’t work. I’m not saying I won’t talk about my past, it’s just important to understand that knowing how I did it won’t help because I grew up in a different time. Everything now is changing so quickly that I couldn’t possibly predict how to go about it if I was starting out now, I can’t really advise people.
So what about the present, can you tell me about the Bunker where you work now?
It's a 1960s concrete monolith. In essence, we’re a bespoke photographic and film studio of extreme high quality and it’s described sometimes as an oasis in Bow. People are surprised to find such a nice place in such a grotty industrial estate where they can work and be creative to their heart’s content. My dream would be to have an Andy Warhol style factory with creative people churning out creative things. My old studio used to be called the Perou Factory in homage to Andy Warhol, this one's called the Bunker and it’s more of a military headquarters.
So you like having people around you, you're not a lone ranger going off into the wilderness?
No, no, I’ve come back from the wilderness. I spent years in the wilderness now I’ve returned to London, I’m the prodigal child returning.
And your work is about people – what kind of personality traits help?
You have to be sensitive and outgoing. When I started I was the shyest person, we wouldn’t have been able to have this conversation. My need to become a better photographer made me become more outgoing, more outspoken. I’m able to go into a room with twenty people and I’ll make sure I’m the centre of attention, I'll tell everybody what I’m doing, tell everybody what I need, make the shoot happen.
And once you’ve made the shoot happen, how do you know when an image is done?
I have an idea. When a picture comes out of a camera it's RAW, it’s flat, it’s unsharp, the contract is really low. But I know what the finished image should look like from when I took the picture and the image that comes out of the camera is the halfway point, it’s like the negative before the print.
But it's on-screen, so you have to be sure what you're looking at. What's your setup?
I’d normally use a tablet and I have two EIZO screens, one for my tools and one for my picture and I know that what I’m seeing is what I’m actually seeing. When you’re trying to be as good as possible and do the most quality work that you can, it makes sense to use equipment of the highest quality so you can be reassured in knowing that what you’re seeing is what you’re getting, or not getting.
That must be reassuring when you're delivering work that will go into magazines or be blown up for billboards?
It’s very reassuring retouching on proper quality screens and it’s nerve-wracking to retouch on anything less. I know that the colour and density that I see on my EIZO screen is exactly right and when it hits the magazine it’s going to look exactly like I wanted it to. No surprises.
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