We ask industry leaders, artists and experts in visual culture to talk us through the five photographs that have brought them to where they are now. Think Desert Island Discs, but make it art.

Frankie Perez
Self portrait, Frankie Perez

Frankie Perez is a triple threat: a unique photographer, a world class breakdancer, and a sweet baby angel. From his home in Montreal –– he splits his time between here and New York –– as the first snow of the season fell outside, he broke down [sorry] the images which have had the biggest impact on his craft and creativity.

Here are the images that made Frankie.

Frank Ocean by Wolfgang Tillmans [2015]

Some of these images I chose because they represent something bigger than the image itself for me. This image is one of them. 

Music is a huge thing for me, it subconsciously influences my mood and the vibes that I go for when I’m making an image. In terms of breaking this one down: it taught me about colour, being effective with simplicity, about form and how to put emphasis on a particular part of an image. It’s really outstanding with respect to him covering his face and that being a central feature along with the provocativeness of him being in the shower. I thought that was super sick. 

Everything around this image and the Frank Ocean album it comes from affected me visually.

The album is called Blonde but that’s written in black letters and it’s a picture of him with green hair. All that together was hitting me and opening me up. And the album itself is just amazing. A classic. One of my favourite contemporary pieces of music to listen to. As a photographer I draw from all these different mediums and sources. That was a really big one in my life. 

Little Rockers Crew, Upper West Side, Manhattan, NYC, Martha Cooper [1983]

I first encountered this before I was even a photographer. If you’re a dancer this image will find its way into your consciousness without you even trying.

I added this one here because I wanted to talk about how it was a reference for my making my book, in order for me to know the context for what I was making imagery within. There’s a canon of breakdancing photography that everybody associates with breaking and I thought it was a little bit outdated. I wanted to create a contemporary version of that imagery from my own point-of-view, but I couldn’t really do that unless I knew those images which already existed. 

They’re amazing, very classic and quintessential for many reasons. They didn’t just capture breaking but hip-hop culture in its very infancy. This image is super important, because in some ways I feel like I’m a part of the same lineage.

The authenticity comes from being able to connect with these people I’ve known for years. A dynamic that I’m not sure exists if the two people don’t come from the same world. It creates a sense of pride too. If you understand the language of body movement you can see if a photograph has captured a dancer in the best light. Whether the type of freeze that they’re doing is on point. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that someone outside the culture takes pictures of it [and this Martha Cooper picture is sick], but I did identify that there weren’t many images of us, from us. 

House of Balloons, La Mar Taylor [date unknown]

This album really changed the landscape of R&B and contemporary music. The things that he was talking about, like what kind of life you have when the party was over, reminded me of a rapper but he was singing R&B… The Weeknd really had his own style. 

How did that affect me as a photographer? I want to bring my own point of view on the subject matter and change the game the way that album did for music. There’s so much going on here which appeals to me. From an aesthetic point of view; a nude photograph but covered by balloons… the black and white…

If there’s a significant to having two bathroom shots on this list then I don’t know what it is, but the music and the art direction have been huge for me. The context they were released in and their wider impact on culture.

Corpus Electra, Viviane Sassen [2012]

This Viviane Sassen is the root of my own mixed media approach.

She’s one of my favourite photographers and I love the way she abstracts shapes and uses colour. Trying to figure out how this image was made and trying to break it down, I did all kinds of experiments in my own imagery: I’ll print an image out and manipulate it and re-photograph it. 

This introduced me to the fact that there’s more ways to make a picture than just to shoot it through a camera. 

Utah, Garry Winogrand [1964]

I came across this in person at the Brooklyn Museum. It was tucked away in the corner in a small frame without much emphasis on it but it stopped me in my tracks. It’s a little bit scary at first. But I wanted to figure out what I was looking at. 

It’s influenced me by making me think: how do I create a situation where something amazing could happen? ‘The right place at the right time’ plays a part but how can I actually approach image making so that things like this can happen? Now I always have it in the back of my head when I’m planning a shoot. How can I leave some freedom for something interesting to happen of its own accord? It’s my default starting point.

As told to India Birgitta Jarvis

Follow Frankie on Instagram here or view more of his work on his website. Frankie will be joining the Darklight Art family in 2023 and will have limited edition prints available to purchase through our site. Watch this space.

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