Berlin is a city that continues to capture the artistic eye. It seems surrounded by a magical quality that refuels itself each time it’s harnessed. Matt Lambert told Dazed that it’s “the most youthful city,” with “an ambiguity and a fluidity in self-definition,” which is advantageous for all young artists pitching their studios in this metropolis. There, they can wipe the dew from their eyes and explore the world in one place, unearthing and polishing their style along the way.
James Perolls, a young photographer currently based in Berlin, adopts the city’s self-defining aura in his style of portraiture. He creates an atmospheric frame around his subject(s) who prove their comfort with him through their gaze. But it goes beyond a change in background setting. Perolls predominantly uses natural light and encourages his models to portray themselves as they are. These honest portrayals extend the kind of intimacy you get when you’re reading your favorite book and a hand reaches out to hold yours, because it feels so real.
Un-magically, I reached out to Perolls for an interview to ask him about Berlin, his photography and his future plans. Read on below.
When and how did you get into photography?
I bought my first camera when I was 16, I took photos of everything and anything I found interesting and soon realised that I loved photographing people. Quite a few of my friends from my hometown in England are also photographers and a lot of their work inspired me at the time and still does. I haven’t studied photography, everything I’ve done has been self-taught which has been a fun process of trial and error in creating my own style. I’ve always been specifically interested in trying to capture someone’s entire personality in a single photo.
I initially loved taking candid photos of friends on nights out after they’d had a few drinks and dropped the barrier of nervousness so they could really be themselves. I loved that raw emotion but I find shooting in natural light and creating a scene allows me to bring out so much more. It’s interesting now looking back on it as my style has changed completely from using direct flash and a gritty feel to a calmer, cleaner, more collected approach using natural daylight instead. Before moving to Berlin I didn’t take photos anywhere near as regularly as I have been recently. It has really sparked my creativity since I’ve moved here. My vision of how I want to take photos and my style is a lot clearer to me now.
Berlin seems to have a penetrative degree of magic and transparency. When did you move there? What about the city and its people appeal to you?
It absolutely does! I moved to Berlin 7 months ago and I’ve loved every minute of being here. What I like in particular and what drew me to Berlin originally is how open-minded and free the city feels, you can really be yourself here. There’s a huge crowd of compelling, talented and creative minds too, it really spurs you on. Berlin is definitely one of the best cities to live in as a young artist. The cost of living is cheap and with being such an international city, you meet all sorts of people from different backgrounds and walks of life. The atmosphere of the city changes from street to street, the architecture and just the general vibe of the place is rough round the edges yet beautiful and it’s just a really exciting place to be with so much diversity. You’re always a 2 minute walk away from somewhere you could do a shoot.
Berlin has an abundance of fascinating and wonderful people and finding subjects to photograph has been quite a natural process. It’s been great to meet such lovely people that understand my vision and want to collaborate. The people I’ve photographed here have been a mixture of people that I have met on nights out, through friends, work, etc. I like to photograph people that have an intriguing aura that make you want to know more about them. I try to bring out the character and charisma of the person I’m photographing through my photos.Why do you photograph people (as opposed to landscapes or whatever else)?
Everyone brings their own unique personality to the table when taking their picture, nobody is the same and it’s always a captivating process. If I photograph a landscape I don’t feel any emotion and I feel limited but, with people, no two shoots are the same, everyone opens up differently. It can take time to get an understanding of the subjects personality in front of the camera, It’s a nice challenge and I really enjoy working out how I’m going to photograph each subject.
How have you laced such intimacy into your subjects’ atmospheric frames? Why is it significant to you that their portraits come with uniquely tailored atmospheres?
Each atmosphere I create is constructed with a few variables in mind and it all comes together quite naturally to me when combining them. By figuring out the character of my subject it guides me to work out an appropriate scene that will work well with them. The combination of whether the subject is a more serious or playful type of person and then taking in to consideration what they’re wearing, how long their hair is, their general body language, etc., it’s all these little details that I find important in working out how I’m going to photograph someone.
When I’m on a shoot, I constantly think about my surroundings and work out what will go well together with the subject. I don’t use makeup artists or stylists with any of my personal work, I would rather the person that I’m photographing style themselves with whatever they feel most comfortable in terms of outfit, hair and makeup. I feel this really helps to make an honest portrayal of the person. I don’t tend to take that many photos when I’m on a shoot, I prefer to pay close attention to every photo I take and make it worth it. I feel that colours play a vital part in creating an atmosphere and I prefer shooting in the late afternoon when all the natural light is soft and neutral.
I actually have Protanopia Colour Blindness which can make things a bit problematic when it comes down to editing photos, especially with busy backgrounds and not being able to work out what the colours are. I tend to leave my photos close to how I shot them so that my subject doesn’t end up with green hair and purple skin and just keep things looking as natural as they were when I took the photo.
When I’m framing a shot I quickly assess the symmetry, lines and tones and make sure everything just kind of clicks together in a way that I find satisfying. I don’t tend to plan much prior to shoots, I would rather it be spontaneous and flow naturally with the surroundings I have.
I shoot predominately outside so the control of the lighting or weather is out of my hands. I usually only have a rough idea of the location I’m going to use before a shoot. If I end up at a location that looks awful, it’s just a case of finding an interesting perspective.
What plans do you have for the future?
I just made my first music video in which I’ve tried to carry the feel, atmosphere and colour palette from my photos into the video realm. Again, like with photography, I’m just diving straight in to it. I would absolutely love to do more video work. I have multiple photos from every shoot that I love but, I only tend to put out one image from every shoot… I plan on putting together a book with all of the the photos I’ve not used so far.
Written by Katrina Wong