Ibarionex Perello on 13 years of The Candid Frame, and more

This week, we caught up with longtime photographer and prolific podcaster, Ibarionex Perello. Reflecting on nearly 500 episodes of The Candid Frame (the world’s best interview show about photography and all things creative), Ibarionex tells us why he keeps the project going after over thirteen years, and what lies ahead.

Ibarionex will host a one-on-one talk with Ruddy Roye, a panel on mental health in photography, and conduct a workshop at this year’s Focus on the Story festival, May 29 – June 2nd. Register today and save!

Mike Jett:  I wanted to begin by discussing the podcast that you’ve produced for the past 13 years, that’s fast approaching 500 episodes, called The Candid Frame. What keeps you going on this project, year after year?

Ibarionex Perello: I’ve always loved photography from the very first time I picked up a camera, and I just love talking about the process, about being creative, and about photography with people whose work I respect and admire. So it gives me a really great opportunity to sit down with people and talk about something that we both love. And I just enjoy good conversations and I feel like I’m really adept at it, and I like being able to share those conversations with people all over the world.

JETT: You really are. I mentioned before to you just how intimidating it is to interview someone whose interview skills I respect so much.

PERELLO: Aha, no worries.

JETT: What is it about talking about photography that just makes us better as photographers?

PERELLO: You know, I think that the conversations that I have on the show, because they’re not fixated on technique and gear, get to explore the reasons why people make photographs. What leads them to make the decisions they do, with respect to the subject matter. Their approach, and why they’re so passionate about photographing whatever they photograph in the ways that they do. And I think that’s something that’s often been missing from a lot of the written content that has for a long time been the means by which people find out about photographers. Having these unedited, really frank conversations about a variety of things that may or may not have anything to do with photography, you gain insights into what it means to be creative with the camera.

JETT: In your work you have documentary, portraiture and a good amount of street photography. I also photograph the streets, and I think the real value of street photography is decades from now, and not so much right now. Are there subjects that you photograph with the future in mind?

PERELLO: That’s only something that sort of come to mind recently, largely because I’ve been going through images that I saw like 20 or 25 years ago of downtown Los Angeles, and most of that stuff was shot on film. So I have an appreciation for their value in terms of a historical document as a result of the passage of time that you mentioned. But for me, I’m usually not thinking that far ahead. I’m making photographs that please me today. I’m not so much trying to make a historical documentation of any particular area or time. I think that just comes about naturally. So my pursuit, and what I do in street photography in particular, is really trying to challenge the way that I see and shoot. That’s been primarily the reason why I’ve always enjoyed street photography. Because it challenges in a way that no other type of photography has. And then I get to apply everything that I learned from that to all the other kind of work that I do. I’m doing some documentary work right now, and everything that I’ve learned as a street photographer is helping me so much in terms of the projects that I’m working on. Especially being able to respond to things on the fly and to be conscious of everything that I’m doing to the frame to make an aesthetically pleasing photograph, but now with the goal of trying to create a story that I can with a single photograph on the street.

JETT: You recently authored a book called “Making Photographs: Develop a Personal Visual Workflow.” Thinking back about not creating a historical document, but rather making photos for yourself: Do you photograph your family? Do you ever turn the camera on yourself and create work that you don’t necessarily put out for everyone to see?

PERELLO: Well, in the last six months I’ve been turning it on my family, largely because I hadn’t really done that in the past. My mother-in-law moved in with us last year, and so I’ve been documenting her life with us for the past six or eight months. I’m also doing another project specifically with her. She’s 86. She has some health issues. And so it’s an important phase in her life, and ours as well. So I’ve been documenting not only her in our house, but the interaction between her and my wife, and my sister in law, and just really sort of examining what our life is like right now as she lives with us. So this has been really the first time that I’ve really created a body of work where I focus on something that’s happening underneath my own roof. That’s something that I would have never ever considered before. But I realized how important this time is. And yeah, it’s really gratifying and challenging work at the same time.

JETT: I just traveled to visit my grandfather in January. He is getting up there in age as well, and I tried to sneak some photos in. He understands why I’m doing it but just, even speaking as a street photographer, it was a severely uncomfortable experience for me to try to photograph my grandfather. Do you feel that at all?

PERELLO: I think it’s a little easier since it’s my mother-in-law, so she tends to give me a little more license. Photographing my dad before he passed away, and photographing my mother now, is much more of a challenge. My mom is pretty resistant to being photographed. My dad, not so much so. But I really – I wish I had photographed more than I had, because I made the occasional portrait of him, but I never really considered doing a documentary project on him. But with my mother-in-law, she’s very tolerant, and everyone here is accepting of the camera. So it usually isn’t a very difficult or challenging thing for me. I’m lucky enough that everyone involved is pretty comfortable with me making photographs.

JETT: You’ve been involved in so many different aspects of photography, as a photographer, author, teacher, editor. Has it affected your personal relationships at all?

PERELLO: That’s a good question. I think cameras have given me permission to talk and engage with people who I probably otherwise wouldn’t have talked to. Whether it’s on the street, in talking with people in the photographic community, or especially the show. I get to talk and become friends with people who I’ve admired, and who have been my photographic heroes for a long time. Joel Meyerowitz wrote the foreword for the book, and I was really grateful that he did that. But that’s a direct result of the relationship I’ve developed with him over the years, interviewing him for the show. It has provided me a means by which to meet people to talk with them and on some occasions become good friends with.

JETT: I have to ask you, what was it like making Joel Meyerowitz’s portrait?

PERELLO: Oh, that was pretty easy. I mean, I was visiting him in New York just sitting by the window and I saw him sitting there in this area where he has all his prints, and we were just chatting, and I said “Do you mind me making a photograph?” So it was just a simple – a really simple portrait. It wasn’t a formal photo session. The lighting was just really good.

JETT:  It was really good!

PERELLO: Yeah, so I wasn’t as intimidated as if it had been like a formal shoot. I think I would have felt a little more overwhelmed.


JETT: How did you first learn about light, seeing it out in the wild and seizing those sorts of moments?

PERELLO: I think it came to me when I’d grown frustrated with my own photography. I felt it had become stagnant. And at one point, I had taken all my photo equipment and put it in the closet, thinking I was never going to use it again. And that lasted for about six months or something like that, back when I was working at Nikon. And then I started revisiting all the photo books that I had collected over the years, and I started realizing that the photographers whose work I really admired were really paying attention to the light, that sort of opened the door. And so I learned from looking at the work of these photographers who were so, so good and then I just worked hard to pay attention to what was happening with light and shadow and the different qualities of light. And as I started shooting, keeping my eyes focused on that, it became really transformative and I saw a big leap in my imagery.

JETT: My wife and I were at dinner the other night and I was just so frustrated with the lighting on our table. It’s one of those things I feel like you just can’t unsee.

PERELLO: And that’s something that’s happened for me, too. So even when I’m without my camera or I’m just driving down the road, I’m always… that light switch is on, and broken. You know, it’s like I am perpetually always evaluating light whether or not I use it to make a photograph. But that’s only after years of practicing that. It’s an invaluable skill but it’s something that is honed by going out and making photographs as much as possible.

JETT: Was it 2006 you started the podcast? That was a year before the iPhone was released. Have you felt the landscape of photography change over the years, through what you hear from these people who have been professionals since the 50s, since the 60s?

PERELLO: Yeah. I mean, to some degree. There’s been a change in terms of the business of photography. That’s sort of the big thing. The means by which photographers can earn a living, especially when I’m talking to photojournalists or editorial photographers. That’s where the big change is. But in terms of creativity and outlets, that’s changed a whole lot too. And I think it’s for the better. Photographers used to be reliant on gatekeepers in order to get their work out there. And now with Instagram, with their websites, with their blogs, people who are creating really sort of unique powerful work don’t have to feel like there’s only a narrow path to getting worthwhile attention to their work. Before, if you wanted to get into the fine art world or anything like that, the gatekeepers were the curators and the owners of the galleries, and if they didn’t think there was monetary value to your work, you couldn’t get it seen. But increasingly people are discovering amazing bodies of work that are being created by people who are not even professionals, but who are nevertheless producing work that is as professional quality as anything by anyone with a big name. So I think it’s sort of a mixed bag. It’s more difficult to earn a living as just a photographer. But the possibility of you getting your work out there has increased significantly during the same timeframe.

JETT: Jamie Rose recently interviewed you on your podcast, and one of the parts that stood out to me was near the end when you revealed a personal history of ADHD, and struggles with anxiety. As someone who myself copes with anxiety, this revelation meant a lot to me. You’ll be moderating a panel on photography and mental illness at this year’s festival. What is it about this subject that’s so important?

PERELLO: I think it’s important to discuss because I think it’s an under-served topic. It’s more famously known for photographers doing stories like on mental health wards. You think about Mary Ellen Mark’s work during the early seventies in that women’s mental health institute. And most of the time, it’s been the more dramatic examples of people who are suffering from mental illness, like drug addicts on the street or self medicating. And I think especially because of my personal history and in other people in my family, I’ve seen how other mental health issues are a more common challenge for individuals and families, and that it’s sometimes not the focus of a lot of photographic work. I mean, there are some exceptions. There have been some photographers who have been documenting their own family’s challenges with mental health.

JETT: Melissa Spitz’s “You Have Nothing to Worry About” comes to mind.

PERELLO: Exactly. I interviewed her last year. And so I felt that, in terms of what considerations and sensitivities we have as photographers when we’re documenting mental health challenges, these are people who are incredibly vulnerable. Especially if they open up their lives to us in a way that I think is slightly different from the average person or family who opens up. I think that the approach has to be a little more nuanced. And also, with respect to the photographers themselves. With conflict photographers, the issue of PTSD has always been there. But I think to some extent any photographer who does work in high stressful situations, whether it’s the urban issues that are happening in Chicago and Baltimore, where you’re seeing the worst of the worst that people can do to each other, and you’re documenting this on a regular basis? How that ends up impacting you. And just the anxiety and stress that goes along with trying to make a living as a photographer. So there are emotional challenges either way you go, whether it’s in front or behind the camera. And I’ve never seen a real discussion about that in any of the panels I’ve ever attended.

JETT: I can’t wait for that talk. I really can’t. You’ve mentioned some projects you are working on. Do you have anything exciting coming up, aside from your panels and workshop at the Focus on the Story festival?

PERELLO: I’m going to be teaching some other workshops. I’m going to be teaching one in L.A. in June and then we’ve just announced one that I’m going to be doing in Japan in December. So that’s going to be in Tokyo and maybe Hokkaido. And then we’re gonna be going through 500 episodes by the turn of the year, so we’ve got some great guests up ahead that I’m really excited to share with people in the coming weeks.

JETT: Do you have anything planned for the 500th episode?

PERELLO: I think we’ll probably do a retrospective episode, and go over some of the more interesting conversations that we’ve had over the last – at that point – 14 years. That’s what I’m thinking, but we’ll have to see if I have the time because it’s a lot of hours of content to go through.

JETT: Tell me about it. Kirth Bobb, with Focus on the Story, is the one who put me on to your podcast. And then I just sort of had to prioritize. “Okay. I only have so much time to listen to these things. How do I even begin?” So I kind of went through and picked out a few of my favorite photographers and started there. I guess the problem is that every time I listen to an episode, it gets me amped up to go out and shoot, so I also have to make sure I have time for that before starting another one.

PERELLO: I mean, that’s good. That’s really at the heart of it, man. If it spurs people to go out and shoot and get away from their computers and get off the phone, then I’m happy. I don’t necessarily want everybody to listen to every episode that I’ve had. I’d rather hear what you just said, that it inspires them to go out and make their own photographs. That’s much more important.

All Images © Ibarionex Perello. You can see more of his work and find links to The Candid Frame podcast on his website. Register today to join Ibarionex Perello at Focus on the Story 2019, where he’ll host a two day workshop as well as two different talks. 

Mike Jett is a photographer based in Washington, D.C., and Managing Director of Focus on the Story. You should follow him on Instagram.

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