In the second edition of the Artist Interview Series, Beth Perkins gives insight into her journey to the top of the commercial photography industry. A Texan by birth, Beth attended Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, where she gained the tools necessary for her to embark on a journey to New York.
How did you get introduced to the art of photography? Did you paint/draw initially or was photography the first creative outlet you explored?
I have always enjoyed photography. In college, I took photography, painting, and drawing classes, all of which I loved. I found working in the darkroom to be very meditative. In the end, I felt photography would be the better choice as a career, but all of my artistic experiences have contributed to my photography aesthetic.
How did your life transition from college into young adulthood?
My path from college to photography was more of an organic process, rather than something I was completely conscious of. I moved to New York after college with a couch to sleep on and $600. The first week I was there I went to a birthday party where I met someone who mentioned that they were hiring at GQ. Two weeks later, after interviewing with Robert Priest, I was offered a position as the Assistant to the Fashion Director at GQ. It was definitely my "Devil Wears Prada" fling. I learned so much at GQ, but realized my heart was not committed to fashion. I had met and worked with many photographers I knew about from magazines and thought, if I could travel with dozens of crates of clothing and rolling racks, I could probably handle carrying camera equipment. Shortly after this realization, I accepted an assistant position working for Carter Smith.
Where do you live now? How does this environment contribute to your work?
About three years ago, my husband and I bought a bungalow in Rockaway Beach, Queens, NY. Since growing up in Texas, rockaway beach is the first place where I have felt like part of a community and I am so inspired by the people around me. We are right off the beach and the Jamaica Bay, so the light is really beautiful too.
If you were not a commercial photographer, what other professions could you see yourself exploring?
Ever since I was a little girl, I thought Gilda Radner's gig on SNL was the job for me. I even took an improvisation acting class. It was so hard.
When was the first time you felt like a professional photographer?
It has been a gradual progression getting to where I feel confident about my photography in regards to shooting something and getting what I want out of the shoot, and also knowing what kind of photos I like to take and how to achieve them. Having said that, I still feel extraordinarily fortunate to be able to make a living doing something I enjoy so much.
What was the most fun you have ever had on set at a shoot?
One very fun shoot that comes to mind was for the Bahamas Tourism Board. The people were a lot of fun and we got to travel all over the Bahamas which are beautiful, and eat delicious food, stay in lovely places.
What is the most interesting subject matter of a shoot you have encountered thus far?
Dr. Atala for MIT's Technology Review. He managed to grow a working bladder from adult stem cells. He reminded me of Mr. Bean.
Who are your favorite artists? What about photographers specifically?
When I first started taking pictures I was really influenced by Larry Sultan's book, Pictures from Home and Nick Waplington's, book Living Room. I had been photographing my family and friends, just trying to feel out the camera, but didn't see the validity in taking those photos (until I saw photos of their family and friends).
To you, what is the most meaningful part of being an artist?
Hopefully being able to tell a story that should be told with my images.
What “rule(s)” do you live by?
Live in the moment and don't sweat the small stuff. I'm really good at worrying about something that may or may not happen in the future, instead of enjoying my great fortune in the present.
What inspires you?
What in your past experiences has prepared you for what you do?
I've lived a life with some amazing highs and some pretty bad lows, and I think having experienced those ups and downs helps me connect with people I photograph better.
Who has inspired you the most along your journey?
My parents. I've learned so much from them. Turns out my mom was and still is right about 99.9% of the time.
If you could do anything differently, what would it be?
No regrets. This adventure is unfolding just like it should.
What advice do you have for any young aspiring artists?
It's very difficult to be an artist and survive because most artists aren't good at business and you have to be good at both, or have people around you who help you to be good at both. The other tricky part of being a working artist is staying true to what you like and not letting other people's opinions cloud that.