Defining Framework

When you look at Joe Perri’s body of work, it’s immediately evident that he’s got a strong point of view. His images look and feel uniquely his own, an impression that few of us are ever able to achieve. We spent an afternoon in Brooklyn at his Bed-Stuy studio, discussing his experience with the medium, both in the field as well as in the darkroom. It became clear that it is his intentionality throughout his process that makes his images stand out. All the while, he is conscious to not let his approach become prescriptive, allowing room for spontaneity in the moment. Read on to hear more insight from Joe about building the framework for his photography.

Joe Perri Photographer

When did you first realize you were interested in photography?

I first found interest in photogrpahy in my early teens, documenting my friends surfing and skating. It took shape in high school when I got access to a darkroom for the first time and that really sparked the match for me. 

What is it about the medium that you feel most connected to?

I think what connected me the most in the beginning was the fact that I could tell stories in my own way, in a poetic sense. I enjoyed highlighting things that might seem like nothing and bringing narrative to them. It always excited me being able to share a certain POV on the world and my encounters that felt like I was both documenting and making art of. It’s still what keeps me connected today and I certainly do feel like it’s one of the truest forms of expression.

How do you consciously shape your identity as a photographer?

I’d say it’s my relationship with my intuition and making it a priority to be conscious of what I feel connected to. I really craved to make work from an organic place and understand what I was naturally drawn to. I explored that through making personal work without any boundaries. Seeing what I did and taking the time to dissect it really helped me identify those qualities that I really loved. It created a framework for what I was doing and allowed me to discover my voice. Once I understood those key elements that made me feel connected to the process and the work I just tried to embrace it, sharpening it little by little. Over time that slowly created an identity in my work which gave me some intention when going into things. At this point it’s like a 70/30 thing of following the framework, but also staying open and curious and letting it change shape as it pleases.


"Once I understood those key elements that made me feel connected to the process and the work I just tried to embrace it, sharpening it little by little."

Joe Perri New York Photographer

You've spent time living on both coasts, what's most recently drawn you to New York?

I’d say it was the sense of community and stimulation that permeates the city. The shared experiences that transcend different cultures and backgrounds, creating a sense of connection and belonging that’s rare and powerful. It has really fed me both as a human and an artist, feeling part of a singular bloodstream where people come together to create something bigger than themselves. It always makes me feel inspired and excited to be apart of.


"The darkroom gave me access to a realm of tonality that I had been hitting walls with before..."

Can you speak about your process in the darkroom. What does it enable you to do from a technical perspective, and also what are the intangible feelings or emotions that the process leaves you with?

The process in the darkroom has really reconnected me with my work. Adding this last process in felt full circle when it comes to shooting film. As a lover of color and light, it gave me access to a realm of tonality that I had been hitting walls with before, and from there really allowed me to create a look and feel that excites me and felt true to me. The process also provides such a sense of catharsis, using my senses and hands to makes the prints, mixed with a little math and color theory which makes it an enriching experience.

You've been working on a long term project in Iceland for 5+ years now, from what I've seen thus far you are building a truly awe-inspiring body of work from your time there. Can you give us more background as to what you've been exploring in this project?

So I’ve been exploring teenage life on an island in the arctic for the last 5 years. What started as a backpacking trip and some friendly encounters, turned into a desire to understand an experience that was just different than my own. The work is about identity and the state of ambition in a place where isolation and weather create huge boundaries for teens coming of age. It’s been such an amazing process getting to know these kids and telling their stories, all unique and special to their own, and I’m looking forward to sharing a perspective of Iceland that most people don’t know about.

Committing yourself to a long-term passion project has got to have many ups and downs. What types of hurdles have you been faced with, how have you navigated the uncertainty, and how or where do you ultimately hope this work can live?

There have certainly been many hurdles in the process. The fact that I don’t live there is the obvious one, which has stretched out the length of this project a good bit. I’ve really had to be strategic in how I’m going to tell a story that isn’t my own and have it feel true to the ones that live it, while not being there. Lots of time researching, casting, building relationships via zoom and conceptualizing a bit so my trips are very planned out and arranged.

The financial hurdle is also a big one, as Iceland is easy to get to but expensive to be at. My process also requires funds, from film costs to processing, I just have to settle with doing little at a time. But it’s all been good, and the time has actually created an opportunity to document some of the same kids over the years and show the change. It’s coming together, and I’m currently on the tail end of completing the work. The goal is to make a book and hopefully connect with some Icelandic and New York galleries to display the project.


"Finding the time to slow down and realize that amongst the chaos in life there’s always time for connection and gratitude."

Your lens has no doubt taken you to some unique places, what is one experience in particular that has left a lasting impression on you?

I think it was my trip to Cuba in 2016. It was a very humanizing experience, humbling me in many ways and reconnecting me with the simple joys and pleasure in life. Finding the time to slow down and realize that amongst the chaos in life there’s always time for connection and gratitude. The work I made was a result of that experience, sharing intimate moments and portraits from a passionate and resilient city.

See Joe's portfolio at