ANTON PERICH - PHOTOGRAPHER
The camera is one of the finest instruments in the world, and you have to listen to what it says.
- ANTON PERICH
Legendary photographer Anton Perich on New York, Studio 54, Painting and Video Art.
YOU MOVED TO NEW YORK CITY IN THE EARLY SEVENTIES. WHAT INSPIRED YOU ABOUT THE CITY BACK THEN?
I came to New York as an explorer. I didn’t know much about the city. I didn’t speak the language, didn’t know the culture or the fashion. I didn’t know about the sunny cold winters or the Indian summers. So I came here a little bit like Columbus. The only thing I knew about New York was the art. But art is hermetic and elitist – it doesn’t tell you much. It is like reading American Vogue to find out about American fashion. It has nothing to do with how the New Yorkers dress.
You have to walk the streets of New York to find out about the fashion. In New York I discovered this incredible freedom, it was so inspiring. It was different in Paris, where I spent about 5 years. I grew up in communist Yugoslavia. In the late sixties, Paris was a police city. I was frequenting the Cafe de Bucy, in St. Germain, and the police would pick us up once in a while, and take us to the police station, and keep us there for hours before letting us go. For no reason at all. I guess the reason was the fashion. We all had long hair and disreputable blue jeans. So in Paris at this time, fashion was capable of putting you in jail. My first night in New York I went to Max’s. After I met everybody there I stayed for years shooting pictures non- stop, until it closed. Then Studio 54 opened I moved there. The people of the night were my total inspiration. Artists, poets, photographers, actors, filmmakers, models, dancers and transvestites. Warhol and his entourage. I wanted to be like them, but I guess I couldn’t. I was different, and that saved me.
WHAT SPARKED YOUR INITIAL INTEREST IN PHOTOGRAPHY, PAINTING, AND VIDEO ART?
Photography was my fourth language. I spoke Croatian, Italian, French and photography before I spoke English. Photography is definitely a language. The camera is one of the finest instruments in the world, and you have to listen to what it says. A camera describes the eyes, body and fashion better than any other instrument. And then there’s the intimacy. The camera drives you directly into other people’s souls. And the dangerous thing is that you stay there for a while. You explore, you dig deep. You undress with the camera. You discover narcissism, arrogance, goodness, otherworldly beauty, power, weakness, loyalty, betrayal, desires, and sometimes secrets. Sometimes you touch what you are not supposed to touch.In regard to painting, I didn’t paint for a few years. Until I had a vision in 1977 – that the future of painting would be electric, and not chemical.
There were no painting machines then, so I had to invent and build one. So what I made was perhaps the first ink-jet printer ever. But it was giant, 10×12 feet. I am still painting with it today. It is like a piano, an instrument to paint with. In 1978 I produced early pre-digital works. My mission was to electrify the art of painting and photography.Now everybody is a digital artist, everybody paints and photographs like me. The ultimate flattery.Video for me was not really video, it was television. In 1973 I found out about Manhattan cable TV public access. I took one hour weekly, and started producing my own shows. I realized that I could change TV forever. I call it a $10 Revolution. That is how much I spent on the video tape. Anybody could produce a TV show. I realized the awesome power of the Public Access TV. Very few people did. It was like youtube today. I produced and directed perhaps the first Underground TV show. I brought completely new content to TV. Nightlife, parties, Punk fashion, Punk music, transvestites, gay people, undressed people and sex. TV never had this before. The show was repeatedly censored. I fought for freedom of speech. I broke the ice. In 1973 TV was the last taboo. If you break it you make a revolution in society.I cablecast the first Issey Miyake show in NY, Betsey Johnson, Kenzo, Halston, Cardin, Jacques Bellini, Giorgio Sant’Angelo, Scott Barrie and Fiorucci, all uncut.
YOU’VE TAKEN MANY PHOTOGRAPHS OF ICONS SUCH AS ANDY WARHOL, CANDY DARLING, JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT AND PATTI SMITH. WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO PHOTOGRAPH THESE PARTICULAR PERSONALITIES AT THAT TIME?
Yes, when you are doing photography, you make a titanic effort to discover and capture the essence of your time. You look around and you find this wonderful light emanating from those icons. You have to have the intelligent eye to see it. Their faces, their eyes and their attitude are dear to light – they speak the powerful language of photography. I didn’t plan on taking their pictures, I had a camera, and they were within arm’s reach. I saw in them an extraordinary beauty that only our epoch could produce. Photography has this incredible sensibility to read it, better than any other art. One snapshot contains all the past, present and the future of an icon. And it contains the secret markings of it’s time. And now, many years later I still look at my work. And I see Warhol’s otherworldly shyness, Basquiat’s youth and arrogance, Candy’s universal female beauty, that only a man’s body could produce. And there’s Patti’s ethereal presence.
WHAT IS ONE OF THE MOST MEMORABLE PHOTOGRAPHS YOU HAVE EVER TAKEN AND WHY?
It was the photo of Warhol at the Factory on Union Square, in the early Seventies. I took his picture while he was taking my picture. The photos were absolutely synchronized. If it were a duel we would have both been dead. In my photograph you can see a Polaroid SX 70 covering his face, and a powerful burst of flash. The picture is unmistakably Warhol – a man and a machine. There is an iconic intelligence at work there. The precision of the moment and the timelessness caught in the photographic mirror.
DO YOU HAVE A SECRET ‘WISH JOB’? IF YOU HADN’T BECOME A PAINTER OR PHOTOGRAPHER, WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU ABSOLUTELY LOVE TO BE DOING?
My secret wish jobs run in vicious cycles. When painting, I wish I was photographing. When photographing, I wish I was doing movies. When doing movies, I wish I was writing. When I hit the wall I switch to another media. And usually it takes me through the wall.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR ANTON PERICH?
Whatever is left of tomorrow. To enjoy and appreciate the light of the day and the darkness of the night. To love and to create. Poem. Fiction. Painting. Photograph. Movie. Book. Show. The new issue of Night Magazine. And yes, my new TV show on the Internet, The Fabulous Underground. 11PM. Time-Warner Channel 56.