A stable nine to five does wonders for the psyche due to the fact that it prevents constant worries about unnecessary hassles, such as accumulated, unpaid bills or lack of money for transportation and shelter. However, for wild-hearted artists, a regular corporate gig may be a hindrance preventing them from living life at maximum potential. Andre L. Perry is an extremely valiant soul who ditched a lucrative career in the digital advertising field to pursue his passion as a lifestyle photographer.
I met Andre at BAPE three years ago, and at first sight, I thought he was a stylist or worked in the entertainment industry in some way. I eventually found out that his occupation was quite the contrary to my calculation. The suave lad with the cooler-than-thou swag and I kept in touch through Instagram, where I rapidly witnessed his lightspeed growth as a photog—pardon me, a connoisseur in visually capturing “vibes”—particularly of the millennial African-American community.
I recently sat down with the prosperous lensman to converse about his corporate past, drastic career change and life as an entrepreneur. Check out our dialogue below:
FRENDY: When we initially met you worked for Complex, right?
ANDRE: I think when we first met I was working for Nylon magazine. I was working in Ad Operations which has nothing to do with what I’m currently doing now. Ad Operations deals with ads you see on a publisher’s website. The ads you usually see on a publisher's page, I was responsible for managing that. I was responsible for making it appear to the right audience, making sure it clicks through the correct website, making sure that the wording was correct, ect. There’s a lot of analytics involved, tons of reporting. I was in excel all day, everyday—again nothing creative, nothing to do with what I’m doing now.
FRENDY: Oh ok, what were you doing over at Complex?
ANDRE: Same thing. Ad Operations.
FRENDY: Why did you decide to move from Complex to Nylon?
ANDRE: I got fired. *Laughs*
FRENDY: *Laughs* Damn, what happened over there?
ANDRE: I knew Ad Operations was not my thing, and at the time, that was the only craft I was good at—I really didn’t care for it though. As a result, I wasn’t going above and beyond, or producing at the same level as when I first got hired at all of these jobs with the same position. The only reason why I kind of stayed in the field for such a long time was because it paid well.
FRENDY: How long did you stay at Complex?
ANDRE: Almost a year.
FRENDY: That was your first job out of college?
ANDRE: No, so my first “real” job out of college was YellowPages.com. That was when I was living in Atlanta. It was more of a digital sales position—I stayed in the digital world just because I was accustomed to it.
FRENDY: What did you actually major in college?
ANDRE: I went to the Art Institute of Philadelphia and my first major was actually photography. I was pretty much my professor’s muse, but after my second semester I bailed on the subject because I wasn’t shooting what I wanted to shoot. It was moreso technical than creative, so I had to really make a decision about what I was going to study for the rest of my college career. I just decided to go into marketing since I had somewhat of an interest in it.
FRENDY: You’re fully invested in photography right now so it just goes to show how life comes full circle. When did you realize in Nylon that Ad Operations was no longer something you wanted to do?
ANDRE: I actually got fired from there as well. Working at Nylon reignited my interest in photography. I knew I wasn’t going to stay there for long, so I took advantage of the situation and started to express my passion for photography. I informed people at the job that I was capable of shooting.
I had an idea for featuring the raincoat company Stutterheim on Nylon Guys (which was ran by only just one person). So I reached out to them, got a couple of coats and models to shoot. I told the person that ran NYLON Guys and got the ok for the spread. At the end of the day, we were trying to push Nylon Guys but Nylon was trying to discontinue the section because it wasn’t making any money. It was also around the time when Nylon was transitioning to a different webhost. Nylon Guys was running from a different host from Nylon.com, so it was almost like they were running as two different businesses which didn’t make sense. When Nylon.com relaunched, Nylon Guys wasn’t a part of it.
FRENDY: Crazy. Let’s take it back for a bit. Where did you grow up?
ANDRE: Philadelphia and South Jersey. I was born and raised in West Philly, moved to South Jersey around Junior high school, and then spent most of my young adult life back in Philly.
FRENDY: How was it like growing up in Philly?
ANDRE: Philly at the time was very hood fab. This was the era of Kim, Biggie, Diddy and Mase--everything was about being flashy, fly and living a music video lifestyle. I didn’t have much friends, I just always knew there was more to life. I knew if I stayed in Philly I would of been stuck.
FRENDY: When did you move to Atlanta?
ANDRE: After I graduated college in 2006, I moved to Atlanta and lived there for about four years. To be honest, I had no idea what I was going to do there. Technically, my first job was working for Sprint in ATL right after college because I simply needed money to live. After that, I worked for other cellphone companies (including Helio) then worked for the Yellow Pages.
FRENDY: What was your working title at those cell companies?
ANDRE: Just selling phones. Nothing creative or fab.
FRENDY: How did you go from selling mobile phones to YellowPages.com?
ANDRE: They simply had an opening in their online advertising department and I needed money. Back then, there was no company I felt compelled to work for—I just needed to survive. I stayed with them for two years then moved to New York.
I still didn’t know what I really wanted to do when I moved here, so I started working at Zara. I was doing the visuals for their store windows. I just knew somebody on Facebook who referred me to work there.
FRENDY: Did you enjoy working at Zara?
ANDRE: I didn’t like the job because it really didn’t leave room for creativity. The higher ups were very specific in how they wanted their mannequins dressed, and I just realised that I didn’t care so much about the details that goes into dressing them. A piece of clothing could be off by a quarter inch and usually there would be an entire two-hour discussion about it. I stayed there for about eight months and then got fired. After that situation, I went to selling digital ads for CBS Radio.
FRENDY: Wait a minute. You studied marketing in college, how were you getting all of these advertising gigs?
ANDRE: There’s not necessarily a trade that needs to be studied for selling ads because at the end of the day it’s just sales.
FRENDY: There are tons of unemployed people out there, you’re telling me they have a good chance of getting work in that particular field?
ANDRE: Well, it’s not that easy. Fortunately, my resume is filled with previous sales jobs. Some of them didn’t necessarily involve selling online ads, but there was a quota I had to meet each month. When I went to these job interviews I sold myself on how I met the quotas and how I overcame certain challenges.
FRENDY: When did you decide to pick up the camera again? Was it during your time at Nylon?
ANDRE: I actually decided to pick up the camera again while working for Complex in 2014.
FRENDY: What inspired you to do so?
ANDRE: It’s a funny story. I’ve always been an android user, and when Instagram came to androids I made a conscious decision to not just post selfies. As everyone knows androids take better pictures than Iphones, so I would always take these dope pics on my phone and post them on the app. Then, my friends who happen to be bloggers reached out and inquired about the camera I shot with, I said I just used my phone. Since I didn’t own a camera, they said they would provide me with one to shoot them and I agreed. They provided me with a Canon T3I. The pictures from that shoot came out great and shortly after I picked up my very first camera (Canon T3i).
FRENDY: After the shoot were you compelled to take photography seriously?
ANDRE: Well, I didn’t know I was going to make a career out of it. I just knew that I liked it at that time. It was like a drug in a sense where I instantly felt happy when I started shooting, and I wanted to continue it.
The Four Pins blog actually inspired me to start capturing street style, so I would always hang out in SOHO (which is where we met) to capture cool and stylish people. I was gradually getting deeper into photography during my Nylon days.
FRENDY: Where were you posting all of your street style photos?
ANDRE: Just on my Tumblr and Instagram.
FRENDY: Let’s fast forward a bit. What were you doing after you got fired from Nylon?
ANDRE: I was looking for work. I eventually got hired at BET for Ad Operations and stayed there for just a year. I actually quit that job and the reason I did so was because I established a good relationship with my boss Nicole Cosby (we were brought on around the same time). When she announced that she was quitting, I decided to do the same.
She played a real important role in aiding me to be where I am today. The reason why we left is because BET didn’t have their sh*t together. We really were rooting for them, but internally it didn’t make sense to be there and invest so much energy in trying to change things around when the company is stuck in their ways. As much as my boss tried, nothing happened.
After BET, I went over to SpinMedia which consists of Spin Magazine, Vibe magazine etc. Again same job in Ad Operations, but this time around I was also assigned as a media planner. I didn’t have that much experience in that field and it became overwhelming. A media planner makes up a plan for a brand’s exposure online, then the plan is sent to a salesperson who pitches it to the company. The salesperson and company would negotiate what the plan would actually be and then it comes back to me to execute. Unfortunately, At SpinMedia I was not only in ad operations but also had the responsibility of coming up with the media plan and executing it.
In SpinMedia’s culture it was normal, but not necessarily normal in other companies. I wasn’t fully aware of that when I signed up for the job. It was just too much and I left the company after six months.
FRENDY: So when did you decide to take on photography fully? Of course, I understand that you had to survive which is why you worked all of these jobs, but what made you consciously turn it up a notch as a shooter?
ANDRE: The good thing about all my jobs was that they all paid great. I had about $30,000 saved in my banking account while I was working at SpinMedia. I was 33 and then, you know, as a human being we all compare ourselves to how others are living. I thought I wasn’t living my best life, I wasn’t living my purpose. Photography was my only passion that lasted this long. There were so much things I thought I loved doing, but over a period of time those passions faded away. One of my goals before moving to New york was to work for Complex and BET because I always thought it would be cool to work at those companies. When those dreams materialized I was totally disappointed. But with photography, my high expectations were just like how thought they would be.
I remember getting out of work on January 14, 2016 and literally crying all the way from the train station to my home because I was fed up with not living my purpose. Since I had money saved I sent out an email saying, "Effective Immediately: I am quitting this job."
FRENDY: Wow! Good for you. What did you after quitting SpinMedia?
ANDRE: Within 2 weeks after I sent the email I moved to Brazil for about a month. I went over there to relax a bit and take pictures.
FRENDY: Many people who are reading this interview may be thinking, “why is he crying? This dude has a great job, he has money in the bank. What’s there to be sad about?” What do you have to say in response to that?
ANDRE: Well, at the time I wasn’t traveling. You’re always going to want to accomplish more goals after achieving the ones you already set for yourself. If you have $100,000 in the bank, you’re going to want $200,000. An artist can have the biggest record of the year, they’re going to want an even bigger record the following year. Every goal I set for myself was fulfilling at that time, but then I always needed more. And as I said before, my passion for photography is endless, so I had to pursue a craft that actually gave me joy rather than financial security.
FRENDY: What did you do after your Brazil Trip? Did you move back to New York?
ANDRE: Before quitting SpinMedia, I reached out to travel a company that documented group trips called, Travel Noire. They wanted me to shoot in Morocco for a long period of time, unfortunately I just started the job at SpinMedia so I couldn’t take the time off. While I was in Brazil I hit Travel Noire again since I was free and they booked me. That was my first official photography job during April of 2016.
FRENDY: How long were you shooting for Travel Noir?
ANDRE: It was all project based,I shot about 3 trips for them. Two in Brazil and one in Italy. I did my first trip at Travel Noire back in April of 2016, then when I came back to New York I had nothing. So in between assignments for the company I was still figuring out what I was going to do for consistent pay. That’s when Nicole Cosby (my former boss at BET) came back in the picture.
When I was over at BET, one of the things I did was share my photography with everyone. I also did that at SpinMedia. Basically, I made sure to let everyone know that I had interest in becoming a photographer at my latest corporate jobs. Nicole knew that I wanted to become one, so she referred me to RushCard, Russell Simmons’ pre-paid debit card company, since they were looking for photographers. They became my very first major client. That all happened in June of 2017.
FRENDY: Was it unexpected for you to get the gig?
ANDRE: There was a lot of things that went into getting the job. It was an easy sell for them, but it wasn’t necessarily easy where I just had a camera and was at the right place at the right time. The style of photography that I do is very niche—It’s commercial lifestyle advertising. What I capture is real life moments of real people. I decided to do that early on because there’s not a lot of black photographers who showcase lifestyle images. I made sure whatever photos I decided to take from that point on would reflect the brands I would want to work for.
When I was shooting for Travel Noir I decided to take on a passion project by creating a coffee table book called, “Happy Black People.” So fast forward to my meeting with RushCard, once Nicole made the connection, I already had a portfolio that represented what the company was looking for.
FRENDY: It’s all about taking initiative, and not waiting for any particular lucky situation to get a gig.
ANDRE: Yes, exactly! One thing that has made me successful is the passion that I have for photography. There’s not a lot of people that would want to make a photobook simply for the love of it. I didn’t do it to make money, I just created it to share my work. I love showing my photos to people.
FRENDY: When did your love for photography actually begin? I know you partly studied it in college, but what sparked your interest in shooting?
ANDRE: *Laughs* It started with the movie, Love Jones. The movie was all about the renaissance black man and I just fell in love with that idea. Even though Nia Long played the photographer role, that’s what actually sparked my interest in photography.
FRENDY: What was it about the movie that specifically triggered your interest in photography? I’m sure you were aware of other photographers prior.
ANDRE: I didn’t know anything about photography at that time. It was just the idea. This was also during the era that neo-soul was very big, and you know me being in Philly, it was really big there. There was a particular section of neo-soul that sort of had the photography vibe, so it just elevated my love for it.
Whatever someone’s passion is, you kind of like have to go back to where it all sparked and realize it just came from this small source of inspo. And then it just snowballs into this bigger thing.
FRENDY: True love always comes back when you set it free. Obviously, your love for photography was deep inside of you, but you had to go through the “valley of death,” so to speak, to experience the opposite of your passion just to realize your true purpose.
FRENDY: How do you go about getting clients as a photographer?
ANDRE: There’s really no one way of getting them. If you’re a freelancer, you’ll have to rely on your personality. That’s one thing that I discovered. I’m an introvert at heart, I don’t necessarily like reaching out to people for business so I really have to depend on personal relationships. If you’re passionate about something, people will be aware. For example, you’re a writer, that’s pretty much what people are going to instinctively know about you because you are consistently providing new reading content. So if photography is a person’s passion, their name should be easily associated with the craft. That’s where the opportunities lies.
When it comes to photography most people only think of fashion, celebrity and documentary styles. But there are a lot more avenues in the field that generate tons of money they aren’t aware of. There’s architectural photography, sports photography, and many more. So a person that is interest in shooting pics for a living should study markets that aren’t necessarily popularized.
It’s also good for an aspiring photographer to study the companies they would want to work for and get familiar with their imagery. For example, Condé Nast has a very specific way of shooting the men who are featured in their publications.
FRENDY: Who have you worked with so far?
ANDRE: Right now, my main client is RushCard. Since I signed a contract with them, I’ve been blessed with tons of work. I shoot for them about 4 to 5 times a month.
FRENDY: How do you go about booking the models you work with? Through an agency?
ANDRE: Yup, I use an agency called Instagram *Laughs*. I use a lot of the same models over and over again, but they also refer me to more. I’m at a point where when I reach out to a model, they either have heard of me already or they simply reach out first. It’s all about word of mouth and social media for me.
FRENDY: What’s your daily routine in regards to work?
ANDRE: Whenever I have an idea, I would share it with my main point of contact at RushCard and they would either say yes or no--most of the time they agree with it. Prior to presenting the idea, I put together a moodboard so the company could see what I envisioned. Once they agree, I reach out to the models and scout locations for shooting.
FRENDY: Are you working on anything else other than RushCard projects?
ANDRE: Well, I’m working on re-doing my contract with them for 2018, with a pay increase. I’m super happy about that. To be honest, I’m working on building a business, build up my portfolio and save a lot of money. Next year I plan on getting an employee and renting a studio where I can live and work.
FRENDY: Did you ever think you would be this successful in your career of choice?
ANDRE: Hell no! I never knew that I could actually work for myself and do what I love. It really wasn’t how I was raised, it was just about making money, that’s it.
FRENDY: Do you have any advice for artist who are trying to make it in their desired field of work?
ANDRE: If your passion keeps you up at night then there’s no other choice but to make the first step to complete your goal. Don’t ever be too “realistic” because it can deter you from doing what you love.
Photographed by Andre L Perry