Luminous Visionary: Heather Perry

Photography by Heather Perry.

With her fashion photography career already prospering, Academy of Art University fashion journalism student Heather Perry continues to explore new vistas. From New York Fashion Week to Wilkes Bashford, she is carving out a stylish niche in the fashion scene – all while carrying a full school workload.

Heather Perry knows a thing or two - or more - about what it means to take charge of one’s own career and adamantly pursue your most farfetched dreams.

Since beginning her professional photography career four years ago – but being involved in photography for nearly fourteen years now- Perry has built an enviable rapport and resume that includes being published everywhere from The New York Times and Nylon magazine to making it to New York Fashion Week, shooting for multiple shows at the almighty destination for countless fashion hopefuls.

Perry has been the consummate fashion enthusiast for as long as she can remember; beginning with ripping out editorials from her favorite fashion magazines and covering her bedroom walls with them, she eventually began documenting what she enjoyed most about the editorials, be it the clothing, lighting, models or set locations. 

Having “grown up all over the place,” traveling with her family from San Francisco to New York before finally settling in Colorado, Perry is also well versed in the trials and tribulations of adaptation. She has in her own words, “pretty much redone that loop and will bring it back full circle when I finally decide to resettle back in New York…. .By nature, I can’t stay in one place too long.”

Before deciding on the world of fashion photography, during her stay in New York, Perry delved into multiple corners of the industry to find exactly what her calling in the fashion world was. 

“I worked as a model, which I hated,” said Perry emphatically. “I assisted stylists and liked it but was more interested in what the photographer was doing. The first time I went to Fashion Week, I was in the audience and I wasn’t even watching the show. I was fixated on the photographers and the sound of the shutters clicking got me and I knew that was it.” 

Despite discovering her innate talent by teaching herself how to shoot, Perry deemed her education in the photography field a primary necessity to perfect the technical concepts. She enrolled in school and had no intentions of making her scholastic career an elongated process and began with only a small amount of classes. She completed all of the requirements for her Associate of Arts Degree in Photography at City College in San Francisco and earned awards for her coverage of New York Fashion Week for the school’s Etc. magazine.  Not content to rest on her laurels, while still enrolled in school, she stepped out of her comfort zone and contacted various fashion photographers to inquire about assisting them. 

Then, she says: “I came across the work of Daniel Watson, who at the time was a student of Photography at the Academy of Art University and I fell in love with his work. I sent him an e-mail to see if he needed an assistant, we met and the rest was history.

Perry began assisting Watson, the founder and editor of the New York-based fashion publication, LIVID magazine, then eagerly initiated New York fashion shoots of her own.

Her road to professional success was also dramatically enhanced by her “dear friend’’ Richard R(he prefers that his last name not be used), a long time figure on the East Coast fashion scene, who introduced her to other players in the field and significantly mentored her career.

There is much to be gained in this industry by the person who is unafraid to network and thoroughly create genuine and withstanding connections with other willing professionals. It is apparent that Perry need not be reminded of this virtue, since her connections and ability to maintain relationships have propelled her to unreachable heights for some. None of this would be possible, needless to say, were it not for her unique talent as a shooter, from street style to corporate work and travel photojournalism.

“Almost all of my experience has come through maintaining relationships that I had previously made in the industry. They say it’s all about who you know and it’s so true,’’ said a reflective Perry. “When I started to see the results from stepping out of my comfort zone, I also started to see growth within myself.” 

Lynn Yeager, contributing fashion editor to Vogue.com and contributing writer to Vogue.

While reaching the height of Fashion Week would be the ultimate goal, for Perry, it meant that she was just getting started. 

After her initial East Coast experience, she advanced to cultivating a new aspect of her brand through her blog “Vintage Slang.” Through this platform, Perry has tied words to her images, bringing her back to her adolescence and interest in fashion writing. 

Perry started to enjoy writing again and, “…figured I should start doing more of it. I started writing for a few publications and decided I wanted to get into a journalism program.” She decided to make the move from New York to the West Coast after growing tired of the constant hustle in the city.

 Within two weeks following her decision to live “where no car was necessary,” she was a San Francisco resident and the Academy of Art University was Perry’s destination to study fashion journalism. Her decision to return back to school was fueled by the hopes of fusing both journalism and photography professionally and being employed for both at a publication. 

“Vintage Slang” was initially a documentation of Perry’s favorite fashion shows, then blossomed to a portfolio of recent work and also houses a now favorite photographic activity of hers, arresting self-portraits. She has travelled from Miami, Hawaii, Yosemite and Mexico City, where she posts reflections of her trips and portraits of herself. Perry admitted that she has always enjoyed being behind the camera rather than in front, but shooting herself has slightly diminished that fear. 

Designer and actor Waris Ahluwalia with designer and filmmaker Arden Wohl.

Her street-style photography has twice been featured in the New York Times, with shots of a cheeky East Cost chick decked out in Tommy Hilfiger duds with a Brooklyn Nets cap and“Dressed Up Sweats,’’ a shot of a beshaded fashionista looking every bit as confident as Ms. Wintour behind her shades. And besides the Times, Nylon and LIVID, her work has also been featured in Wcities, a San Francisco-based travel and entertainment site, Examiner.com and UPTEMPO magazine.

 Through perfecting her runway, self-portrait and street shots, Perry has ventured into nearly every coveted genre of fashion photography. In true East Coast fashion, however, after coming across an opening for an in-house photographer at esteemed retailer Wilkes Bashford, she jumped at the opportunity to shoot their luxe products. 

After having grown accustomed to the freelance life, where one is able to solely own how and where to gauge where their efforts and time are spent, being contracted in the corporate environment of Wilkes Bashford was a welcome challenge for Perry. 

“Working at Wilkes Bashford has definitely switched gears in the way that I was used to working, mainly because product was something that I had lightly done before,” she says. “It has been amazing working for this brand because it was the next goal I had set for myself!”

In viewing Perry’s work, there are few noticeable influences but her keen eye and distinct perspective voice a difference in her work that separates her from the average budding photographer. Her work is stark and bold and forces one to delve into the who, what and why and places her subjects on a platform where they can be upheld and revered. There is also softness and an inviting quality that opens a whole other dimension to what it is that she captures. 

Perry has noted that she is without doubt influenced by the great classics: Irving Penn, Herb Ritts, Richard Avedon and Helmut Newton. However, one can deduce that the starkness of her images stems from her modern influence, Terry Richardson.

“I draw a lot of inspiration from Terry Richardson,” she says. “Regardless of what many people think of him, he is a brilliant photographer. I’m a huge fan of his signature flash lighting, but beyond that, I’m inspired by his ability to shoot anyone from Oprah to Barack Obama and have the ability to make it his. His ability to take these people and inject some of his personality into the shots and pull out a little of their personality that we’re not used to seeing, that is inspirational to me.” 

Perry’s progressive yet ever-growing amounts of success in fashion photography and beyond are as striking as Heather herself. The clear-eyed gaze in her self-portraits is a window into her aesthetic.

 There is a hunger and definite will to be the most developed version of herself that has apparently pushed her thus far in her still youthful career. Her versatility and experience speak much to the state of the industry today, where one’s success is not just determined on one level of expertise, but various levels. The ability she has to adapt to constant change and thrive in areas that others might find overwhelming means that this is just the first of many introductions to Heather Perry and her luminous work. 

DNA model Adonis Bosso