Krista Armstrong (KA): When did you first become interested in fashion photography, and when did you start shooting it?
Chris Petry (CP): I’ve been into it for about nine years, but I lived in North Canton and the photography and modeling scene is nonexistent there. So, it was something I always wanted to do, but never really had a chance. I didn’t actually start doing it until I moved to Columbus two years ago.
KA: Did you have fashion photographers that you aspired to back then, before you were shooting it?
CP: Not really. I don’t really follow a lot of fashion photographers. I follow photographers that shoot music and skateboarding - like Atiba Jefferson or Jonathan Mannion - because I like their style. It’s more of a raw, gritty feel. I kind of attached to that, and I like to bring that over to the fashion side of photography. It’s a fun little twist on it, and it’s not so traditional and ‘Instagrammy.’
CP: Yeah - I hate how generic Instagram photographers are. It bothers me.
KA: What is it about Instagram photography that you find generic? What’s an example of what the ‘generic Instagram photo’ looks like?
CP: They shoot everything in an aperture of f/1.4, so there’s a shallow depth of field. And then they download pre-made filters and run them over the photos instead of actually editing. It takes no real work - and that’s why everything looks like same on Instagram.
KA: Makes sense. So you started shooting fashion photography when you moved to Columbus two years ago - was that directly related to getting hired at zulily?
CP: No, it was just me being in a city where I had access to modeling agencies. I wasn’t shooting with just random people that really have no idea how to model. I’ve had critiques done on my portfolio from some of the top people in the industry, and they’ve all said the same thing - that the weakest part of my portfolio was the people I photographed. They’re like ‘We love your light, we love how you shoot everything, but your people ruin your work.’ So, when I moved here, it gave me access to people who actually know how to model professionally, and that has upped my work.
KA: Have you had your portfolio critiqued again by any of those same people since having access to people with modeling experience?
CP: No, because I don’t think there’s enough new content up there yet. I’m still scrubbing old content. I’m not happy with my portfolio right now.
KA: What would make you happy with your portfolio?
CP: More on-model work in different locations. I would like to fly back to New York for another week and hook up with some agencies out there. I’d just like to show a little more range. I feel like a lot of potential clients want to see that you’ve been around, that you’ve gotten a little more experience. And if they see that everything’s in Columbus, it kind of shows that you’ve only worked in just that one place. I think going back to New York would be crucial. Going to Miami, maybe Chicago again, and just trying to get a few different looks to show more variety.
KA: What’s your dream place to go shoot?
CP: New York. I love New York, I love everything about it... except the weather. I also think working with more stylists would make me happier with my portfolio, because the difference while working with a stylist is huge.
KA: Really? What do you find is the difference between when you’re not working with a stylist and when you are?
CP: Rather than just focusing on your photos and your crops and your lighting, you’re also focusing on the model’s articles of clothing and their hair and makeup. It’s just a lot to pay attention to when you’re trying to shoot, so you miss things. Having a stylist there also gives you someone else you can bounce ideas off of, so you just have a better end result.
KA: Do you have a stylist in particular that you like to work with more than others?
CP: I think my best shoots since I’ve been in Columbus have been with Cristina Beavers. She’s down with the same feel - her style fits my style of photography. We both like that raw editorial look, so we just work very well together.
KA: Where do you see yourself going in photography? Do you want to continue down the fashion route?
CP: Yes - my ultimate goal is to work for myself and be completely contract-based. I think there’s more money there and there’s more enjoyment there, because you have complete creative freedom. You are hired based on your style and talent. As opposed to technical skill and simply meeting “brand standards.”
KA: What is it that drew you to fashion - because you didn’t always shoot fashion, did you? Tell me a little about what you used to shoot.
CP: I used to shoot automotive professionally for ECS Tuning. We specialized in Mercedes, Audi, BMW and Volkswagen. It was essentially putting together campaigns and marketing the parts. It was like beauty photography, but for cars. I kind of just fell into that.
KA: So is that what you were doing when you started to develop this interest in going the fashion direction?
CP: I wanted to do fashion before I fell into automotive. I always wanted to do fashion just because it’s always changing. With cars, you can only park a car in front of so many different backgrounds, and they’re all really the same. But with fashion, everybody looks different, and people come up with new clothing, and you can take people to new places and shoot at different angles - it’s endless. That’s what I like about it.
KA: Do you have any brands that you really connect with that you would love to shoot for?
CP: I think my style fits well with Gap and J. Crew. Just from the type of lighting and the way they advertise, and their campaigns - anything more minimalistic with a harder light is my style.
KA: Obviously you prefer working with models to shooting product?
CP: I enjoy product photography too, if it’s high-end or unique product. Like, shoes bore me. But I will shoot handbags all day. I’ll shoot watches all day. I’ll shoot fragrance all day. But shoes, meh. I like stuff that costs money.
KA: I’ve noticed that about you - you have expensive taste.
CP: I do! And I’m not ashamed of it. I like shooting nice things. I like having nice things when I can afford it. I like being around nice things. And I think they photograph better, because people put more time and energy into expensive things. With high-end stuff, more time and effort goes into those products, so you feel better shooting it. Plus, you want to represent that product well, which is going to be a little bit more challenging. If you go buy $10 shoes from Payless, you can only do so much, because they’re cheap. You can make them look great, and better than what they are, but the excitement’s not there for me, I guess.
KA: So, from start to finish, what does your creative process look like? Do you have an idea for a shoot, or for a shot you know you want to get, before you go into it?
CP: Yeah, I always try to go in as planned as possible. Now, as far as what the outcome is actually going to be - I would say at least 50 to 60 percent of the time, what I went in planning changed, because I’ll start to shoot something with this initial idea in my head and then, as I’m looking at the photos, it’ll spark something I like and I’ll completely shift.
KA: What are your planning steps before a shoot?
CP: Finding a stylist if I can. Hair and makeup, locking in a location and a model. But, before all that, it’s getting together inspiration I can show the people I’m working with to say ‘this is the idea - this is what I’m going for, and I think you’d be a great fit for this.’
KA: Where do you look for that inspiration?
CP: It varies. The shoot I did at Barcelona in German Village - that idea just came from a song I heard. I was just listening to this song and the shoot idea just, like, dumped into my head - and I was like ‘Oh my god - I have to do this!’ I immediately pulled up some research and went to Cristina and was like ‘We need to make this happen’ and she was like ‘Yes!’ Within four days I had contacted an agency, got a model that we thought fit the look, and then Cristina contacted a boutique in the Short North for the wardrobe. We reached out to Barcelona for the location and they unlocked for us two hours before they opened so we could shoot there. We threw all that together in a few days. That’s usually how it goes with my shoots - an idea comes up and I try to hurry up and get it done before I lose interest. Because, if I don’t shoot it within a week, another idea will pop into my head and I’ll move on.
KA: What is it that you go into a shoot hoping for? What does it look like after a shoot that makes you feel it was successful?
CP: I shoot everything as if it were an advertisement - as if I were looking at it in a magazine, because I will always love print over digital. That’s why I always print everything I shoot. To me, it’s not complete until you can hold it. While I’m shooting, I’ll look at an image and think ‘Okay, now, in a magazine, if it were laying open, and this image was on the left page, what would I want the right page to look like?’ So, if it’s a really wide shot on the left, then for my right shot I want to come in and focus up on product. I try to shoot with text in mind too. Because, if you’re shooting an ad, you want to have negative space where people can add text. I shoot with a very editorial thought process. Like ‘What would this look like as an ad?’ I’m all about the advertising, I just think it’s so cool.
KA: Do you frame your own prints and decorate your house with them?
CP: I do. I have a rule: I only hang photos that either I took or someone I know took. I don’t buy store-bought art, because it’s mass produced. There’s nothing original about it. When you go to Target and you see a white canvas with a multicolor Eiffel Tower on it, it’s like ‘Oh cool, you and 900 other people have that.’ Y’know? Like ‘Live. Laugh. Love.’ Just no. Stop hanging that on your walls. Just stop hanging that on your walls! If you can spend $50 on a black and white photo at Walmart - to me, it’s like, just spend $50 and go to a local art shop.
KA: That’s how I feel about beer.
CP: I prefer my Ohio beers, but I’m still pretty loyal to Miller Light.
KA: Yeah... well, y’know. That’s a character flaw. But we’ll look past it.
CP: I just think it’s cool to, like, have local art on your walls. When I frame things, I’m very specific about what I frame. There are key moments in my career. For example, in the book I just made of my work, the cover is the first shoot I did when I moved to Columbus. Honestly, the photos aren’t that good - they’re not. But, it means something to me. When I look at my stuff that I’ve shot hanging on my walls, it’s not me being pretentious and like ‘I only hang my own artwork.’ It’s a reminder for me. So, like, when I hang automotive photos that I shot that I’m proud of, it’s also a reminder that that was three years of my life that helped to develop my career. That’s why that’s hung. It’s like my timeline.
KA: How’d you learn photography?
CP: I’m self-taught. I applied and was accepted to the Art Institute of Miami, Ringling College of Art and Design, and CCAD, but I couldn’t afford it, and I didn’t have enough faith in myself to let my parents cosign on that loan with me. So, I went to a community college for two semesters, and then I dropped out, because I had a 3.9 GPA and I wasn’t trying. It was too easy. So I dropped out - I figured, why bury myself in debt to learn information that’s out there for free? I took the experience route over the school route, because I couldn’t initially afford it, and the school I could afford wasn’t doing anything for me. So, I figured I would just scrape up any money I could and shoot whatever I could: Senior portraits, weddings, family portraits. I just went from there.
KA: Where does your stint as a pro skater come into play in your timeline?
CP: Ha! Skateboarding was my life from age 10 to like 20. But from 15 to 20 I was a lot less active because I f***ed my hip up, which I still live with to this day, so I kind of had to stop. But I will always love the culture. I love the clothing, I love the sport.
KA: Tell me what you mean when you say the ‘skateboarding culture.’
CP: It’s the outcasts of the world. It’s all the rejects. It’s all the people nobody wants. And they come together over the sport and they beat the shit out of themselves throwing their bodies down flights of stairs and half pipes and stuff. They dedicate themselves to something and they get great at it, and it’s like a brotherhood. It’s just cool. You can just be whoever you are. Your personality can be completely different from the guy next to you, but they don’t think of you any different. Everything about that culture is amazing - it’s just kind of a free for all.
KA: Do you feel like you fit better into that culture, or into fashion photography culture?
CP: It depends on the culture of the section of the industry you’re talking about. High fashion? Everybody’s weird. So, I think I would fit into that, you know what I mean? I think the transition from skateboarding to the fashion photography stuff, yeah, it’s meshed alright so far. I enjoy it. I think they mold well.