The acclaimed fashion photographer and founder of jewellery brand Francis de Lara, John-Paul Pietrus talks about what inspires him these days, his colourful career, shooting during a pandemic and the endless beauty of the Italian Renaissance.
Pretty much around now, although perhaps the 1990s or 2000s at furthest back, because I am an out and vocal gay person of colour and things are probably best for us since 1990. In the 1990s and early 2000s we didn’t have the oversaturation and life takeover of technology, media and imagery just yet. Imagery was still of great value, and we did not have hand-held computer-addiction, distracting us everywhere we went. If for art and aesthetics and culture, the Renaissance absolutely.
Wow, too many to list and no single one. Let me name the five that come to mind organically: Marisol, Richard Lindner, Andreas Gursky, Hiroshige, Nan Goldin, and the Italian Renaissance artists (massive grouping there!). But in all honesty, I have so many more favourites.
I decided from the beginning of lockdown to make a structure of drawing and designing, cooking, learning from books and Zoom lectures, Zoom photo shoots, and, of course, gratuitous Netflix watching. The added ‘me’ time brought forth creativity flowing from my ears. I also decided to create and broadcast a programme on my Instagram @johnpaulpietrus, called ‘Creativity from Quarantine’, in which I hosted live conversations with creatives who I know personally, from various fields and from all over the globe.
Although I intended it to be ‘for the people’, to give them a bit of respite from constant pandemic depressing news, I enjoyed it myself a great deal, reconnecting with these friends and having invigorating chin-wags. I have saved them all in my IGTV. However, if I am totally honest, that lasted a few months, and then I did start to go insane, complete with an anxiety attack that saw me visit hospital. This was all sparked by the murder of George Floyd in my hometown of Minneapolis; that was the straw that broke this camel’s back. I am now back on track and dealing the best I can, day by day, as we all are.
Definitely Florence, Italy, where a portion of my heart is and where I studied jewellery design. It is also where the pieces are made by my amazing artisan and I have friends and family there.
‘To thine own self be true’, and ‘listen to the beat of your own drummer’. Additionally, I learned to be grateful for so many things, even the seemingly mundane, which has kept me grounded and aware.
Probably mowing lawns or shoveling snow when I was a kid… and being a janitor during university was actually fun because I didn’t have to deal with anybody except my brother who cleaned with me.
Ah, great question as it was a good’un! Last week I gave my friend and one of my muses, Sammie, a vintage 1980s Yves Saint Laurent dress in shocking pink crepe with black ruffle and bow border.
Wake up well-rested mid-morning and meeting a friend for brunch at the Golborne Deli or my usual gang of friends for dim sum at Royal China. Then another coffee somewhere after that and a lazy promenade in the park followed by movies, and cuddles with the perfect man. Note: the last part does not exist outside of my fantasies right now.
I implemented Zoom as we were all in lockdown. Whereas a lot of photographers were trying to emulate with Zoom or Facetime an image equivalent to what they would shoot on an slr, I was more interested in embracing the lo-fi aesthetic of Zoom, where the pixellation could be so fuzzy that it became almost Impressionistic and painterly. I also employed the video function more than stills; Zoom is, after all, about communication with moving image. The results were short films and also a video and screen capture stills collage. The films will be screened at this year’s ASVOFF, which I am very thrilled to be a part of.
In a ‘Freaky Friday’ manner, i.e. my mind and soul in their body, any of the world’s corrupt and criminal leaders so I could confess all of their sins and get them locked up… and the next day I would wake up as my myself, John-Paul, and read the headlines of that leader’s confessions and impending crimes-against-humanity prison sentence.
That although I am incredibly social and really love people, I am also very private and enjoy being in solitude… but I hate loneliness; it’s a fine line between the two. Related to that, I am very happy on the outside and laugh a lot, but I have equally dark moments people would never imagine.
How did you get your start in fashion photography? I studied fine arts and graduated with a BFA, majoring in photography (minor in painting). I moved to Hong Kong for a job not directly related to my studies, lost the job after day one because the company was bought out overnight, and I started pounding the pavement and seeing magazines. I did all sorts at the beginning: fashion, news, portraiture… but fashion was what interested me and inspired me. I admire other photographic fields, but fashion was clearly the one that I enjoyed the most, and excelled at.
A hot milky chai tea and some soothing music such as Miles Davis’ ‘Blue in Green’ followed by a bit of reading or Netflix.
‘Immigrant Song’ by Led Zeppelin seems apt in its title. I always get a rush out of this tune.
Only if I HAD to would I do that… and I guess it would be an imaginary and magical cross between an Inspector Gadget and Iron Man high- performance outfit, with the chic appearance of an Yves Saint Laurent ‘le smoking’.