By the time he had reached adulthood, artist and photographer John-Paul Pietrus’ life had already spanned three continents and four countries. Born in the Philippines, of Filipino-Polish-American heritage, John-Paul was raised in the United States before relocating to Hong Kong and then to London, from where he often commutes to China. A self-proclaimed global citizen, his work has featured in some of the world’s most high-profile galleries, exhibition spaces and magazines.
Pietrus has exhibited internationally in museums including Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, MoMA PS1 in New York, CAFA in Beijing, and the Stazione Leopolda in Florence. His commercial clients include Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Lancel, and Adidas. He has been published in international editions of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Interview, Elle, Esquire and is a regular contributor to Modern Media Group, while being editor-at-large for 7th Man magazine. Pietrus has received numerous awards of recognition.
Recently, Pietrus signed an exclusive international contract with Modern Art Etc gallery in Los Angeles, which represent his archival limited edition fine art prints of Fashion in Landscape.
Pietrus currently resides in Notting Hill.
John-Paul, how did you get into photography?
I studied fine arts at the esteemed Minneapolis College of Art and Design. My major was in photography and film-making and my minor in painting. The focus was on art, not commercial, photography, although after studies financial opportunities presented themselves more for me in the commercial world.
Who inspired you to start such a career?
No one inspired me to start such a career. As the phrase goes, it chose me. Of course I am inspired by many other creatives and their stories, but it was the entity of photography and image making itself which served as my starting point.
What do you like to photograph?
Professionally, I like to photograph fashion and people, to capture personality. As an observer, I like to photograph pretty much everything, but when I am on holiday I leave the 'big guns' of cameras at home, and photograph simply for my pleasure.
Do you have a muse?
Many beautiful women have served to inspire me again and again and again, including Marianne Schroeder, Kine Diouf, Debra Shaw, Marisa Heath, to name but a few, but the one who immediately comes to mind whenever I am asked this question is the Slovakian beauty Zuzana Macasova. She no longer models, but there was a time I would request her for every single job. We have shot together all over the world from the gas-light night streets of Paris to the morning sun-lit millennia old temples of Luxor to the scorching midday grand environs of Rome. She never failed to inspire me and there was a time I thought that perhaps I was in love with her, as much as I could be as a gay man. I was mesmerized and smitten. We share a friendship which has lasted to this day, though I've not photographed or seen her for many years.
Do you think you have ever taken the perfect photograph?
What a question! I have taken photographs which have seemed perfect for perhaps a day, but then I grow tired of them. Sometimes I like them again later on. I never really think about the 'perfect photograph.' I do think ' this is a perfect moment' and I would like to preserve it through photography, but then it lacks the tastes, smells, and sounds that were present in that moment, so that keeps me constantly trying harder. I think that is the best way that I can respond to this question.
What has been your biggest career challenge?
My biggest career challenge is trying to remain true to who I am amongst gossips, criticisms, and the dark sides of my business. Like any business, it is full of insecurities, jealousies, and ugly facets.
What’s your trademark, or what do you always try to capture in your work?
I try to capture a sense of optimism and unexpected beauty, a small twist which is elegant and has some chic humour. I am known for my colour sensibilities, very rarely do I see black and white. I like happiness and love and poetry and I want those sentiments somehow present in my work.
What photography trends can you foresee?
There is a return to softness and a sense of reality, and also to film versus digital.
You are also involved in films – how did you start that?
I studied film-making alongside photography at art school. On shoots I often film Super-8 film and weave them into loose narratives and sequences later. I'm a huge fan of Super-8 versus vulgar and cold video. It has a certain soul to it, aesthetically speaking.
What has been your career-defining moment?
As an artist, being invited to exhibit alongside world-renowned creatives whom I had studied and admired for so long in a group exhibition named Uniform: Order and Disorder, curated in 2001 by the Francesco Bonami, Stefano Tonchi and Paola Pivi. It premiered at the Stazione Leopolda and moved onto MoMA PS1. I was such a little kid then and so it was incredibly thrilling. Unfortunately though I don't think I fully understood the hugeness of it at the time, even though I knew it was a dream come true. I certainly did not how to leverage the honour to further advance my career. As a fashion photographer, it was being commissioned to shoot three covers and stories for the same month of an international issue of Vogue, one featuring Claudia Schiffer, one Naomi Campbell, and one Eva Herzigova. Within one month I got to work with supermodels I had only ever dreamed of working with, and all for Vogue covers and stories at that. It was heaven! It also opened many doors for me. In a pop culture sense, that sitting for Vogue led to a work friendship with the icon who is Naomi Campbell. She asked me to appear and shoot on the semi-finals and finals of her show The Face UK in summer 2013. Being respected and called "sweetie" by Naomi in front of millions of TV viewers during a shoot on the banks of the Seine in high summer was quite a compliment to say the least!
What part of a shoot is the most challenging for you?
Fitting everything into the no overtime budgets!
What are you like on the other side of the camera?
Sometimes I am pretty damn good, or at least I feel I am, if I don’t let my self-consciousness take over. You see, a lot of the poses the models pull in my photos are poses I direct them to do, they are playing a character who is, in a sense, part of me.
What do you think about certain social sites, such as Instagram, dedicated to photography?
Social sites such as Instagram are what one makes of them. Like everything, things can be treated with integrity or with lack thereof. I like Instgram, but I don’t like the whole popularity contest thing. It would be cool if the number of followers were not seen or known, then it wouldn’t be such a commercial platform. I use Instagram to showcase some of my work as well as let people know about my life as a person, giving little snaps into my quotidian life.
What advice would you give to any budding photographers starting out in the industry?
Do photography because you love the art, the creativity, the process; because it is in your blood. Please don’t do it if you simply want to have this ‘rock-n-roll’ celebrity lifestyle and for glamour, that is just shallow and the wrong reason to do something.
Who do you deem to be the rising stars in the photography world?
I don’t really know, although I very much like the work of someone I just found out about recently, Simen Johan. I also like Harley Weir. I really enjoy looking at the work of other photographers who have a very different viewpoint to my own.
Where are you based / what do you call home?
London is my home, more specifically Kensington Park Road. I am Filipino-Polish-American by birth, American by upbringing, and moved to London 19 years ago. I guess I am a world citizen. Much of my time is spent in China and other parts of the planet, and for better or worse, on an airplane. But whenever I fly over London town and into Heathrow, I look out the window at this magnificent city below and sigh to myself "ah, it is good to be home".
What do you love about London?
I love the diversity, in every sense, that London has to offer: people, art, music, food, the neighborhoods all feeling unique. It is a wonderfully diverse place.
What are your plans for this summer?
Other than hopefully working on lots of interesting projects, I think this will be the summer of love: love for friends, love for family, and also romantic love. My 11 year-old nephew will be performing at Carnegie Hall, NYC, in late June, so I want to see that for sure! Family holidays on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, where we go annually, are in sight. Plans for a further summer holiday with my beau are also in the works; perhaps in Italy.
What inspires you daily?
True goodness, honesty, humility, integrity, and charity inspire me. They inspire me to be a better person, a better artist. I think it is very important to honour and respect those who are around us and in our presence, and sometimes it’s hard to and sometimes we just plain don’t feel like it, but it’s vitally important to do so. On an aesthetic level I am inspired by anything from the afternoon sunlight hitting the disco ball in my living room, to art and literature, to music and to a piece of colorful trash in the street gutter. My emotional state of mind is also a factor. I recently went through a very tough time, some dark days, in which all I could think about was the death of love, the death of friendship. Subsequently I came up with an image inspired by Charles Allan Gilbert’s painting All is Vanity, which has a skull illusion. It is the main image in a fashion spread in the current 7th Man, a forward men’s fashion magazine for which I am editor-at-large, based right here in Notting Hill. I am happy to say that the dark days have passed. It would be great if I can somehow allow myself to nourish that friendship back to life, in due time.
What are you currently working on?
I have just formed a relationship with Modern Art, Etc gallery in Los Angeles. They now handle all of my archival artist limited-edition print sales of Fashion in Landscape photos I have taken. I am planning an exhibition with them, and I really want to make some headway with selling my limited edition art prints. My friend and supermodel Cindy Crawford recently bought an art print from me. She wouldn't let me gift it to her and so that was a really nice feeling, especially when most of these supermodels expect them for free. I am also starting to work on the autumn/winter 2015-16 issue of 7th Man, and I am working on a book which I plan to release within the year. Watch this space!
What does the future have in store for John-Paul Pietrus?
If only I had a crystal ball, I could tell you. I am working towards spending more time and energy on personal photographic and art projects, in addition to getting more money jobs such as fashion and beauty campaigns in order to achieve that financial security that we all want, and so to dedicate more time to family and friends. I would like to learn something new, too, perhaps another language or getting my head stuck into art history once again.
John-Paul Pietrus will exhibit with Modern Art Etc [Los Angeles] from 06 - 20 May 2015; modernartetc.com
John-Paul Pietrus; johnpaulpietrus.com