Eric Berry is a portrait and travel photographer based in Los Angeles, California. His travels have taken him to over 35 countries, where he aims to capture life around him.
What gear did you start out using, what are you using now, and which piece of equipment has been the most integral to the development of your work?
My first camera was an Olympus E-500. It retails now for around $85, but at the time, I think I paid around $700 for it in a Costco bundle. It’s funny now to think of forking over that kind of loot for an 8.0-megapixel camera, but the Olympus was quite fancy in 2004. I’ve dabbled with Nikon, Canon, and Sony in the years since, finding great adoration for the Alpha’s efficiency. The A7ii is a powerful camera that’s compact and inexpensive for what it offers. I’m a travel photographer, but not an invasive one. I like small bodies and glass.
I wouldn’t say one particular piece of equipment has been integral to my development as an overall photographer, but I would say my love of prime lenses has aided in the refining of my style. I have a couple of Zeiss pieces that never leave my camera bag.
Do you shoot with film in addition to your digital work? If so, how do the two differ to you personally? What are a few pros and cons of each?
My experience with film is limited. I recently acquired a Pentax K1000 that I used in Ethiopia. I shot five rolls in five days and four came back from the developer blown out. I would say the whole film thing is something I need to spend a lot more time with if I ever want to find success with it. I’m an impatient person, and my mind moves very fast while shooting, so film is not my preferred medium. I understand digital and love instantaneous results so I do not foresee me tossing my Sony gear on Craigslist anytime soon.
Has living in Los Angeles, California influenced your photography? If so, How?
Quite the opposite. Can you say hibernation? When I’m in Los Angeles, my creative energy goes to sleep. The city does nothing for me in terms of sensory activation. Which I know is fucking baffling but ultimately my reality. I’ve lived here my entire life, so the streets, sounds, smells, they don’t excite me in the same way they do in Hanoi or Havana. Places where everything is new motivate me to capture as much of it as possible in a frame before I’m hurried back to LA.
Who or what are your strongest influences? Have your influences shifted as your work has progressed?
Most of my images were taken while listening to music, so more than any photographer, musicians have inspired my work. Particularly bands like Sigur Ros and alt-J that have intense, complicated and cinematic rhythms and lyrics; I’m trying to visually interpret what I’m hearing, putting the moods evoked from crescendos and bridges into my compositions and subjects. For fine art, which are basically the nudes I shoot on occasion, I’m listening to Rhye, and more Rhye, Sting, Choir of Young Believers, The xx and so on.
That’s not to say my influences are exclusively musical. I’m a huge fan of Sebastiao Salgado. I’m also falling in love with the work of Lee Miller. You could call her my dead crush. I can thank Alt-J for the introduction to her. And then, of course, folks like Clyde Butcher, Steve Mccurry, Robert Capa and Alberto Korda. Gerda Taro as well. I study the work of the old geezers and really try not to pay too much attention to what the contemporaries are up to. Ryan McGinley might be the exception.
You have traveled to 38 countries and put your lens in front of people from every corner of the globe. Which trip or area of travel was most rewarding to you as a photographer? What is next on the list?
Morocco and Ethiopia. Morocco because no one would let me take a fucking picture of them. Gaining the trusts of my collaborators required patience, dedication, and understanding. I’m never looking to exploit anyone and I’m not the guy who takes a picture of someone with a zoom lens from 75 feet away hiding behind a bush. That’s bullshit to me and rude. I want to establish a dialogue with the people I photograph before shooting them and I just had a hard time with that in Morocco. I didn’t study photography during university. I studied production and my second degree is in Anthropology, so before I’m an unemployed photographer, I’m an unemployed anthropologist.
In Ethiopia, I was literally a kid living out a childhood dream. Having seen images of tribes in Nat Geo as a kid, and to be in the Omo Valley twenty plus years later capturing photographs of my own, that was a radical feeling. And let’s face, it’s the cradle of civilization, and walking around cities and towns where everyone looked like you was surreal.
How do you go about photographing those you can’t verbally communicate with?
Smiling and pointing at my camera. As the great philosopher Beanie Sigel once rapped, “85 percent communication non-verbal.” We can also thank him for showing us that verbs are useless.
Ideally, at the end of your career, what do you hope to accomplish with photography?
That’s an interesting question that I have a hard time answering anytime I’ve been asked. I take pictures because it’s very meditative for me. As I said earlier, I have a very busy mind, although externally I try to appear zen. For me, photography is a way of relaxing. The entire process feels very natural for me. But I guess, if I can make people feel some sort of emotion or connection to the images I take, that’s a reward. If maybe someone rethinks a prejudice or is inspired to do something positive from an image I take, that would be comforting. But I also recognize absolutely nothing may come from my desire to take pictures and I’ve made peace with that. I’m not putting my camera down anytime soon. I also recognize this is a shit answer, but it’s the best I got right now.
If you could share a piece of advice with aspiring photographers what would it be?
Jesus, man. If you’re doing it for likes, just stop doing it. Do it because you love it and because you enjoy it not because you want Instagram followers. Take pictures every day of everything. Technology allows us to create images as often as we’d like. I use my iPhone for about 90-percent of the things I shoot throughout the year. You don’t need a Mark III and $10k in glass to take pictures that yourself and others can appreciate; all that’s required is appreciation, imagination, and practice.