Interview:2020/11 The Beautiful People

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The Beautiful People
2020-11 Cene 15 cover.jpg
Interview with Perou
Date November, 2020
Source Cene #15
Interviewer Joe Bill


"Sorry. I've been up all night photographing road tunnels," says Mr Perou.

Not exactly the first interaction I was expecting with an internationally-renowned photographer who, in all likelihood, has probably taken a photograph that you have seen. Since the early 90s, Perou has arguably been the go-to guy for pictures of UK public-eye icons. Scroll down his Instagram ...

"I hate Instagram," says Perou... will find images that defined the careers of musicians, sports stars, film stars and even his own. Now furnishing the tiles of social media...

"I hate social media," says Perou...

...these images lit up the pages of the biggest magazines in the world and led an up-and-coming...

"I'm not up-and-coming, I've been and gone," says Perou...

British photographer to become known as the personal photographer to controversial goth demigod Marilyn Manson.

"Yes, I think I'm going to go down in history as Marilyn Manson's photographer," says Perou. And he is probably right. However, scratch below the surface/Wikipedia page and you will find a most charismatic, charming and intriguing figure that, in all reality, captured and edited much of British culture for the past 25 years.

We could spend all day asking him to tell the juicy tales on his subjects. Who was nice? Who was an arseh*le? Or even just quizzing him about his last 10 Instagram posts, which feature the likes of the Spice Girls, David Walliams, Dizzee Rascal and James Blunt. But we have only enough time for a couple of pints of cider and there is so much to get through. Plus, he has his memoirs being prepared for release - not that they will be a quick process, either.

"Most people have been fine," he says. "I call myself a people photographer, I photographed people more than I ever photograph underpasses and road tunnels.

"I've been shooting for 25 years and there's probably about 10 people who have been arseh*les in that time.

"I'm supposed to be writing my illustrated memoirs at the moment, but it's going really badly because I can't remember whole chunks of my past.

"For example, I was in Bosnia, at the end of the conflict, with Hootie and The Blowfish, which is a really embarrassing reason to be in Bosnia after the conflict. And I remember being there, but I can't work out why I was in a taxi at one point, driving at 100mph through the snow and phoning my wife screaming 'I'm going to die in this taxi!'. I have no idea why I was in the taxi, where I was going or why.

"But in the memoirs I'm trying to talk about some of the people I have photographed and trying to remember and tell all those stories. I talk about Mick Hucknall being the number one cu*t of all time."

You will have to wait for Perou's memoirs to find out why Mick Hucknall is specifically remembered, but needless to say there is a story that involves a dark suit, a hog-roast bap and the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

Perou, who has lived in Kent with his wife and children for more than a decade, has starred in numerous TV shows, including Make Me a Supermodel UK, Channel 4's Dirty Sexy Things and even a cameo in Absolutely Fabulous - Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley are counted among his favourite-ever subjects.

But while Perou dislikes being called a celebrity photographer - as they are paparazzi or more likely to work for Heat magazine - he does concede that he has specialised in photographing very famous people. However, he has also photographed drag queens in Namibia, ridden with Japanese motorcycle gangs and, more recently, taken images of groundworkers in tunnels for a duo of books that will document the UK's underpasses at night-time and the biggest tunnels on Britain's road networks. 'Why?' I hear you ask.

"Photographers are all doing 'projects' now because we identify as photographers and if we don't take photographs we start getting really confused and upset, so I have to take photographs to stop feeling upset," he explains dryly. "So we come up with ideas for projects and some of them are good and some of them are bonkers... like photographing a load of tunnels."

It is, of course, more difficult to shoot the cover of a printed magazine these days, with so many biting the dust, but Perou is a creative and creatives tend to work, even if there is no coin involved.

"There are some new magazines around - there's a new one called Dek and called Marvin, started by the guy who started Ray Gun and Nylon magazines. I just shot the cover and it was really exciting. It has really high production value and it's worldwide. It was great, but I got paid zero pounds."

Recent works have included shooting adverts for Botox brands and various other titbits, but seeing shots in print clearly remains a passion, with Perou even creating several publications himself.

For example, EDICT magazine, which has had two annual editions to date, saw him turn editor on a highly polished periodical, designed and directed by Peter & Paul. He created the structure of one artist recommending a piece of art and a musician recommending a band or piece of music... it even had Jamie Oliver as the food editor.

His debut book Coulrophobia (the irrational fear of clowns) was released in 2015 and features self-portraits of him dressed and painted up like a clown by his friends, colleagues and artists. It's completely off-the-wall nuts, but you will remember it as long as you live. And that is arguably why Marilyn Manson, himself not averse to a bit of make-up, has spent more than two decades calling him back.


In May this year, arguably Perou's biggest project to date (certainly his longest), was released to the world: Marilyn Manson by Perou: 21 Years In Hell. It's very easy to commit that there will be no other book like it, ever. A tome of the personal and professional encounters between the photographer and the rockstar that has courted no little controversy throughout his career (though I suspect both have given it a good go). Yes, it's a book for the goth devotees, but it is also a piece of art that would look pretty on any robustly-built coffee table.

"It took 21 years, there's not another one in the bag. There's no sequel," says Perou. "The book has drawn a line under it all to a certain extent."

The encounters began when Perou had the opportunity to photograph Manson for the Easter edition of Time Out magazine in 1998.

"I was already a fan of Marilyn Manson, driving around London in a 1982 Trans Am, with Marilyn Manson turned up as loud as it would go," he says. "The art director of Time Out was a fan as well and we had this opportunity to photograph him for the cover. So, I went out there and we just hit it off. And 21 years later, here I am saying 'That's it'."

Perou's often intense working relationship with the rocker hasn't always been smooth, but you get the feeling there is much more admiration there for Marilyn the man, than just as a photographic muse.

"In the book, we actually talk about a four-year period where we didn't speak to each other. It can be hard working with someone at times who has his own absinthe brand and has had many years of fun," he says with a smile.

"The book is just pictures of me and Marilyn Manson talking about the pictures I've taken really."

The dry wit and undersell of the book are not fooling anyone. It's a monstrous piece of legacy work, with their connection encapsulated by a killer line from Manson himself: "Just because you have a f**king Instagram page does not make you Perou. That's your quote."

Perou is not overly fond of talking about his own "boring" beginnings as a junior photographer as they aren't relevant and "won't help anyone" thinking about becoming a photographer in today's society. However, there are skills that have endured and have kept a shoot with Perou a coup.

"For me to get where I am was lots of hard work, every day for lots of years," he says. "I am not at the top of my game, I'm in the middle of my game. But it wasn't an overnight YouTube success."

But to put his successes down to pure doggedness is to do him a disservice; he is a student of the discipline, evolving all the time.

"Look at Don McCullin's very heavy black-and-white stuff or Anton Corbijn, who printed on lithographic paper so that everything looked a certain way," he explains. "These days, because it is all shot digitally, a lot of it looks the same. There's less styles that you associate to only one photographer, so it's a bit more fluid and generic, I guess.

"But I've always been more interested in how things speak, the communication within the photograph, rather than the aesthetic of the photograph.

"We all see the world in a different way, and that's what is great about photographers: 100 photographers will take a picture of the same pint of cider and it will come out 100 different ways."

"I don't think you should be locked in and not moving with the times. But I do feel there is a value in belligerently doing what you do. If you chase the trends, you can lose sight of what you actually do. There is real value in knowing what you do and doing what you do, and waiting for people to catch up to you, rather than chasing them."


Scruples are a funny thing when it comes to creating content for the public. It's not always easy to give a balanced and objective view of something or someone if you don't like them. And I imagined that it was very much the same with photographs. Not so.

"I have no regrets about any pictures that have put out," says Perou. "If I had any regrets, you wouldn't have seen it.

"My son asked me if there was anyone I wouldn't photograph. Like would I photograph Trump or tell him to f**k off, but I'd love to photograph him. People often ask me who I would like to photograph - Jesus or Satan, and I say 'Either'. For me there's no difference, they'd both be fascinating. I don't think I have to judge people or have a moral stand on who can be photographed and who canʼt."

There is an intriguing power that encircles photographers. They hold in their hands a machine that could make a subject look young or old, good or bad, and even make or break a political campaign, say.

"Professionally, I'm not paparazzi and I will go out of my way to make people look good," says Perou. "The reason I'm called to photograph people repeatedly, like Marilyn Manson, and all the people I have worked with more than once, is because I have made them look good. If I made them look sh*t, I wouldn't get a repeat job, and repeat jobs is what's kept me in business for 25 years."

But relationships, like that forged between him and Marilyn Manson, are not that easy to come by these days. With the right filter and the right app, it's becoming easier to replicate the skills of a proper photographer and bypass the expense (though it will never be of the same standard).

“When I photographed Youngblud recently, I was like 'I want you to have a long career and I want to jump in and start photographing you and for us to have a beautiful symbiotic relationship'," says Perou. "But you can't plan for that sort of thing to happen. It's not a model you can copy. Even I can't emulate it again.

"I'm now hoping to go down in history as the photographer of tunnels."

He won't.