“Having a partner with whom you can just casually talk to about the creative process, is invaluable. His accessibility, even during the most low-key moments of my life, is so important. We go on epic walks with our dog and talk about work.”—Anna Wolf
“having a partner with whom you can just casually talk to about the creative process, is invaluable. his accessibility, even during the most low-key moments of my life, is so important. we go on epic walks with our dog and talk about work.”—anna wolf
How does your working environment relate to your work?
Anna: Mike has his own studio and I generally work from home.
Mike: When I moved to New York, we started working next to each other in the same space from home for a while. But we outgrew the apartment, and I desperately needed a studio. We both moved into the studio, but after about three or four years, Anna realized that it wasn’t the right working environment for her, so she moved back home. I’ve taken over the entire studio, and now it’s a shitshow. Our separate spaces are really important to us. She loves the luxury of going downstairs and making a salad for lunch. Anna’s office represents her—it’s quiet and peaceful. Whereas my space is the opposite—it’s colorful and loud. The music is always playing too high.
Anna: When Mike is in his studio, he’s making things, he’s being creative, and so the music should be loud. When I’m in my office, I’m working on treatments for clients, or invoices, or I’m talking on the phone, or doing email—the kind of work that deals with the minutia of production. My other office is the world; I shoot on location, so I’m always traveling to other cities. Part of the reason why working in the studio didn’t work out for me was because I am always gone, and it felt like I had three different homes. When I come back from traveling now, everything is contained in one place. It took me a while to figure that out.
In the beginning, when we were working together from home, we had no professional and personal separation. Mike and I would work all of the time: all night and all weekend. I’ve learned how to be a freelancer, have a life, and draw the line. Now, I can work from home, but when it’s time to stop working, my computer doesn’t go back on.
What is your collaborative process?
Anna: When Mike and I work on projects together, Mike sees the bigger picture. I also think about the big picture, but I have a more practical mind about it, because that’s my job—I arrange photo shoots for a living. Mike has all of these amazing ideas, and I’m always like, “Yeah, that sounds fucking amazing, but how are we going to get that done?” Photography is no joke. It costs a lot of money and involves a massive group of people to shoot the kind of photography that I’m interested in. It’s a big team effort. But what I love about Mike is, he has massive, inspiring ideas all of the time. In fact, he has too many to keep up with. Our collaborative process works because I am the practical person who balances all of his crazy ideas. I’m also the one who can really get things done. Obviously, Mike is very prolific, but when it comes to bigger production things, I am the one in the trenches.
Anna Wolf Works on Client Treatments
courtesy of mike perry + anna wolf
Mike: It’s been good knowing that about each other. My job is to have an idea, then Anna works the show. I step back and let her do her thing. Our most recent commercial collaboration was super easy because I had almost complete creative control, and then my role was to say, “Anna Wolf, I want you to make these pictures magical.”
Anna: Mike did a line for a French clothing brand called Jennifer, so he brought me on to shoot it. But, our collaboration is most successful when Mike and I work on something that makes sense for what I do. When we first started dating and trying to work together, Mike wanted me to shoot everything, and I wanted to shoot everything with him. But we realized that we should work together on projects that make sense with my style.
Mike: She encouraged me to cheat on her with other photographers.
Anna: There are certain photographers who do certain things, and Mike has a very specific aesthetic. I don’t fit for everything that he needs. For instance, if he wants to do something with crazy, naked, acrobatic gymnasts, then I’m not the photographer for that.
Mike: For Anna to say that I should check out other photographers, and expose myself to other people, is actually refreshing to hear. It’s easy to rely on each other. Conversely, I’ve also tried to encourage Anna to work with other graphic designers. It makes sense for me to help her, but over time, she should experiment. Anna has been working with Emily Anderson, who is a brilliant designer that I went to school with. Emily has taken on a lot of Anna’s promotional graphic design pieces over the last couple of years.
What is a project that sums up your collaboration?
Anna: We are working on a magazine together, called Tidal. It’s our baby. Mike and I came together and gave birth to this thing. It all started last summer, when I was having a problem getting a fashion story published. I was very frustrated. Mike suggested that I make a magazine for myself; that way I could take control over that aspect of my work. I thought he was crazy. It would be too much work. Like many of the ideas that Mike has for me, I need time for them to marinate. All I can think about is what it takes to accomplish another big thing, and that immediately discourages me. After working with Mike for a while though, I feel like I am now in a place where I want to talk less and make more. Sometimes I think that I’m in my head too much and should try to be more intuitive. I want to trust myself more and not overanalyze things. After a few months of mulling over the idea, we decided to go for it. Now, it’s an endless conversation between Mike and I about what this thing is, what it can be, what it should be, and what it isn’t. Having a partner with whom you can just casually talk to about the creative process, is invaluable. His accessibility, even during the most low-key moments of my life, is so important. We go on epic walks with our dog and talk about work.
Mike: Yeah, we have three hour-long, Saturday morning work strategy conversations about what we’re making and how we’re making it. Sometimes the conversations are very myopic, where we only talk about the minutia. Other times, we talk about five years from now, and what kind of goals we need to set up in order for it to get there. Those conversations are incredible, because we’re talking to someone that is equally invested. It’s very pure. You know that the feedback is coming from a very trusting place.
How do your independent collaborations with other designers, photographers, and clients vary?
Mike: We couldn’t be more different. Maybe if Anna was a still-life photographer, we would have some similarities. Much of what I do is just about me being in the studio with my small team. I have a couple of people who work for me, and they’re really important, but Anna curates a new team for every different photo shoot she does. She has this massive Rolodex of people, and she selects the right people for the right place for the right job. When she’s traveling, she’s constantly asking, “Do I bring this person because of this reason? Can this person deal with this client?” Observing her world of photography from my side is insane. It’s fascinating to watch how Anna manages her clients, her team, and all of these different collaborative entities.
Her collaborative process is very different from mine. When it comes to my client work, it’s very informal. It’s like, “Here’s that PDF.” Sometimes the extent of my interaction with a client is three emails. For Anna, the phone will ring, and that’s the first conversation of thousands that are about to happen.
Anna: One interesting difference is that when Mike gets a call to do a job, he’ll immediately start working in his studio. When I have to produce work, I do it in front of a live audience. It would be like Mike rolling into a large ad agency and illustrating or printing while everybody stands behind him and whispers things in his ear.
Anna on Set
courtesy of mike perry + anna wolf
Mike:That would be so uncomfortable.
Anna: When I’m on set, it’s like I’m performing. You go in, you have to make good pictures, and at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing. Meanwhile, I still have to look cool when I show up to set. I have to put my game face on. I have to look alive. Many times, I feel like I’m on stage, whereas Mike gets to be in his own safe little world. I love being on location and working with different people. I love the collaborative effort. I get to work with so many talented art directors and creative people. But there are definitely some days when I wish I could go to work in my PJs.
How is interdisciplinarity important to collaboration?
Mike: It makes me sad to think of collaboration as a trend. There is just so much power that comes from having someone with skills and ideas that are different from your own. I have some good friends that I make drawings with, and that’s a totally magical experience. Sometimes you’re allowed to decide that you just don’t want to finish that line. You trust the person who’s drawing with you enough to finish that line the way that you would do it, or better. That’s incredible. Collaboration forces me to be outside of my comfort zone, talk to somebody else, and come up with new ideas.
Queens Day: Poem by Frank Nicholas
courtesy of mike perry + anna wolf
Anna: Collaboration is like problem-solving. Everything that I do is one massive collaboration and often times, there are too many cooks in the kitchen. It gets crazy when there are too many opinions, but that challenge is fun. Things can get so derailed that the photographer becomes the driving force in getting something done. I’m always looking for that single person on the client side who is going to be the voice for them, and I’m the voice for the visual side. We come together and make things happen. Even on my own projects, it’s like a weird conversation that I have with myself about how a job is going to happen. I interrogate myself as a way of thinking.
Mike: I think conversations in general used to be much more academic. There were a lot of people trying to prove that they knew what they were talking about, but I feel like that’s moving away. I’m very excited that the design industry is coming to the realization that we are practicing artists and craftsmen. Ten years ago, I gave up caring, and it’s a really satisfying place to be. The whole game used to be about longevity and devoting time to honing in on a particular skill, but that’s not the case anymore. Everyone has calmed down a bit.
What kinds of conversations do you have with your colleagues?
Mike: We have peers that we call with technical questions. For instance, Anna has a group of female photographers, and they talk about the issues that they are having. They discuss everything from client relationships to lighting. I have my nerd crew that I call to talk about pencils and different caliber markers.
Anna: Conversations with my colleagues have always been about commercial photography. I went to the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA and it’s a school for working photographers. We didn’t have theory or fine art. Everything was geared towards how to get work and what you do once you get work.
Mike: What about your relationship with Meredith, Brigitte, and Heather? What’s the dynamic of that relationship?
Anna: The four of us went to school together and have spent the last ten years after school growing and figuring things out together. We live in different places, and have different work, but we work similarly, so we relate to each other in a lot of ways. Having that super tight group of girlfriends, who have been with me from the very beginning, helps me affirm that I’m not crazy sometimes. For instance, Heather called me the other day because she got asked to bid on a job out of town, and the conversation was like, “Have you shot in Texas? How’s the digital gear there? Can I bring my first and hire the digital tech and 2nd assistant local?” Figuring out the nitty-gritty of putting an estimate together is a good conversation to have. Managing a photo shoot is like being in a therapy session. Everyone has their own egos and everyone wants to make their mark. Hairstylists are nuts with all the crazy hair shit they want to do. My girlfriends and I like to talk about the dynamics of dealing with people and how to get shit done. But we also have creative conversations about the work. Quite often, there is so much energy spent on preproduction and postproduction, and actually making the event come together, that towards the end, I’m like “Oh yeah, I actually have to go take beautiful pictures now.” We’ll also talk about how we’re going to shoot something from a creative point of view as well as a production point of view. It’s a constant conversation, and having them to lean on makes the process so much better.
Mike: Anna also shares assistants. Assistants are coveted people.
Anna: I don’t share my favorite photo assistants with anybody. I only give them out to my closest friends.
Mike: It’s like an invaluable Rolodex. To reiterate, it’s shocking just how different our collaborative processes are.