Photographer, musician and globetrotter, The Herald catches up with the multi-talented Ritche Perez for an in-depth and explorative interview
What makes an artist? Is it a passion for person or place? Is it a desire to capture, crystallize or cement moments and minutes? Is it simply a need to express oneself – a ventilation tool entirely one’s own, and one uniquely personal to the individual?
For Ritche Perez, known around these parts as an ace photographer, graphic designer, producer and influential musician, art, in some form or fashion, has made up the pillars of his life.
Perez, a Filipino-Canadian, was born in the Philippines in 1974, emigrating to Newfoundland and Labrador with his parents and sister in 1977, escaping the dictatorship of then President Ferdinand Marcos, who placed the country under Martial law in 1972.
Making the Jump
“There was a small Philippine community here,” Perez explains of his early days in St. John’s. “The first house we moved into, the Janeway apartments, had other Filipinos and nurses there who had kids my age and I’d hang out with them. The majority of my upbringing was actually in the Mundy Pond area. I went to St. Teresa’s. It was interesting.”
Perez’s father worked for the navy before making the jump to Canada, where he became a biomedical technologist for Memorial University, while his mother worked for a private engineering firm.
And while fortunate to come from a well educated and driven family that were afforded opportunities to flourish in Newfoundland, Perez admits that there was a transition as it came to acclimatizing to his new home province, particularly when it came to social acceptance.
“It was interesting being one of the only Filipinos that went there. We were treated differently,” he admits. “It was back in the day. It taught me a lot about the street stuff, the understanding of growing up on the streets, getting bullied, but also seeing a lot of stuff. The road we lived on was kind of gritty. I had a lot of friends I grew up with but also enemies with a love/hate kind of relationship and friends who didn’t understand my nationality. You were young and they didn’t understand.”
The family moved into the fledgling Paradise community in the late ’80s. With the ’90s kicking into high-gear, Perez found himself becoming immersed in the growing music movements of punk and grunge, and the skateboarding counter-culture tailor made for outsiders.
“I grew up skateboarding and had a friend, Fred Gamberg, who got me into the alternative music. He bought me a Ramones tape when I was 11 or 13. I grew up in high school with my dad forcing me into guitar lessons. I got out of them and got back into them. I met a few guys who were into punk and metal in high school. We were outcasts at the time, four or five of us. I’m guessing that’s how you come together as a community, with a small group of friends, and that’s how I really started.
“The early ‘90s is when we really started playing music. The Seattle grunge scene was happening and rise in punk and metal. It was pretty at its prime. People were discovering new music at the time and we jumped on the bandwagon of that style of music. Newfoundland was at its prime with the alternative music scene. There were a lot of these great bands playing downtown at the LSPU Hall and The Loft. There were big crowds and big turnouts and we wanted that as well. We loved that kind of music.”
Perez’s grunge inspired group Potatobug were one of the more influential alternative-rock bands of the era, flourishing at a time where names like Liz Band and Potbelly helped shape and redefine the fabric of music in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“Everyone called it grunge, but it was more diverse than your typical grunge,” he explains. “It had lyrics that pertained to the hardship that we had, of what Newfoundlanders had from that generation of no jobs and being oppressed by a lot of the politics going on.
“From growing up here, it was vibrant. It was really respected at the time. People went to the shows for the music rather than for the socializing and the drinking. At the time we were Newfoundland. We were an isolated island. Things were a lot harder to get access to. We entertained ourselves a lot more. You’d see things that were happening across Canada and we’d say you know what? We can do the same. We can perform and have bands to be in that same kind of boat. We had to find ways to entertain ourselves.”
New Form of Expression
From performing in quasi blues outfits to jumping on genre trends like emo and industrial, to making a mark with Wizards of Kaos and Jigger, Perez has always had his finger on the pulse of Newfoundland and Labrador’s music and artistic culture. But before long, a new mode and medium of expression would come calling.
Photography would become a calling card of sorts for Perez. Priding himself on capturing real and true moments in time, and working on everything from portraits to landscape and events, he has fast become one of the more renowned and respected photographers on the island. The entire avenue truly came to Perez from a desire to document his children growing up.
“Looking back on my history and my dad was always a gadgety kind of guy. He always had different types of cameras. I had always taken those things he had and taken pictures in the past, but I never really took it seriously until my kids stared growing up, because I practiced on them a whole lot. I wanted to document their lives by taking pictures of them.”
After taking a photography course from locally praised Shane Kelly, and with 20 years of graphic design experience assuring a natural eye few possess, Perez began to develop quite the portfolio of work. Though it is the honest, true and vibrant image that has become his calling card.
“When I officially started this I wanted to get my hands into every kind of discipline of photography – portraiture
and landscape and I tried my best to see what I’d like. I’m finding candid moments, street photography and documentation, I really like that. I have complete respect for all of these journalists and photographers who go out into war and capture moments that you wouldn’t see without these people risking their lives taking pictures. I apply that sense to my work.”
A newfound love for his profession and desire to reconnect with his roots led Perez to return to the Philippines for the first time since his family left the country in 1977.
“It was culture-shock,” he admits, noting he was hardly prepared for the level of poverty and hardship many of the locals endure today. “It was kind of the dark side of what I’ve normally seen. I’ve been on vacation before and have been to resorts and this was a chance for me to see what situation I could be in if my parents hadn’t decided to move to Canada. I wanted to see that, to see the lifestyle and the real life and the hardship if I had grew up there. I kind of missed that from going. I wanted to rediscover my roots and see those what-ifs if my parents had raised us
there. It was pretty dark and a lot of things that made me appreciate where I am now and the lifestyle I have now.
The Grittier Side
“When I went to the Philippines I wanted to know and see what was going on in places of hardship, the slum areas that people don’t normally see. When people think of the Philippines, the tourism places out there would promote palm trees and sandy beaches and all the goodness of why you should go. I wanted to see the grittier, the people living in famine and living in bamboo houses with wicker and wood that a mosquito could fly through. I wanted to capture that for myself, that I may not ever see that again, for my interest and to help show awareness to what people go through.”
Despite a well-rounded and thriving career path that could see Perez find work traversing the globe, Newfoundland and Labrador is, and always will be, his home.
“I grew up here, my family is here,” he says. “I like it here and like the sense and feel that I’m a part of a community. I know it’s hard living here at times, economically, but I can’t see myself living elsewhere. You can always go elsewhere and come back to it. I’ve got a lot of friends who have moved away for many years and they come back because people love the lifestyle. There’s something about this place that’s different than living in a bigger city. The ocean is a big part. There’s something about living close to the ocean. These are the things that I think of that keep me here, the people keep me here.”
For more on Ritche Perez and a selection of his photos and services visit his official social medias and website inbetweendays.ca