© Frankie Perez
Frankie Perez Is Capturing the World of B-Boys from Inside the Culture
First as a dancer, now as a photographer, Frankie Perez is leaving his mark on the world of breaking.
Towards the end of a phone interview discussing his work as a B-Boy and photographer, Frankie Perez’s three-month old son wakes up, and starts crying for his dad. The 31-year-old Queens native has his hands full already, juggling a career as a dancer, and publishing his first book, “See Me Up? It’s Cause I Been Down.” The book is a photography collection that offers a rare look at the inner workings of B-Boy culture, but Perez is still settling into his new role as a father, too. Along with his partner and their son, Perez splits his time between Montreal and New York, and the photographs in his compelling new book capture the lives and moves of dancers in these two cities, as well as Florida, Texas, Mexico City and more.
Growing up in East Elmhurst, Queens—walking distance from the La Guardia airport—Perez first stumbled across the world of breaking when his neighbor showed up eager to showcase new moves learned from a cousin in Long Island. Even at such a young age, just 12 or 13 years old, Frankie was quickly sucked into the culture of breaking, venturing out to public practice spots whenever he could, and studying VHS tapes of dancers. Perez went on to become a standout member of the Supreme Beingz crew, traveling the world, even competing in multiple Red Bull BC One rounds in Boston and Chicago (2011), Orlando (2015 and 2017), and Amsterdam (2017).
As Perez grew more and more immersed in breaking and hip-hop culture, photographing his friends and peers was almost second nature. He began shooting street style and fashion, before photographing dancers and their lives, simply because that was his environment. As a completely self-taught photographer, Perez has taken his images to the next level by also self-publishing his book with support from a local grant from the Queens Council of The Arts. The images range from 2018 to 2020 and the entire book was designed and sequenced by Perez as well.
Below, check out more of Perez’s thoughts about B-Boy culture and the process of making this book below, along with selected photos from the book.
On being a B-Boy
“When I was younger, B-Boying was this whole new world. I was very excited to explore, to be a part of it, and express myself. When I found out you can travel the world with breaking, that was it for me. That was one of the motivating factors for me wanting to get better. That was a driving force for a while. Right now, I’ve done all that. I’ve traveled the world and won big competitions and battles, battled among some of the best in the world and won. I’m still pursuing dancing at a really high level... Breaking to me right now means building on top of what already existed, before me. Carrying on tradition, but innovating and creating new moves at the same time. That’s what keeps me up at night: How can I take it further?”
On Red Bull BC One
“BC One is super cool because it kind of shows you what breaking could be. It’s like a glimpse of what the future could be. You’re treated like a professional athlete like in the NBA or something. From everything down to the presentation of the event to how you’re treated all throughout the competition.”
On photographing B-Boy culture
“It wasn’t necessarily that I felt a calling to be a photographer in the scene, per se, it’s just like what was around me. It was very accessible for me, what I was living and breathing anyway. It was very much a no-brainer for me. Originally, I got into visual storytelling in general because I didn’t want to rely on anybody else to promote myself as a dancer. Then I started using the still picture function on my DSLR camera. That was just street photography, then I started shooting people more and incorporating fashion. All throughout that time I was shooting dancers here and there, perfecting my skills and getting my foundation.”
On making “See Me Up? It's 'Cause I've Been Down”
“With respect to the actual book, I was going to make a zine at first, because I thought ‘Yo, I would want to see this even if I wasn’t shooting, and it’d be super dope to see it from the perspective of a B-Boy. Because I’ve never seen anything like that before, whether it was in our own scene, or in the photography world in general. Like, Martha Cooper did “We B*Girlz,” but it’s a totally different flavor and vibe than what I put out. My progression was a natural evolution from street photography to shooting people as well.”
On the title of the book
“One, it’s an affirmation to creating my own success. I’m asking a question, but I’m answering it at the same time in the affirmative. Which is basically just to say ‘I’m in control of all of this.’ Two, it’s a personal history lesson—I’m up, because I’ve been down with the subject matter I’m focusing on. Three, it’s a play on words about the cover photo. The picture is right side up, but the subject is upside down. Four, it’s a nod to Nipsey Hussle, a flip on one of his lines.”
On the cover photo
“This is probably my favorite one because it’s of my homie that I grew up breaking with. It was taken at a time when he came back from a long hiatus of breaking, due to some personal struggles. When that photo was taken, we were practicing together again and traveling the city to go to practice spots. He was just really happy about life at the moment. So it was special to be able to capture that for him, that’s probably my favorite image.”
On images of the hitters
“I also love the images of the hitters that are in there. I feel like that’s an overlooked part of the scene, even within the scene itself. I don’t really hear people talking about that.”
On B-Boy Vicious from Sweet Technique and his son, Phoenix
“The images that I have with B-Boy Vicious from Sweet Technique and B-Girl AT and their son, Phoenix. I feel like it’s a little more complex look at breaking, and what we go through as dancers behind the scenes in order to stay breaking at a high level while balancing personal life issues such as being a parent at the same time. That was cool for me because I’ve never seen that really explored in that context. I just became a new parent myself, I have a three-month-old, so I’m going through that at the moment. “
On photographing the culture as an insider
“One of the reasons I was excited to make the book is because there really wasn’t a project by somebody from the culture—it’s in contrast to a lot of the work that’s been done outside of it. Not that the way I’m doing it is necessarily better, but it is totally different in my opinion, and was kind of needed to showcase an alternative and a different perspective on what rarely gets a big spotlight.”
On his goals for the book
“One of my goals was to give a more proper introduction to people outside of the culture about what we do. That’s in light of commercial campaigns featuring a non-B-Boy or B-Girl doing a B-Boy or B-Girl move. Not just presenting it to the general public, but doing it in an artistic way at the same time. Showcasing my individual visual language. I wanted this book to create opportunities at the highest level of the industry. It’s my contribution to the scene, along with what I’ve created physically with my dance. I want to open up more opportunities, at a commercial level, for what we do as dancers. I wanted us to think outside the box a little more about what the standard of success can be.”