The Photography of Esther Halio-Peyron

By Elizabeth Gracen:

Esther Halio-Peyron

The photography of Esther Halio-Peyron immediately connects me to my heydays in the 1980s when a new way of experiencing music appeared right in our very own living rooms—the music video! Thanks to the launch of MTV in August 1981, we watched the birth of pop and rock 'n' roll artists from around the world. It was glorious! Remember all the great videos that we watched over and over, and how it changed our lives in such a positive way? Remember saying "I want my MTV!?"

The GRAMMY Museum in Cleveland, Mississippi, celebrated the anniversary of this television phenomena with the launch of a major exhibit that opened this summer and will continue until June 2022. MTV TURNS FORTY explores the history of the channel and its influence on the music industry and our lives.

Esther Halio-Peyron was selected as the sole photographer showcased at the exhibit. Her work as one of MTV's first staff photographers gave her access to iconic artists such as Lou Reed, B.B. King, Rod Stewart, the Eagles, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Eurythmics, and many more. With an eye to capture the spontaneous, natural side of the artists she photographed, her work reveals a fresh, intimate side to these superstars in the days right before they were propelled into stardom.

Halio-Peyron has traveled the world to take photos for major corporations and magazines and continues to take beautiful photographs of the world around her. I'm honored to call her a friend, and I am thrilled to feature her work here at Flapper Press.

Please meet Esther Halio-Peyron!

EG: Esther, I can’t tell you how much I love your photos from your MTV days. It brings back such great memories of a time gone by when music was making a magical resurgence for all of us. Dear god, the 80s seem like a dream now! Please tell our readers a little bit about yourself and how you began your work as a photographer.

EP: Thank you so much, Lizzie, I really appreciate that. It’s wonderful that we share the passion for music and photography. Yes, the 80s were a meteoric time in music history, and I was young and lucky enough to be a part of this culture-defining moment and capture the magic behind the scenes at MTV, grateful to be in the presence of the artists and rock and roll musicians I so admired.

Music has always been an integral part of my life. I remember as a child getting so excited to open the album sleeve of a new Beatles record, blasting rock and roll for hours on end with my older brother, memorizing the lyrics to songs, going to concerts nightly, being fascinated by the mystique of David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin. I was drawn to the art, but at the same time I was equally if not more so interested in the artist, in capturing both the art of artistry/performance and the humanity undergirding it.

In high school, my mom gave me her Nikon F camera with a 135mm lens. I snuck that camera into concerts and maneuvered my way to the front barricades, sometimes standing on chairs, oftentimes getting scolded by security guards as I tried to shoot images of the musicians and bands. Sandwiched in the crowd and jostling to get my camera up, I would look across the barriers at the press-credentialed photographers who had the best vantage points and their massive equipment slung around their necks. I aspired to be one of them.

During my junior year abroad in London, I took my first course in photography. I was inspired by the work of 20th century masters such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paul Strand, and Robert Frank, finding a certain provocation, delicacy, and honesty in street photography, as well as by the power and performativity in the portraits by Richard Avedon and Annie Leibovitz.

In 1982, I graduated with a business degree from NYU and realized I wanted to wholeheartedly pursue the creative path as an artist instead. I worked as a photographer’s assistant in New York City, took classes at The School of Visual Arts, workshops at ICP, and shot concerts while honing my craft.