A President's Tribute with Joe Pugliese and People Magazine
When the world first learned that the 43rd President of the United States, George W Bush, was going to spend his retirement painting there was collective confusion. After nearly a decade of being a war President, picking up a brush and a palette was unconventional to say the least. But it might have been the perfect pick for this controversial figure, and a way for the country to reflect on his time in office. This month, Bush’s first book of paintings, “Portraits of Courage” hit the market and People Magazine invited Joe Pugliese to photograph the painter statesman. “It was an easy fit but I think it was surprising,” says Joe. “I didn’t realize he was doing any kind of press right now so it was a nice surprise. And also I liked that there was some heft to it, there was some reason for him being back in the spotlight. So it was right up my alley.” The book is a collection of oil paintings of military veterans paired with their stories. It’s a tribute as much as an expression.
Joe opted to arrive at Bush’s home with a small crew to keep the atmosphere intimate and reduce barriers that would stand in the way of Joe capturing the most honest portrait of Bush that he could. “I’ve always heard that he’s extremely affable, he’s a real friendly character, he connects with people. I expected that he would be gracious and nice and also sort of chummy which is what I’ve heard about him and he totally was that,” Joe explains. Bush’s legacy is complex, but focusing on painting allows the conversation to shift from the choices he made as Commander in Chief to America’s veterans and the art form he’s chosen. It’s a great way to engage with the Bush the man instead of Bush the President.
“The way he talked about painting was really refreshing for me, actually,” says Joe. “He makes no bones about the fact that, he’s even said that, the most valuable part of his painting is his signature. He is doing this out of sheer love for it and it’s something that I appreciate.”
The shoot didn’t just surprise Joe, but also everyone who caught the first look at it. This is the third high-profileshoot that Joe has executed with People Magazine and their Director of Photography, Catriona Ni Aolain. Just recently he’s photographed Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and now George W. Bush for this Magazine that more and more is proving themselves to be at the forefront of investigating not just the day’s most important political stories, but the human stories underneath them.