Photographer Joe Pugliese Captures Strength with JLo & ESPN's Body Issue
In his latest editorial endeavors, photographer Joe Pugliese reunited with Variety’s cover star Jennifer Lopez for their third photography collaboration and returned to set with ESPN for the 2019 edition of The Body Issue.
In an Instagram caption describing the experience, Joe mentions that when working with the actress, singer, and performer, Jennifer Lopez, it’s merely his job to just keep up. “She won’t wait for my direction to change what she’s doing. Some people will be in a pose or a position and they will stay there until I say move on, but she is not waiting for me. It’s for sure me witnessing what she’s giving me and recording it as much as I can,” explains the photographer. “She’s truly a director. People of this magnitude, no matter if they are technically directors or not, are directors in their lives. They curate their persona and their look and their businesses and when they get to a photoshoot, that doesn't turn off for them. I had things I wanted to do - some things worked and some things didn't, but she was pretty on board for them all. It was truly collaborative, she and I figuring out what we’re doing.”
The photoshoot took place in Chicago at the superstar’s hotel during one of her few nights off from performing while on tour. Joe first photographed JLo during a music tour for Billboard and again focusing on her physique for the Body Issue of US Magazine. For this shoot with Variety, Joe wanted to capture her fierceness and strength. “I don’t think I veer one way or another in terms of soft and feminine photography, or strong and masculine photography. I like playing both sides for the right subject, and sometimes also disarm the viewer against what would be expected. I like taking soft quiet moments of men who would normally be photographed in a strong way and the opposite to show the many sides and the range of emotion that people have. JLo was dressed very elegantly, the first look where she’s in the pantsuit with the tucked top, that was very theatrical. It made sense for that to be graphic but the look in the hallway was more playful, and she still brought a fierceness to it. It was a nice way to reveal that no matter what she’s doing, she’s serious about it.”
“Jennifer Dorn at Variety and Karen Frank at ESPN are real champions of photography and thoughtful about the way they assign their photography. I know when I get a call from either one of them that there was a lot of consideration why I was the choice, and I always want to do right by that and respect the fact that there are so many photographers to choose from for every shoot. When it does land on me, I need to think about why they hired me and when we discuss it, that’s where I get a lot of the direction and the approach,” explained Joe. “Karen has looked after the Body Issue for most of the 10 years that it’s been around, and it’s the kind of assignment that every single editorial photographer absolutely wishes for. When you get the call, it’s like you won the lottery." For ESPN’s 11th edition of The Body Issue, and his fourth collaboration with the annual periodical, Joe got the call to capture MLB’s MVP, Christian Yelich.
“It’s important to understand the crux of The Body Issue. If you talk to the athletes about why they even want to do it, they feel like their livelihood is around their physical abilities and that people don’t understand how much work goes into what they do for a living. Christian is at the peak of his career, he wants to look back at these pictures and say 'That's what I really looked like when I was Major League Baseball's MVP. He wants a record of truth, of what his body is doing for him,” explained the photographer. “Baseball is not like boxing where you can see their physique. It’s hidden by pretty baggy clothes, a lot of baseball players don’t get the idea that they’d be that fit, and a lot of them are not that fit. This is his way of revealing that it’s not by chance that he's extremely successful at baseball, I think he wants to show that a lot of work goes into it.
As a portrait photographer, Joe developed a concept to showcase the young and exciting athlete that stayed true to his aesthetic responsibility of human truth. “I have to follow what feels right for the tone of my work. I think the ideas that I came up with had a notion of fun involved, but it was important to me to not make it a funny shoot. I want to show high reverence for people and their demeanor. He's known for stealing bases and sliding, so I thought, a slip and slide is such a great way to make him slide while being nude. We had to build it indoors because of privacy and the light I wanted to control. I had Chicago based set designer, Dan Griffin, come all the way to Milwaukee to build a pool from scratch. It was an amazing achievement to build this 16 by 20-foot 6-inch water slide in a raw warehouse space that we found.”
“Catching the ball in front of what looks like an outfield wall: my concept of that was really that I wanted all of these shots to feel like you’re in a dream, and the way that dreams are sort of surreal with an inkling of reality, but all the soundings unreal. You might have a dream in a nondescript place that you can’t describe once you're awake but doing something you totally know, like playing baseball, but you don't know why you would have been where you were. The sliding in water: doing something he totally knows that's rooted in reality but for some reason, he was naked and was going through water. The idea of being able to describe it but it doesn’t make any sense that it would be there -- I was trying to keep the dream narrative going. There's some fog and a little bit of the haziness in the photos to represent the in-between place between reality and a dream.”
Although Christian was recently selected as Major League Baseball’s Most Valuable Player of the year, Joe described him as demure. Usually, funny stories from set come from people trying to mask their discomfort about photographed, because they want to laugh through it. For this shoot with Christian, there weren’t many funny moments. “The thing that did surprise me, I didn't actually really think about it this way, but there was a shift, and the shift came when I realized how unbelievably comfortable he was with the process of being naked in front of a crew full of people and photographers. We usually take such care for someone's comfort level on these shoots. This was the fourth shoot I did for the body issue and normally everyone has a way through it. Some subjects just want some tequila shots and mellow out. Some subjects just want as much privacy as possible to go back to their room whenever we’re not shooting and Christian it’s almost like he forgot he was naked the second the robe came off. It was almost more uncomfortable for us than him. He would walk up to the monitor and we would be like, you can wear a robe if you want.”
Joe Pugliese's First Collaboration With HBO
In his first collaboration with HBO, photographer Joe Pugliese captured the key art for the hit television drama, Succession.
“HBO wanted the tension that would exist in a family. It’s something that we can all relate to: family tension, awkwardness, being at a table you don’t want to be at. Everything was made to feel intense. We had multiple concepts to shoot, and only one that made the cut. We had another entire dining room concept. A lot of what we do on shoots like this is to shoot a lot of concepts on set that day and then choose the final. We had one whole day to prelight, and then a whole day to shoot.”
The family portrait captured by Joe shows the cast of the television show at the dinner table, during an intense moment of pause. Not only were all 7 actors on set for the shoot, but they also came in character, ready to act.
“We built the set from scratch and shot it on the Highline stages. I worked with a set designer, an LA-based partner of mine. HBO was supportive of me having my team there. We had stand-ins, so we were able to experiment with compositions and positioning of all the other characters so that we had a real plan of attack with the actors. It was very set specific, so I didn’t want to skimp on that department, and I didn’t want it to feel like it was lit for a photograph,” explained the photographer.
As a television show progresses, season after season, the concepts surrounding the promotional campaigns can become more subtle. Regular viewers have an idea of what’s going on in the plot, and potential viewers are more savvy and curious about what the show is about. For this Season 2 shoot, the audience had already been acquainted with the cast in the first season. “We wanted to get into the character’s minds, and since HBO felt that the characters were now introduced to the audience, we didn’t have to reintroduce them the way they did for season 1. So it made me want to light it extremely cinematically, in the way that in film and cinematography you never really know what the lighting source is. You are hopefully believing that that’s the way the dining room looks. Using a globe like or a chandelier, using a big soft light that surrounds them which is what the walls would do. Having the light coming off the marble table. These little lighting cues that made it pretty sharp and believable as a lighting idea.”
In a shoot with multiple concepts, it’s unlikely that the result is a perfect match to the “All the key art was the most in-camera campaign I’ve ever done. The RAW file looks almost exactly like the poster which is very, very rare. What we were shooting on the day was exactly how you see it, all the way down to everything on the dining table and the lights on the wall, the fireplace, where everyone is sitting. It was pretty technically challenging but we really had time to finesse it and I think it shows in the final that it’s photographic. There were no surprises,” said Joe. “I was really happy with how it all turned out. For me, it’s always fun when you see the cast interact in ways that are out of what you’re familiar with. In this show, they absolutely hate each other but on set, they’re palling around and joking and being the best of friends. They’re their own separate family.”
Joe Pugliese Shoots the World Cup US Women's National Team
In his latest story with Eight By Eight Magazine, photographer Joe Pugliese worked with a wishlist editorial and creative director to shine a different light on the Women’s World Cup US National Team.
“The editorial we were shooting for was created by Robert Priest, who is a legendary design director. He and his partner created this design group, Priest & Grace, that does all kinds of advertising. Robert Priest came from magazines and was the design director for GQ, and he just has an amazing eye. He loves soccer so he decided to start his own soccer magazine to marry his passions with his profession, and he’s doing a wonderful job at it. It’s a showcase of his design work and his love for soccer. When he asked me to photograph the U.S. Women’s National Team, I immediately said yes.”
The dynamic between photographer and creative director was fluid throughout the project and the collaboration felt natural. “He really let me lead the way on it, it was a total creative collaboration. We were both coming up with ideas and it was really a great collaborative effort. I got to lead the concepts and all the coloring,” explained Joe. “Some of the color changes are for visual relief. I knew this was going to be a sixteen-page portfolio and the idea of every single page being this blast of color or every single color being serene, classic black & white, felt to me like push and pull. I wanted to feel like layers taking on this journey, a dynamic journey, with visual ups and downs.”
The photoshoot took place at the Nike Photo Studio in Culver City in California. Nike hosted the launch for the team's uniforms so the shoot, as well as the set, were worked into a traditional press day for the team. “We were working with limited time and space, so I built the set to have the colors all around it. Some blues, some reds, some warm, some neutral. The shape of the lighting could change based on where I put people," said Joe. "These women, especially when they’re in uniform, they’re asked to sort of perform, to dribble a ball, to hold a ball. I made the decision to say I don’t want a soccer ball in this entire portfolio. It’s a soccer magazine. I just wanted their beautiful portraits in there. I think it was sort of a relief to them in many ways to just not have to do what they normally do at photo shoots which is you know to jump and kick. I wanted to respect them as athletes who deserve a dignified portrait.”
For this shoot, there was no designated cover star. The photographer had ten minutes with each soccer player, and Joe captured each team member as if they could be on the cover. “I have worked with a lot of athletes, but I haven’t worked with a lot of teams together. It was really nice to see the camaraderie on the team. It’s the fact that whether or not they like doing these press days, they all approach it like a team, they’re all very professional, they all have a clear view of their objectives. It was really nice for me to try to be a little more creative with them. Sometimes they’re photographed so often in such little time, that they don’t have the chance to do some photography that leans a little more creative, so I wanted them to have fun with that.”
“Honestly, the highlight of the shoot was working with Robert, he’s an absolute photographer’s dream to work with. He has so much talent, but he really lets you explore and take risks and he supports it. Part of working with Robert is being able to be experimental with color and lighting. Some art directors are more conservative, but he allowed me to push it. It’s rare these days.”
Joe Pugliese Shows the Transformative Power of Haircuts on LA's Homeless
Sometimes the biggest impact comes from the smallest gestures. Jason Schneidman is a hairstylist and groomer that’s worked with Joe Pugliese on set for their jobs, but they recently collaborated on project that goes beyond the glitz of an editorial set. In his free time, Schneidman offers his time to cut the hair of homeless folk in Los Angeles, and after hearing about this ongoing service, Joe asked if he could document the process and people that Schneidman reaches out to. “It was important fo me to honor it in a very matter of fact way without building up the heavy sympathy approach that we see a lot,” Joe explains. “I just thought that this was a nice way into a singular thing that one person does that doesn’t necessarily change their lives but it might change their day… Do what you can with what you have and incrementally make somebody’s day better whether or not you change the world or change someone’s life is nearly here nor there.”
The series offers a look at Schneidman’s process and the effect that a haircut can have. Like Joe says, the minutes in that chair and the human attention that Schneidman gives will not change the trajectory of their lives, but it does offer a human moment and the opportunity to feel good about themselves and the world they're living in. “I wanted to illustrate the transformative property of a simple haircut and I didn’t want to do it so much for the haircut but with their expressions,” Joe says. “I used a long lens to stay out of the action, and I was a sort of fly out of the way so they didn’t feel like there was a photoshoot. it was important to him that it not be a complicated set up. This wasn’t about photography.” Joe’s distance allowed for even more authentic moments so the transformation is ever clearer and deeper.
Often, the photographs are less about the haircut and more about the connection between two people. Living on the streets can be isolating and stressful, but Schneidman gives his clients the opportunity to sit and connect with another person in a context that has no expectation or ulterior motive. “It looks like they’re happy to just be gently handled. They’re happy to have somebody who’s really caring for them in a way that is respectful,” Joe says. “There’s a level of trust that I think we all relate to even when we’re sitting in a barber’s chair… His interaction with them taught me a lot about how I interact with my subjects. And I saw a lot of the same trust building steps that he takes with his subjects that I tried to take with my photographic subjects.” As we approach a season of giving, Joe and Schneidman remind us that sometimes the best gift you can give is your time and attention.
The Power of Women Speaks for Variety with Joe Pugliese
Our culture is finally beginning to wrestle with what it means to put women at the center of our conversations. For generations, the male voice has been the default but in the last year or two the paradigm has begun to shift. It’s only the beginning, and it’s been a rocky start, but considering the work that has yet to be done: the start is good. Variety just unveiled the five covers for their Power of Women Honorees, and though the distinction is in its 10th year, the event has never been more prescient. Emma Gonzalez, Tiffany Haddish, Lena Waithe, Natalie Portman, and Regina King, each earned the platform to share causes that are important to them, and the cover of their own issue of Variety. Joe Pugliese was on hand to collaborate with each of these women and create imagery that would speak to the messages they have to share.
“I’m a conduit for their message, I’m a tool for them to get this out,” Joe explains. “I believe in diversity of views and vision and photography is benefiting from that and has a lot more to give in that respect, so I don’t take it lightly when I have a project like this.” Joe’s portraiture is always about finding a way to let his subject best speak for themselves, and never to apply anything on top of what he finds. Rather than being driven by concept: he acts as an observer to show us what we would experience if we were in the room.
That’s why in almost all these photos you see the subjects hands (“Hands are as expressive as faces,” he says). That’s why there are textural flares in the corners (“I wanted to add some depth and I also wanted to show that this is organic in camera, there were no effects”). Each element isn’t just an invitation in, it’s a removal of an obstacle between Joe’s subject and our experience of the photograph.
If there is an added element, it’s the unique color that was applied to each one of the honorees. But that was done to express the range of this group of powerful women, and underscore moments special to each subject. “We also tried to make sure that their expressions are lifted through the color and that it’s not overwhelmed,” he explains. The look on Waithe’s face is even moodier with the shade of green, the light blue behind Gonzalez becomes almost ethereal when filtered through her expression. “It was something to separate but tie them together, in kind of a chromatic way. They all lived in their own chromatic worlds but it was clear that they were related. I didn’t want it to be the same treatment for all five subjects, I wanted it to be that they are their own but they’re together.”
The invitation to photograph the Power of Women covers was more than a creative challenge for Joe but he accepted the job knowing that he could step back and make it about the women who were telling their stories. As Waithe said on her Instagram, sharing the cover image, “Thank you Joe for creating such a safe space and for being one of the dopest photographers on the planet” - a compliment that Joe ranks as “the highest compliment I could have received.”
Joe Pugliese and David Letterman Get Real
When Joe Pugliese headed to David Letterman’s new show on Netflix, 'My Next Guest,' the goal was to photograph images for key art – those are the pictures you see on posters and billboards to advertise for a show. Scheduling didn’t permit Joe to plan a shoot outside of the schedule of the show, so Joe had to fit his photographs into moments when Letterman had time during the filming of his first episode. Normally in these situations, the subject would meet Joe for a day separate from their shooting schedule, but that wasn’t possible. Joe leaned into his agility to get it done. That slight inconvenience ended up creating a situation that Netflix wanted to keep going. Joe did more than just get portraits: he followed Letterman around the set, on field pieces, and with guests like Barack Obama, Malala Yousafzai, and George Clooney. He photographed a documentary of what it’s like to make this new show, and what it’s like to watch Letterman work.
“Once Netflix saw what the work looked like, the producers and publicity department of the show thought this would be a nice thing to continue to document,” Joe explains. “This is a big return of an iconic television figure people are going to be interested in what it looks like behind the scenes.”
The Late Show with David Letterman was a TV staple for more than two decades, but being a part of a major television Network, Letterman had to perform to a set of standards that was guaranteed to sell time to advertisers. His show on Netflix doesn’t have the same constraints. “This is more introspective, it is talking about peoples’ legacies, meaningful things in their lives,” Joe explains. “This combination of portraiture and reportage underscored that’s something very meaningful to me. Something that I thought was a really nice to cover, to round out what is normally just a portrait session.”
When Joe started off as a photographer he worked in reportage and then moved over to portraiture. With My Next Guest, Joe has been able to use all of his skills in both arenas to create work that’s revealing and intimate and gives us deeper insight by delivering moments with Letterman and his guests. “It’s been an eye-opening journey into a new approach and it’s exciting,” Joe says. “I have the foundation for it and now I just want to flex that muscle more.”
Discovering New Dimensions with Joe Pugliese, The Duffer Brothers, and Wired
It’s only been three days since Stranger Things 2 dropped on Netflix and thousands of viewers have already blasted through the whole season of television. And it’s surprising it’s taken even that long. When Stranger Things first debuted on Netflix last summer it was the breakaway hit, and with the second season only a few days old, expectations and anticipation for the third season are already becoming rabid. It’s all thanks to the Duffer Brothers, Matt and Ross, identical twins and creative collaborators. All eyes are on the brothers as they bring us in their world, and Wired Magazine invited Joe Pugliese to photograph them for their latest issue.
The aesthetic of Stranger Things is unique and easily identifiable, but Joe wanted to avoid those tropes. “I didn’t want to freeze them in the show that they’re currently working on because I always feel like portraiture lives on long after the people we photograph are tied to a specific project,” Joe explains. “I wanted to allude to the work that they do which at the core is an exploration of dimension - different dimensions and things living on in other ways and in other places.” To reflect the idea of multiple dimensions, Joe had the brothers play with mirrors and then used those reflections as a kind of visual game with the camera.
Being identical twin brothers, there’s a lot of space to make visual jokes about reflections or similar looks, but Joe wanted to avoid all that. Instead, he found that all stereotypes about identical twins are completely absent from the way the brothers present themselves. As a photographer, it was his responsibility to present that in his work. “They don’t feel like identical twins in person. I actually wouldn’t guess that if I had met them, I would say maybe brothers or fraternal twins,” says Joe. “They don’t come off as really even the same kind of vibe.”
Those differences are crucial when collaborating. The two have known each other since conception and choose to work together every day, and their separateness ensures they better each other. But Joe is quick to point out that they’re perfect equals, and he wanted that to show in the imagery. “I didn’t want them to ever feel like interchangeable in the photo, but I also didn’t want there to be a lead and a non-lead in the image, so I took care to switch them around at will,” says Joe. “They don’t present themselves as interchangeable but they also don’t present themselves as one dominant, or one stronger personality than the other so I wanted to respect the fact that they are definitely on equal footing.” Luckily, Joe and the brothers were able to explore and try new things because Wired offers the creative freedom to get the right images.
“They are one of the few that gives me that much freedom to just guide it,” says Joe about Wired. The magazine, and photo editor Ruby Goldberg, support Joe in every way making it possible to create amazing photographs.
Joe Pugliese Gets Creative with A$AP Rocky
A$AP Rocky is practically indefinable. He rose to fame thanks to a sparkling career in hip hop but quickly became a fashion authority, and a generally creative phenomenon. All celebrities influence their fans, but few have the kind of impact that Rocky has. It’s not just that he reaches a lot of people, but brands all over the world seek to benefit from his taste and style – he’s a collaborator, not a spokesman. So when Courvoisier reached out to Joe Pugliese and asked him to photograph Rocky for their latest campaign, Joe was psyched. “He’s much more than a hip hop artist, he’s basically a creative force, creative director in his own right,” Joe says. “The opinions he had and the taste level that he brought to the shoot was key. I don’t think a lot of people could have pulled it off like he did.”
The premise of the shoot was different from the work that Joe is normally called to do, but instead of getting caught up in what was different, Joe looked at what was the same and how to use that to the advantage of the project. “I’m generally an editorial photographer so I wanted this to look like a portrait of him that seemed authentic like I would have done for a magazine,” Joe says. “I didn’t want it to be like he was dressing up for the part and I feel like we got to a place that looks like something as authentic as we would have shot editorially.” In order to engender that relationship between the audience and Rocky, Joe needed to be able to control every aspect of the shoot. So he did. They built the entire set from scratch, placing every hanging jacket and swatch book and spool of thread to maximize the communication – and if you notice the bottle of Courvoisier in the shot, even better.
“We wanted to create an intimate space with him,” Joe explains. “He’s someone who has these moments of creative expression and that could happen with no one around and that could happen at the tailor. So we wanted to make sure that he was surrounded by something that is authentic and curated.”
It’s not every day that a photographer gets to work with a subject whose creativity is in demand all over the world. Typically their subject is a personality they must reveal or a model whose shape works perfectly for the desired goal. But Joe was able to work together with Rocky and use him as a creative asset instead of just as a subject. “It was inspiring. I was happy that he had opinions. I was happy that he had an image that he wanted to see accurately depicted, and that was a lot more fun to me than someone who just let us do whatever we wanted, especially in the world of advertising, authenticity is everything.”
Joe Pugliese Gets Comfortable with the US Women’s Hockey Team for ESPN
Last year when Joe Pugliese shot for ESPN’s The Body Issue he worked with two athletes who trained and competed mostly outside in gorgeous – or at least warm – weather. But this year, Joe met up with six members of the US Women’s Hockey team in an ice rink to take some very active (and very naked) photos of the athletes. Kacey Bellamy, Brianna Decker, Meghan Duggan, Jocelyn Lamoureux-Davidson, Monique Lamoureux-Morando, and Alex Rigsby bared all on the ice for Joe and his crew and had a much easier time than Joe did. “The ladies were less affected by it than me and my crew,” says Joe. “I was freezing all day and they were wearing nothing and it didn’t seem to bother them at all.” Even with the extreme temperature, these ladies were in their element and it shows in every frame. Joe, on the other hand, had a few adjustments to make.
“Doing a photo shoot on ice was a much bigger challenge than I could have imagined. I’ve never shot anything on the ice and I took for granted the idea that when I shoot my feet are firmly planted on the ground and not slipping,” says Joe. “The way I shoot I move in and I pull back and that changed immediately. When I started shooting I had to move very slowly and deliberately and thoughtfully. So that played a factor.” After shifting his shooting style slightly, the day became just like any other shoot. He framed up each shot while the ladies were in robes, and once each look was ready to go the athletes disrobed and Joe fired away. Each image is so carefully and technically calibrated that Joe didn’t even have time to get distracted by anything other than capturing a fantastic series of images. After all, that’s what they were there to do.
ESPN's annual The Body Issue gives all of us the opportunity to see our favorite athletes in ways we almost never get to see them, which can be tantalizing on one hand, but it is much more than that. Athleticism is often presented dominating, overpowering, and blunt. But images like what Joe captured with the US Women’s Hockey team can teach us a more graceful lesson: “It’s to not hide your strength,” says Joe. “These women are in the shape of their lives. They’re all very proud of how hard they work and what that does to their bodies and I don’t think it crossed anyone’s mind to not want to show that. I think it’s revealing to show the athleticism of a sport like hockey which is usually hidden by so many pads; they don’t have the same benefit of a gymnast or a runner to show their body. Underneath all that armor they’re absolutely well-tuned machines.” Not all of us have bodies like finely tuned machines, but they are what we have and this annual issue reminds us that what we have is ours, we live in it every day, and we can be just as vulnerable as anyone else. It’s not only our bodies we can work on, we can also work on loving them no matter how they look.
Joe Pugliese Wins Bigly for The Hollywood Reporter, and We're Not Tired of It Yet
He might not like us telling you this, but Joe Pugliese is a total nerd when it comes to Saturday Night Live. He loves the show and has for decades, so whenever he gets the opportunity to photograph the cast, producers, writers, it’s always something that he leaps at. This week SNL will close out the current season, but it will go down as one of the most consequential in the show’s history because of the incredible work the cast has done lampooning the Trump administration. Mocking the President isn’t new for the show, but this season has gone in a slightly different direction. “SNL has always poked mild fun at Presidents and this is another level, this is almost like activism in a way,” says Joe.
The Hollywood Reporter invited Joe to photograph this SNL Trump Administration, creating something of a historical document to remember the work these actors and writers have done. “I don’t generally like to inject humor into my photos, that’s sort of a little bit out of character,” Joe explains. “But given the opportunity I felt like it was important to document this cast of characters doing what they do the same way I would have wanted to with Monty Python troupe doing what they do, just to get it down as a record.” Joe met the cast at New York City’s The Rainbow Room and brought with him paparazzi photographs from the Studio 54 era to show the actors. He wanted to replicate that feeling with the cast, let them imagine that the Administration is the coolest kids on the block, living it up in one fantastic night. Communicating with the actors in that way was the key to making this shoot work as well as it did.
Since Joe gave the actors their ‘scene,’ as it were, these incredible improvisers just let go and played. By offering them the freedom to jump into character, Joe’s job became smoother. “If I had to photograph Alec Baldwin as Alec Baldwin, New York actor, comic actor, that would have been really hard if he weren’t in character,” says Joe. “As soon as he put on that wig it’s easy, he didn’t even need to think about it. None of them did. They all did their characters and had a lot of fun with it.” Instead of coaxing these moments out of each of the actors, Joe got to sit back and play audience for these experts. And they delivered.
Joe sees his job as a photographer to be witness in rooms and situations that the rest of us can’t be in. He’s our emissary. He reports back to us not in words and quotes, but in moments frozen in photographs, evoking the emotions that he experiences while he lives them. It may seem like a catalogue of photographs of actors in character is contrary to that goal, but Joe explains that in this particular instance it’s actually exactly that. “We’ll look back on this in ten years and say that was a moment where politics and entertainment really collided,” says Joe. “With Trump’s victory a lot of people have become activists whether they’d like it or not. I feel like with the way people communicate now, everyone has a channel or an outlet, a voice, they have their own headlines to write in social media, and there’s a general low level feeling of activism across the board whereas it used to be just the really passionate people be the activists.” Elections are an amazing reminder that democracy is a process and everyone’s voice counts. SNL’s work this season is an extension of that, of the burden of citizenry. Even if it comes with a laugh.
Joe Pugliese Spins 100 at The Price Is Right
\The Price Is Right is an American staple not just because it’s been around for forever, but because every episode feels just like the last with the same excitement, same games, and a deep vein of authentic joy running through every minute. It’s immediately recognizable to anyone who’s touched popular culture even on a surface level, and that’s one of the reason that Joe Pugliese chose to highlight the shoe as a part of his ongoing collaboration with LA Magazine. They’ve invited him to serve up a new library of Los Angeles themed images every month and this month it focuses on that incredible show. “I’m coming up with all the ideas of iconic, lasting, but not necessarily cliché LA institutions,” explains Joe. “The Price is Right is like the most lasting symbol of Showbiz to me. There have been a lot of strong icons in that world but not any that have lasted this long. It’s literally unchanged since 1972.” The show’s recognizable icons, like the colored set and graphic name tags drum up inside each and every viewer a pang of nostalgia that will never go away.
The games are fun, and Drew Carey has been a magnanimous replacement for Bob Barker, but the show is really about one thing: the folks in the audience. “It’s all about the contestant on that show so the crowd is the draw, so I thought it made perfect sense for a portrait series to give us a cross-section of who is attracted to that part of Hollywood,” Joe explains. The Price Is Right isn’t just visual nostalgia, but also reminds us of a different kind of Hollywood that has since disappeared except for on The Price Is Right. It’s an era where daily heroes were plucked out of obscurity and showered with riches, in cash and prizes, thanks to good luck and a little bit of skill. We still have other shows like Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, but The Price Is Right somehow feels more possible, more accessible. Somehow it feels both an inevitability and an impossible dream.
To get these richly full portraits, Joe looked to the audience and asked them to have the experience of the show in front of his camera. “I picked people out of the crowd and had them come over to a makeshift studio we set up just outside the line so they came into our little hut that was private,” Joe explains. “And then I would ask them about what brought them here, or what are they going to do if they picked, or how excited they’ll be if they say your name and ‘Come On Down!’ Everyone was just so jacked up that they had no problem reenacting their reenaction.” Joe stood in for all of us in these moments, witnessing the boundless energy that comes with tapping into the emotional history of the show. The Price Is Right is such a unique microcosm in American life, one that is at once immediately recognizable and just out of reach for all of us.
Joe, to his credit, gives us a piece of that impossibility.
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.
Joe Pugliese Reveals Donald Glover's Every Angle
Donald Glover has proven himself to be one of the most fascinating artists of the last couple years. We’d go so far as to call him the first real Millennial artist. More than enough ink has been spilled over the existence of the Millennial generation, but if there’s one feature that separates the generation from the ones before it is multidisciplinary focus without obsessive self-promotion. Glover went from being a (very young) writer on 30 Rock to starring on Community, to starting his musical career as Childish Gambino, to creating and starring in the Golden Globe Award-winning Atlanta, to being cast as Lando Calrissian in an upcoming Star Wars movie. It’s an exhaustive CV for anyone twice his age and if you’re not paying attention you miss more than half of it. Wired noticed enough to include a feature on the artist and invited Joe Pugliese to photograph a series of portraits for the story.
Joe has been exploring how to display the multifaceted nature of his subjects through his work, bringing everything together into single images. A little over a year ago Joe photographed a handful of creatives for their cover story ‘The New Professors’ that covered the growth of Beats into Apple Music, and a series of figures involved in creative education. Those images utilized shutter speed and color to bring depth and movement, a technique that Joe brought back for this story with Glover but as one part of a variety of techniques to tell the full story of who Glover is.
The story features no fewer than five different photographs of Glover, with the banner image being a portrait that features the same camera movement that Joe used in the aforementioned Wired story. Each subsequent image reveals a different aspect of the artist, and plays with a different side of his creative life. There’s a still moment in the darkness that exudes power, this is the creator, the producer, the visionary. At the very next turn is the next image where Glover is draped in Gucci and Cos, holding an afro pick like a scepter – this is the comedian whose sharp and earnest sense of humor demands an easy laugh and a thoughtful response. In turns we see him tearful, contemplative, clear. It's impossible to distil an entire human into one photo or even a collection of photos, but as Joe has told us before instead of trying to fit someone into one sitting he reveals what he meets, expressing his experience with the subject on film, acting as a proxy for the audience. Joe is our eyes, reflecting who he meets in the edges of the frame. He found a lot with Donald Glover, so he had a lot to show us.
The Girls Are Back In Town With Joe Pugliese
You’ll be forgiven if you haven’t gotten to Stars Hollow, Connecticut yet. The fictional town is the setting for Gilmore Girls, the dramedy series that captured the hearts of millions of viewers over seven seasons, more than 150 episodes, and launched the careers of Melissa McCarthy, Chris Pratt, Alexis Bledel, Jared Padalecki, and Milo Ventimiglia. Gilmore Girls follows the trials and tribulations of a single Mom Lorelai (played by Lauren Graham) and her daughter Rory (Bledel), wrapping up after seven seasons not by jumping the shark but instead continuing the story of real lives lived well through development and growth. But the show didn’t end there, this fall it came back in four 90-minute episodes on Netflix and the streaming giant invited Joe Pugliese to help them create the a public face for the event. The new series is called “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life,” and Joe was tasked with bringing that concept to life through his shots which is exactly what he did.
He spent the day mostly with Graham and Bledel, focusing on portraiture, and engaging the moments that we mark as passages in time - as well as just capturing beautiful imagery. “It’s one of those types of shoots when you get so many assets and then it’s a surprise when you see it,” says Joe. “It’s rare that they shoot one thing specifically for one usage and it ends up that way. These days their using all the assets across so many different platforms.” Photographing as much imagery as he did, it was impossible for Joe to know where each of the images would appear so it was a surprise to see an image of the women holding coffee mugs up like smiles as a billboard in Los Angeles. But that’s part of the fun.
Joe’s job is get the best pictures possible and then let his client, Netflix in this case, use them to the greatest effect. He takes care of the images, and they introduce them to the world. “I usually look at these thing purely from a photographer’s standpoint, which is my favorite portrait, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it works best for advertising,” says Joe. It’s a different animal from editorial work, which Joe does a lot, but at the end of the day it’s always about making a photograph that’s as engaging as it is gorgeous.
Joe Pugliese and the Responsibility of the Artist
Over the last decade, Joe Pugliese has photographed some of the most familiar faces in politics from all points in the spectrum. With that comes a responsibility that not all photographers heed but one Joe has taken to heart.
Whenever he sits down with a subject it’s Joe’s job to take photographs but more than that he’s a proxy for his viewer. To responsibly take a photograph he must understand the person sitting in front of him and have a point of view about them to see how they fit into the world. But if he’s going to come back with an honest portrait he cannot let those opinions color the outcome. “I’m meeting these people on behalf of the people who are looking at the photo. I do still give a lot of thought to the idea of bias and authorship as a photographer. I don’t want to take advantage of that,” explains Joe. “I don’t want to overtake the viewer’s experience of the subject with my beliefs on that subject. I want to present and not skew. Everything is way more heightened than it was even 8 years ago. I think now it’s even harder to stay neutral.”
Last year, Joe was able to spend an entire day with Donald Trump soon after he announced his candidacy. Over the last 18 months Trump's public image has been solidified, but when Joe tailed him public opinions were still shifting. Joe had his own opinions of Trump but walked into that day with a fresh pair of eyes to translate the experience in the most honest way possible. “If I’m sitting across from somebody in a portrait session I’m going to read their attitude and I’m going to have a human response to the energy that they’re giving off,” explains Joe. “At this point as a portrait photographer I don’t really even know what it is I’m reacting to and how I’m shooting it; I don’t have any preconceived notions. The camera fires when what I’m seeing matches the way I’m feeling with this interaction. So it becomes autopilot.” Joe removes himself from the process in such a way that it becomes purely reactionary. We end up seeing images that are not only unplanned but were captured through a visceral process. It’s not that Joe is revealing hidden moments, but is instead taking out the manufactured ones. He’s not removing a mask, but showing a mask for what it is when he sees it. “I try to show what was happening on the day.”
Just recently Joe was able to photograph Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton and her Vice Presidential nominee, Tim Kaine. It just so happened that this duo was having a good day so the photographs represent that. But Joe’s not going to force them into a different energy just because he has an idea of what the images should look like. “This was pre-pneumonia. They were on the campaign trail, they were doing a lot of press, that day they were opening up the plane to outside press. She was happy to do this round,” says Joe. “It was easy for me to do one of them cheery and laughing but it could have also gone the other way where they’re very, very stern and focused and I would have had to portray that as well.” As an artist, all Joe can offer is what shows up in front of his camera on that day.
Obviously, all photographers deal with these same challenges and they all solve them in their unique ways. When he’s looking for guidance he looks to Richard Avedon who he calls the “Gold Standard” of portrait photography. For every successful shoot that Joe has, he has another that doesn’t go as well. Case in point, just last month he had a sitting that he anticipated would turn out much better than it went. It was especially shocking after a few weeks of great shoots. His subject just wasn’t feeling it and there was little Joe could do to shift that. It was what it was. “It doesn’t matter who you’ve photographed in the past or all your successes, it all comes down to that one interaction on the day. So it was suitably humbling after this run of subjects liking my pictures,” Joe says. But everyone has those days.
“I also see inspiration in someone like [Avedon] because he had a lot of duds and it’s kind of like the Babe Ruth strikeout stat,” Joe says. “If you really delve into the non-curated world of someone like Avedon or [Irving] Penn, and you see their advertising work or their in-between editorial work, the stuff that never made it in the monograph as a photographer you have a little sigh of relief that it happened to everybody.” Joe points to a disastrous shoot that Avedon did with President John F. Kennedy and Jackie Onassis. The images are stilted and posed. They’re cold like a mall portrait session. Avedon knew what he was getting wasn’t working so he presents it in his book as a contact sheet, showing us all the photographs. In a way it’s Avedon tipping us his hand, showing us everything he got. Everything. Even when the photographs aren’t great, even when the connection isn’t there, it was Avedon’s job to be our proxy and bring us into the room that day.
The only way a photograph can be more successful than the ones that Avedon got with JFK is by cultivating trust with a subject. To Joe, that’s one of the most precious elements. “I always want somebody to feel safe while they’re being photographed,” Joe says. “This is a personal endeavor as an artist and you’re not going to get it right every time.”
Joe Pugliese Maximizes Efficiency for Netflix and Christopher Guest's 'Mascots'
If you’re unfamiliar with Christopher Guest’s work you have to know that he perfected the mockumentary genre. His films ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ and ‘Waiting for Guffman’ are timeless classics, and each following film has brought the form to a new level. The writer / director has brought with him a cast of actors who find a home in almost all of his work, and his latest film for Netflix, ‘Mascots’ is no different. Joe Pugliese was on hand to help Guest and Netflix create promotional materials for the piece, something that Joe does all the time. The cast of a Guest project is unique since the improvisational form requires them to live all the way inside their characters and photographing them is a different experience. “They are already in character, they know how to be in character,” says Joe. “They know what their character would or wouldn’t do which makes it a lot easier than photographing someone who is not in character, who needs direction and thinks about how they’ll look.”
To create all the assets that Joe needed for the press surrounding ‘Mascots,’ he and his team had to take advantage of every moment they had with the actors. In addition to shooting for traditional marketing, they also created tiny videos for digital collector’s cards. There was a lot of work to do with each subject, but Joe was able to complete it by maximizing productivity. “It was a bit of an assembly line. We had to do the motion, then we had to do publicity stills, then we had to do two poster concepts, then we had to do a shot on grey seamless for other needs. So we really were taking each persona and pulling them through. It was really efficient that way.” He did all this while the actors were filming the movie, squeezing these comprehensive shoots into their breaks. It was a lot to juggle, but something Joe has done in the past.
Joe has worked with Christopher Guest before, the first time was about 15 years ago when he worked on ‘A Mighty Wind.’ It was an incredibly collaborative process where Joe created thirty different fake album covers for the music-centric film. “I’ve worked with him many times, so this was the latest in being able to contribute to his movies,” says Joe. “It was really great. He’s always been a comedic hero of mine. I grew up completely obsessed with Spinal Tap, so meeting him and working with him and working with these actors was pretty spectacular.” Working with a hero is one thing, but collaborating with them brings it to a whole new level.
ilovedust Builds Communication with LA Magazine
Language is a construct – we know how that sounds. Bear with us for a minute. Thoughts are like little building blocks that we stack on top of one another, and with each little thought we create real communication. Through this process of linguistic carpentry we’re able to take ideas in our heads and essentially beam them to others’ using a process that is half mystical and half construction. Ilovedust butted up against this exact idea in a recent issue of LA Mag for a story that featured Ava Duvernay, with photography by B&A photographer Joe Pugliese. The collective created original typography to match the story, and use the opportunity to explore. “We created a wide selection of options, and after a few rounds of modifications we landed on this modular 3D type treatment,” explains Elliott Grubb, the lead CG Designer at ilovedust. “The modular system enables us to create a selection of ‘objects’ in 3D, almost like pieces of sculpture, that when arranged together can then create a very unique type face.”
The depth of the typography is evident through color choice and shadow, blending together to take lettering that’s presented in two dimensions and pulling it into the third. “This was definitely inspired by woodblock lettering for sure,” says Elliot. “As you see a lot of that style around we wanted to explore how it could be pushed further, so rather than each letter being one block we created almost a jigsaw of pieces that could be combined together over and over to create a modern interpretation of the wood block athletic.” In many ways, letters are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that we combine and reconstruct into words and sentences. ilovedust took this concept to its very limit, referencing the building and variable nature of language inside to typography.
“LA Mag was great to work with, they gave us a lot of free reign to make this commission look the best it can,” says Elliot. In fact, ilovedust worked with LA Mag in a collaborative process all the way from the very beginning to end. They worked together to pick the shapes, the colors, the styles. It was truly a group effort, and one that paid off. “It was very much a collaborative effort,” Elliot says. “And we look forward to working with them again very soon!”
The First Presidential Debate
If everything goes as planned tonight’s Presidential Debate will be the most watched debate in American history, and likely the world. The 90 minutes that the candidates will spend on the stage together with Lester Holt will be the most viewed political discussion in human history, an event that will not soon be forgotten by those who watch it.
As an artists agency we’re lucky that we constantly butt up again history, and tonight is no different. A handful of our photographers have met with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for various projects and we present a selection of that work here.
Most recently, Hillary Clinton sat for Joe Pugliese with her Vice Presidential Nominee Tim Kaine. It was a quick, productive shoot for People Magazine that struck the tone Clinton was probably angling for. She comes off as warm and open, both elements her fans love and her detractors say are missing.
Joe has also photographed Trump. Last fall he tailed The Don for a day from the office to the street, to receiving adulation from his fans. It was the early days of the campaign long before anyone could even guess he’d be the nominee. But here we are a year later and it’s all eyes on Trump as he prepares to take on Clinton who has, arguably, been preparing for this moment her whole professional life.
Through his own storied career Marco Grob has also had the opportunity to work with both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, bringing his signature gravitas to these two political animals that have their own versions of what leadership means. Marco also embedded in Obama’s White House, giving us looks at what the Presidency means that we haven’t seen before.
In 2012 when Barack Obama was Inaugurated for the second time, Stephen Wilkes set up for his signature ‘Day to Night’ series, photographing the whole day that hundreds of thousands of Americans collected on the National Mall to watch their President take the oath of office for the final time.
Finally, Douglas Friedman had the opportunity to photograph Hillary Clinton in 2013 for the cover of New York Magazine in a shoot that decontextualized this woman who brings with her a career of work and controversy, offering her up unadorned and markedly human.
Joe Pugliese Gives His Sunday Best
As a culture we’re always talking about religion, we’re always talking about faith, especially during Presidential Election cycles. The question of faith is crucial to how many of us operate within our lives. But those experiences are incredibly personal, describing a relationship with the unknown. Every person’s faith has a unique expression and LA Magazine wanted to capture as many of those expressions as possible. They asked Joe Pugliese to help them do it, and Joe was excited about the challenge. So he set out to do his own exploration of faith in LA, and show a story beyond the surface aesthetics of how we understand contemporary religion and practice. “So much of the imagery associated with religion and places of worship is the structures and the traditions,” says Joe. “What I liked about the Baptists is they really do have this tradition of getting dressed to the nines on Sunday. It’s women in hats and men in suits and I wanted to touch on that as practice in LA.” He got in contact with Trinity Baptist Church in Jefferson, and their leadership was happy to cooperate. But they had no idea if anyone would actually sit for the portraits.
“I didn’t know if I would get a dozen or two dozen or anything, and I was quite nervous when they were in the first service in the morning,” says Joe. The pastor let the congregation know what Joe was doing, but couldn’t volunteer anyone. It would be up to the attendees who might be interested in being photographed. The service completed, the doors opened, and Joe got a few interested subjects at first. “I started photographing a couple people and when I was done there was a line up of about 50 just waiting,” explains Joe. “Then for about three hours I photographed over 150 parishioners.” That’s a new subject almost every minute. That’s a lot of people.
Photographing that many people back to back, with seatings that were essentially 60 seconds each, is an incredible demand. Even more demanding is getting really great images from that short time. But Joe’s expertise kicked in and he took advantage of every moment. “It was just an absolute thrill. It was totally extreme sports of photography,” says Joe. “I always want to engage with my subjects, I don’t want to just put them in front of the camera and start taking pictures. It’s inextricable from my method. Even when pressed for time I really feel that half of what I do is engage on a human level. They all responded to it, they were all real people, they were laughing and loved it.” Of course it was Joe’s experience and skills that drew out these incredibly personal moments that light up in the photographs. But also, maybe just maybe, it was a little bit of faith.
Joe Pugliese Expects the Unexpected
Joe Pugliese has been on fire this summer. A veritable catalogue of editorial work has culminated in an incredible collection. Three of the projects we’re most excited about were his shoots with Andy Samberg for Outside Magazine, David Chang for Wired, and Ariana Grande for Billboard. “They are all people who have been photographed many, many times, and all of them came with their own set of expectations,” says Joe. With each personality comes a different kind of shoot and Joe was able to adapt to each of them.
As an actor, Andy Samberg is known for his incredible skill of bringing the unbelievable to life, shaping characters that are riotously funny. But Joe wanted to go in a slightly different direction. “I don’t consider myself a comedic photographer, so I asked Andy that while I wanted it to be a funny situation, I wanted his expression and feeling to be one of sincerity and introspection,” Joe explains. “I kept referencing Buster Keaton as being a great stone face. Andy can pull that off. He’s funny to look at. You just know that hilarity will ensue.” Joe stepped back and let Samberg’s natural energy take over, resulting in images that are more subdued than what we’re used to seeing of Samberg, revealing something about this famous face that’s entirely fresh.
On the other side of the spectrum, David Chang is a naturally subdued person. That quieter energy presented an opportunity for them to create something a little subversive. “We laughed and joked about how obvious a knife is for a chef photo, but honestly he is comfortable with that identity and I think he took to it in a more relaxed way,” says Joe. “He wanted to be genuine and that’s what I was after as well. He’s not trying to fit into the mold of anything and I didn’t want the shoot to fit into the mold of a chef shoot.” They took a trope often used in food personality photography and turned it into something of a self-effacing joke while displaying confidence. These images are working on many levels, just like Chang’s food. You can take the bits that taste good to you.
Ariana Grande is no stranger to playing to the crowd, routinely performing her music to thousands of fans. She’s not shy. So when she arrived on set with her own ideas Joe was ready to listen. “She really guided the creative decision to do the head wrap in the towel shot, that came out of the blue on set,” says Joe. “She really had a thing for these glasses and we didn’t know that she was bringing them. She really wanted to play with that type of wardrobe, it’s kind of like a Breakfast at Tiffany’s kind of feel.” It was a unique moment, and one that Joe knew how to maximize. He remained agile to take the best of what was in the moment and turn it into something beautiful. When you photograph as many personalities as Joe does you have to expect the unexpected.