Joe Pugliese and DeSean Jackson meet halfway for ESPN
DeSean Jackson is an inherently controversial figure, mostly on account of his unwillingness to bleach his personal history. He refuses to dismiss the past that shaped him into who he is today. That personal history includes friends and associates who are known gang members, and some who have even faced charges of homicide. DeSean has never been implicated in any crimes, but residue of his past has clung tight to the magnified eye of the public. DeSean just lives with it.
Joe Pugliese joined up to capture the embattled football player for ESPN Magazine. Part of the struggle DeSean has been forced to face is that he has been pigeonholed by strangers for actions he never took part in. Joe wasn’t going to let that happen. “I never want to force a preconceived idea of someone whom I’ve never met,” says Joe who has photographed some of the most recognizable faces in the world. “I learn a lot about people by observing them and that’s the most satisfying part of my job.” That means that when DeSean stepped in front of Joe’s camera he was able to be himself, so that Joe could present the authentic DeSean Jackson, not a caricature based on unfounded fears.
Stephanie Weed, the Senior Photo Editor at ESPN Magazine, says that they chose to work with Joe for a very particular reason, “Joe’s images are stunning.” It didn’t matter that Joe usually shoots figures from other industries, people are people, and Joe’s photos were exactly what ESPN was looking for. “We thought about staging something, looking super dramatic,” Stephanie explains. “But when we boiled it down we just really wanted the images to just speak for themselves.” The results? They’re “so quiet but striking at the same time. They’re just really dynamic.”
That dynamism was a confluence between Joe and DeSean. DeSean is known for being a strong personality: his past required it. His walks home from high school were through streets lined by gang violence and drug use. Joe’s energy on set allowed DeSean to be himself, something DeSean does unapologetically. “[DeSean] was totally present, and I found that to be inspiring,” Joe explains. “I like when I can try to relay what’s happening in someone’s life by showing a certain quiet moment instead of just posing them for a photo.” The cover image is just that, a quiet moment.
DeSean Jackson was cut from his team, the Philadelphia Eagles, on grounds that were officially attributed to his performance. Rumors were quick and severe, blaming the dismissal on gang association, or an aggressive personality. Six days later he was scooped up by Washington to play in a new $24m deal. It was a riotous week, and the image that Joe captured for the cover of ESPN shows a softness opposite to DeSean’s contentious side. “I'm intrigued by the idea of capturing a portrait of a person during a transition in their life,” says Joe, distilling the story perfectly. “I’m really happy with the cover image because that came from a real moment with DeSean. I could never have planned it or asked for it. He presented it honestly, and we were able to capture it.”