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.