Joe Pugliese Goes Full Throttle for the ESPN Body Issue
What’s clever about ESPN’s annual Body Issue is that it challenges the issues that are written into its name. Our advertising industry and media are filled with impossible body standards that can sometimes skew the way we see ourselves, instilling us with a warped sense of how we see our own bodies. But every year ESPN exposes all and shows us the bodies of some of the world’s most incredible athletes. This year they asked Joe Pugliese to help them out with the project and as a fan of the annual issue it was something that he was thrilled to do. “This is something that I’ve paid attention to pretty closely and I’ve always really admired the way that they solve the problem of showing athletic bodies without being too revealing. There’s always a nice mix of artistry and restraint,” says Joe. “That challenge, as well as the athleticism that comes through, is something that I’ve always wanted to tackle.” They asked Joe to photograph motocross athlete Ryan Dungey, and triathlete and paralympian Allysa Seely.
Joe is interested in motorcycles and motocross himself so working with Dungey was a natural fit. They were able to connect over the machines, but of course when all the clothes come off a different dynamic emerges. “You know this guy is a pretty legendary young champion,” says Joe. “He was shy at first which is kind of the name of the game with these shoots. It takes a second for everyone to let the guard down and warm up and get into it, but being on the motorcycle I think he felt more comfortable.” They made sure to stay safe since it was the middle of Dungey’s season, but once he was behind the proverbial wheel everything felt natural.
Photographing Seely posed its own challenges mostly because Joe found himself so captivated by her. The images required that we see her whole body, but Joe also felt called to display her unique energy. “She’s totally beautiful and she has an intensity to her that I wanted to show and because of that I kept wanting to crop in really close,” says Joe. “The shot of her riding away with her hands off the handlebars with her arms up… People just love the picture and I’ve never seen one person comment on her prosthetic. I think it just really captures the freedom and energy, especially of riding a bike which I think captures peoples’ imagination, and is what I was going for.” The images with Seely, especially, remind us that we’re more than our bodies. They help us accomplish what we need them to accomplish, and we should regard them with appropriate deference, honesty, and even a sense of humor.