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.”