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.”