On the Edge of Failure
By Alejandro Chavetta – I’m in Hollywood to meet photographer Joe Pugliese. I walk past star-studded sidewalks and restaurants you’ve seen a million times on movies and TV, but there are no celebrity sightings, just regular Angelenos going about their business. It’s a fitting match for Joe’s photographs, which bridge the gap between stars and civilians by normalizing the celebrity and elevating the rest of us to a hero expression of ourselves.
Today, Joe is known for celebrity portraits of Jennifer Lopez, President Obama, Jamie Lee Curtis, and many others that appear in such publications as Wired, Variety, and Texas Monthly, but what most folks don’t know is that Joe got his start putting out a BMX zine using his mom’s Xerox machine, a starting point rooted in graphic design that continues to inform his practice even now.
In high school, I made a Xerox zine of me and my BMX friends. I was having a lot of fun with the graphic design and realized that I needed to take some photos for it, so I picked up a yard-sale camera.
I was still more interested in graphic design as I started shooting. And it was a little clumsy because I would shoot and then I would take it to the processing lab, wait a day or two, get back a print that would get messed up, or I wanted it to be bigger or smaller. Photography didn’t click for me until I set up a darkroom. My parents let me black out the window in my bedroom, and I had another yard sale find of an enlarger and trays and caustic chemicals. It was the most rudimentary set-up.
I had a book that showed me how to develop in a dark room. The first time I put that print into the developer and nothing happened, I thought, “Total failure. Why did I bother with this?” And as I’m thinking about the failure, the print comes up, the image appears, and it was absolute magic. I wasn’t a failure. I could shoot and be in control of the output from start to finish. more>