Mug shots capture humanity

"“Despite the physical diversity of features and race ... we are all human, we are all the same
and we are all beautiful.”

Photographer José Picayo

The work of photographer José Picayo is at once entrancing and haunting, leaving you with images that beg for you to imagine the story behind them:

Robin Rice Gallery/Photographer José Picayo

Strangely, I first learned about José while reading through my latest issue of House Beautiful magazine. I was looking through the pages of the ranch home of a Napa Valley couple, admiring the rustic yet polished look that beautifully marries cashmere throws and a marble-topped table with rustic baskets and an antique oversize weathered cross from Santa Fe.

I noticed that hanging on a wall was a large framed sepia-tone photograph that I then discovered was the work of the same photographer who shot the House Beautiful home I was admiring. The photos in the current issue of the magazine haven't yet made it online, but these are photos by José of another home that belongs to the same couple:

House Beautiful/Photographer José Picayo

House Beautiful/Photographer José Picayo

The cozy, lived-in look makes us want to go visit whoever lives there, doesn't it?

I went online and a few clicks later landed on the web site of the Robin Rice Gallery, where José has had six solo exhibitions since 1995. José, it turns out, has been a commercial photographer for more than 20 years, shooting for magazines such as Harper's Bazaar, Rolling Stone and decorating/shelter magazines such as Elle Decor.

But his real genius is hidden among his personal documentary-like projects, with Jose often shooting with Polaroid film to avoid using digital technology or alteration of images. Among other things, José returned to his hometown in Cuba after a 28-year absence to capture the essence of life there.

Robin Rice Gallery/Photographer José Picayo

A worker at the Robin Rice Gallery in New York told me today José is at work continuing his project photographing faces across America for an exhibit titled simply "Mug Shots." His collection of thousands of mug shots was first exhibited last year as a solo show, but José became so enamored of the format that he plans to continue shooting faces across America for years to come.

José at the Robin Rice Gallery in New York

Working with dozens of photojournalists throughout my journalism career, I got used to hearing them complain often that shooting mug shots were dreaded assignments. Who could blame them? These photographs often get cut to miniature-like portraits once published.

But this is the format Jose has chosen to portray a message that I imagine is altogether more powerful when you're inside the gallery surrounded by thousands of mug shots.

Robin Rice Gallery

In any event, do head on over to the Robin Rice Gallery to check out photography by José and other artists.

1 comment:

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