Social commentary showing up in the photography medium is hardly a new concept. But when photographer and retoucher Joel Parés set out to make a statement with his latest portrait series, he knew he wanted to showcase the images in a unique way. The shots, therefore, ended up being simple, two frame GIF animations, allowing you to absorb the initial impact first, and then its correspending follow up message for each image. And you know what? It works very well.
The message is simple enough: Don't judge a book by its cover. After all, everyone knows that controversial subjects such as accusations of racial profiling make for big headlines, and for a very good reason: No one likes the idea of being unfairly or preemptively judged by someone else based on their appearance, ethnicity, nationality, gender or even age. Stereotypes exist for each of these, and if we've learned nothing in the past few decades of the mainstream media, it's that these stereotypes are not only heavily reported on, but often worsened, by said media.
Every black man is not a thug or a gangster. Every Muslim is not a terrorist. Every Mexican is not illegally here stealing manual labor jobs. Every southern white man isn't a Ku Klux Klan member. And even if some people fit their stereotype perfectly by how they live their life and what they do, the fact is most do not. Like so many things in life that suck, this societal propensity towards assuming stereotypes is dominated by the few, and not the many. Photographer Joel Parés sought to showcase these stereotypes in all their obvious glory in his latest series, aptly titled "Judging America".
But this was hardly Parés first conceptual project, as his passion is creating stories and messages in his image series.
"Telling a story is the job of every photographer, but my passion is telling a story in a unique way, a way that can inspire the world. I love telling deep stories of experiences people have had and creating something positive that will change their lives for the better. When I first began conceptual portraiture, I began will self-portraits of stories of my life in my series “The Unconscious.” Once I found my niche I have focused my energy into conceptual portraiture." states Parés during one of our recent chats.
Interestingly, though no surprise once you take a look at him, he has been on both sides of the camera in his professional experience, working as a model for some time. Parés says that while he enjoyed modeling, photography was his stronger passion, and his calling. "I started photography a few months before I got with an agency to model. I did enjoy the type of modeling I did (advertisements) but left the agency to focus on photography when my passion for photography grew stronger," Parés says without any hesitation, "so I stopped modeling for a little less than a year before I decided to go back to castings. My passion is photography so that is the reason I haven’t pursued modeling full force."
I encourage you see view Parés website when you get a moment, as there is plenty of world class photography and compositing work there to check out (not to mention his fantastic retouching work). But what struck me the most was the "Judging America" series, which he says should speak for itself, and therefore has no commentary on the site. Parés tells me, "When I create a series I try to create it in a way that can relate to most people in the world. If someone couldn’t see the series, I say this is a series of images that shows how diverse America is and how some of us are judged in a negative way, and then I show you who the person really is compared to what you judged them to be."
The way I like to show the series is where you view the judged image first, to fuel the fire inside of some of us, and then the reality image to cool down the fire and open the eyes of those who think in a negative way while judging individuals.
- Joel Parés
"My inspiration for this series is the fact that America is a country that is very diverse with many ethnicities that together create the United States of America" he says, "I wanted to open the eyes of the world and expose how certain individuals are judged and later turn out to be something besides the initial judgment. I believe every individual deserves a chance at a normal life without being judged in a negative way. I wish everyone could be treated equally, and this is my voice crying out for change." A noble idea, for sure.
From the technical perspective, Parés gear of choice starts with his D800, 24-70 2.8, and a simple but ideal two light setup using Elinchrome 500 and 500 BXRI strobes, and a trusty v-flat for fill. Keeping the light straight forward, in my opinion, helped to avoid distraction from the content of the photos, and worked quite well for the series. He approached the retouching from a highly commercial angle, and here again it too worked perfectly for the theme and tone.
And Parés is always working, looking for the next inspiration for a new project. He waste little time and keeps busy, and let me know that "Currently I am in the planning stage of a series [that will] expose the different ways we imprison ourselves allow those who can relate to open their eyes and see that they need to make a change to break the chains of imprisonment", which sounds equally as profound as "Judging America".
Images used with permission.