I feel like I’m on the set of a movie, playing in the waves at Siesta Key Beach in Sarasota, Florida next to renowned plus-size photographer Jose Pagãn and his wife, Jeanne.
But this day, Pagãn isn’t photographing plus-size models as a part of his 2021 tour. He and his wife are taking a moment of leisure time to soak up the Florida sun.
Pagãn’s eyes light up as he teaches me how to use his new underwater camera amidst the crashing waves. He smiles warmly while I clumsily fumble with the strap.
As I watch him patiently teach, I realize that his creativity, sensitivity, enthusiasm and compassion are what make him so loved by the plus-size community.
The Magic of Jose Pagãn Photography
Many who have worked with Jose Pagãn will say he’s part photographer, part artist and part creative genius.
A true industry great, Pagãn’s work has been featured in Harper’s Bazaar UK, Elle UK, Elle Brazil, Plus Model Magazine, Queen Size Magazine (QSM), Designer Original, FabUplus Magazine and The Curvy Fashionista.
Pagãn also won the Top Male Photographer of the Year at the 2019 Full Figured Industry Awards and has worked with FX actress Dominique Jackson, Leon Robinson (The Temptations movie) and DJ Spinderella (Salt-N-Pepa). In the plus industry, he has shot Christina Mendez, Fluvia Lacerda, Liris Crosse, Terri Fox Murray and Gwen DeVoe to name a few.
But it might surprise you that this creative icon wasn’t always a professional photographer specializing in the plus-size industry. In fact, prior to retirement, he was a detective in NYC.
“I was a highly accomplished detective retiring at First Grade,” says Pagãn.
He never knew that he would become a professional photographer. In fact, he kept his creativity suppressed due to the line of work he was in.
“After I retired, I really started to dive in and started my tours, and I was still living in New York,” he tells Curvicality.
Pagãn’s love of photography emerged shortly after he and his wife, who was a close childhood friend, became a couple.
“I really started to look at her beauty and study it … kind of wanting to recreate that beauty elsewhere for people to see other people’s beauty … I hope other people see that celebration in themselves” he says.
The couple relocated to Tampa, Florida in 2019. That’s when his love of photography and the plus-size industry came into full bloom.
Phototour 2021 with Jose Pagãn
One of the highlights of Pagãn’s career has been his phototours, which have gained consistent media attention. They are strategically designed to help promote body positivity and provide a platform for independent and undiscovered inner city talent.
This year, the tour encompasses seven stops: Atlanta, Oklahoma City, Wilmington, Detroit, Chesapeake, Birmingham and Puerto Rico.
Participants, who are mostly plus women, receive a one-hour photoshoot with unlimited wardrobe changes for $210.
Those in the know say the price is unbeatable.
“I believe that a $210 shoot from a celebrity master photographer is a steal because he comes from one of the largest fashion capitals of the world, New York, and the average photoshoot in New York is about a thousand dollars base pay,” says Birmingham Phototour Co-Ambassador La’Toya Nicole Fletcher.
Pagãn’s tour goal in keeping his prices lower than average is to make the experience of photography available to all. As such, many of the women who partake in sessions are not models.
“A lot of them do it just for their experience, to be themselves or to create art. Some of them have never even done pictures. They do it for the body-positive aspect of creating art the way I do,” he says.
The Tour Ambassadors
So how does Pagãn get the word out in seven different areas? The answer lies in his tour ambassadors.
The goal of a tour ambassador is to help promote and represent the Jose Pagãn phototour brand with the utmost professionalism, and to bring in potential clients.
Many of the ambassadors are influencers with significant connections in the plus-size industry.
One of those ambassadors is Oklahoma City-based blogger and influencer Susan Curry. Another industry great, Curry is known for her blog, A Liberated Woman, and her Facebook following of more than two million fans.
“I have been following Jose for years and have admired his work and creativity. When I had the opportunity to be an ambassador, I was blown away and so honored to bring this to my city, and finally it happened in 2021,” she says.
Curry wanted to assist with the tour to help promote body-positivity in Oklahoma City.
“We helped the phototour participants feel beautiful and empowered, and of course, we got some great images,” she says.
Pagãn chose Oklahoma City as a part of his 2021 tour to bring opportunity to the widely overlooked market.
“It’s about a state where I don’t see a lot of big, big things happening, so I wanted to help the talent there,” he says. “I love amplifying the voice of unrepresented areas of the country.”
Another well-known team member is Birmingham Co-Ambassador La’Toya Fletcher, who is a model, makeup artist, choreographer and college biology professor.
As a part of her tour outreach efforts, Fletcher did an interview with ABC 33/40 Birmingham.
“That was such an honor to be featured on the ABC 33/40 live broadcast. They not only focused on my platform and makeup artistry, they promoted the phototour,” she says.
Fletcher uses her experience as a college professor to help motivate and encourage people of all ages, sizes and demographics.
“I love teaching anatomy/physiology. I love how the body operates and works and I use that knowledge to help enhance my God-given talents to inspire, encourage and motivate others. I’m hoping that me sharing my body positivity can help others overcome any insecurities that they may have,” she adds.
Pagãn's Unique Style
It’s no secret that Pagãn’s photos are unique. After retirement, he quickly became an icon in the plus-size industry due to this creative style.
“I like to know the rules so that then I’m able to break them when it comes to creating a concept,” he says.
One of his unique concepts is blacklight photography. He uses blacklights to illuminate models who are holding props or covered in paint in his studio.
“The blacklight photography experience was a concept in which I had to experiment and play around with in order to really fine-tune my workflow in terms of how I capture people in the blacklight,” he says.
With time and experience, the concept became a form of art.
“As the years went by, it went more from a vanity type of art to more of an emotional art and something that creates an osmosis of emotions from my muses,” he notes.
That said, when he’s on tour, outdoor photography has been the primary focus.
“I like outdoors because I play with the natural light outside and combine it with the artificial light I use,” he says.
Influencer and Curvicality Columnist Rachel Micheletti, who participated in the Virginia portion of the tour, found the creativity of the experience to be unforgettable.
“Being in nature provided space to really feel comfortable and a part of the environment in a way an indoor photoshoot does not allow. The breeze, the weather and the beautiful surroundings gave a liveliness to the experience. It was magical,” she says.
Outdoor locations are discussed ahead of time, with the tour ambassadors assisting in the process.
“We find the location that lets everybody get different angles and backgrounds so that everybody is not shooting at the same wall or the same tree,” he says.
By far, his favorite outdoor locations involve unique architecture.
“(My favorites) are usually the ones that have interesting historic streets, alleyways or cobblestone roads. I also like botanical gardens or arboretums because of the flowers or different decor they usually have in those gardens,” says Pagãn.
All-time favorite outdoor shooting locations have been Old San Juan in Puerto Rico, Atlanta, the Chicago River and on the beaches of Wilmington, North Carolina.
However, he also loves shooting in his hometown of Tampa.
“It’s not always busy in certain parts; it’s a lowkey vibe. When you go to shoot in Tampa, the process … is relatively painless,” he says.
Why Photography is Art
Pagãn is very clear about his belief that photography is art.
“Photography is art because I’m capturing a specific moment in time and freezing it and letting people visually read that story of that individual in the image,” he says.
Part of the reason Pagãn has built such a following is his eye for angles and detail.
“When he does your pictures … he looks at your body and your beauty as art. And he knows how to bring out your inner fierceness,” says Virginia Phototour Ambassador Rasheedah Nicole Williams.
However, Pagãn wants potential clients to know that a photo session is a professional experience.
“I treat them professionally and I give them an environment where they can be themselves or be somebody else for that session and live a fantasy for that photoshoot,” he adds.
The Moral of the Story
The moral of the story is that the plus-size community loves Jose Pagãn because he is talented, trustworthy, body-positive and experienced.
“At the end of the day, life is about episodes and experiences. You go and sign up for skydiving because you want to do something different, something exhilarating. You trust the instructor and you jump out of the plane and get that adrenaline rush,” he says.
In his eyes, photography is a similar experience.
“As a photographer, it’s a profession in which people trust us. They treat us like dentists and doctors where they hang by our word, so a photo is the same thing. When you provide that experience, you provide that journey. I want people to let their hair down and have no worries whatsoever when they’re in my presence.”
(Thank you, Jose Pagãn. We, the plus-size community, celebrate you!)
Editor’s Note: This issue of Curvicality Magazine is dedicated to the work of plus-size photographer Jose Pagãn. Jose has made a tremendous impact on the plus-size industry through his unforgettable images and consistent commitment to the body-positive movement. Jose, thank you for all that you do for the plus-size community. I so greatly admire your work. And on a personal level, I am blessed to be able to call you my friend.