Jean Pagliuso has been working in photography for more than forty years. Born and raised in California, she graduated from UCLA’s College of Fine Arts in 1963. She did not immediately move into professional photography: her first job was as an assistant art director at Mademoiselle Magazine in New York; this was followed by a role in office interiors for Morganelli Heumann & Associates in Los Angeles. It was in 1969 that Pagliuso commenced her career behind the camera; quickly establishing herself as a sought-after fashion photographer, her images have since appeared in the likes of Seventeen, Mademoiselle, Vogue, Time, Rolling Stone and Interview.
Pagliuso’s fashion imagery sits somewhere between the gloomy romanticism of Deborah Turbeville and the hard-edged sexiness of the likes of Guy Bourdin or Helmut Newton, all of whom were working at the same time. Looking through her portfolio, soft, black-and-white images of women in floral dresses contrast sharply with flashy, colour photos of models in swimwear. This versatility, an ability to adapt to the prevailing mood, may account for the longevity of Pagliuso’s career.
Outside of fashion, Pagliuso has worked widely in film publicity, taking photographs for movie posters including White Palace (1990), American Gigolo (1980), and Splash(1984). Perhaps most notably, she collaborated with Robert Altman on Nashville (1975) and 3 Women (1977). For the latter, she produced a series of hand-tinted black-and-white images, several of which appeared on the final posters.
In the mid-1990s, Pagliuso began to move away from commercial work and started experimenting with different processes. Travelling extensively with her Hasselblaad camera, she produced landscapes in countries including Turkey, India, Cambodia and Peru, working with photogravure and printing on a range of materials, including handmade Kaji paper. The resultant images are dreamy and ethereal, but also resolutely tactile, the creases and crumples in the paper clearly visible.
More recently, Pagliuso has published Poultry Suite, a series of ‘strictly formalized portraits of poultry’ created in response to the illness of Pagliuso’s father, a show chicken breeder: ‘I photographed my mom’s roses as she was dying, but it had never crossed my mind to photograph my dad’s chickens. I thought, “You know, I’m just going to take some pictures of chickens.”‘ Though initially disheartened by her first group of models – the agency ‘sent over a really sorry group of chickens’ – Pagliuso was inspired to carry on when she printed her negatives on rice paper: ‘They were quite beautiful. More beautiful than the actual negatives looked to me.’
At first glance, Pagliuso’s poultry portraits seem a far cry from the glamorous commercial imagery of her early career, but she sees little difference in the process: ‘Not only do I have a complete connection to them as real things that you care for, but I was a fashion photographer, and there’s just no difference. You put ‘em up there and you look for the fluidity of the line. I’m not really looking for the personality of the chicken, to tell you the truth. Sometimes these poor guys just stand there with all their plumage, enveloped in their own feathers.’
The Poultry Suite is published by Hirmer Verlag.