James Petrozzello's Magdalena Series is the Viewer's Choice at OPEN (C)ALL

OPEN (C)ALL: TRUTH Viewers Choice Winners Oneika Phillips & James Petrozzello for The Magdalena Series: The Truth Hurts, 2016

James Petrozzello's Magdalena Series is the Viewer's Choice at OPEN (C)ALL

OPEN (C)ALL: TRUTH "Viewers Choice" Winners Oneika Phillips & James Petrozzello give a look into how a collaborative process came to be in a photographic project by two artisits with a goal in mind. The two have created a stark and beautiful collection of images, The Magdalena Series: The Truth Hurts, 2016, that capture the passion of this performer.

If you have never viewed James Petrozzello's work, you have missed an incredible body of portraits that capture the essence of his subjects. His portfolio of New York Yankees legends is impressive. Going one-on-one with the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui, Derek Jeter, and capturing a unique moment with each. Yogi Berra with ten World Series rings and Yankee Stadium as the backdrop is just priceless. His game day reportage is impressive, spoken by someone who spent many a day photographing games for newspapers.

One of my favorite portraits is of a smug Mick Jagger staring directly into the camera. The slight smile that Petrozzello immortalized in this image is one I have seen Jagger make in interviews. It is the essence of the man.

The Magdalena Series: The Truth Hurts, 2016 is now called the AfroClassicism series and has its own life beginning.

Below are excerpts from the interview on BRIC's website with the announcement of The Magdalena Series: The Truth Hurts, 2016 as the OPEN (C)ALL: TRUTH "Viewers Choice" Winner from the show held in all 2017. The exhibit featured the work of over 125 artists from BRIC’s Contemporary Artist Registry, each responding to the question “What is real and true for you?” During the run of the exhibition, over 350 visitors voted for their favorite work in the show, which determined the "Viewer's Choice" award.

Erin McDonald (BRIC): So you two met on a set in a shoot in relation to the Broadway musical Fela! How long did it take you both to realize that perhaps you wanted to collaborate together?

James Petrozzello (Jim): Yeah, I think for me that Fela! photo shoot is still one of my favorites that I’ve done. It was a really chaotic day, there were twelve of you to shoot … it was pouring down rain! We were in my friend’s studio which he leant me for the day, and I was doing individual portraits of everyone. And I remember, Oneika was just very passionate. She had this very specific idea of a pose that she wanted and I really love that when I’m working with somebody. When they come to me and they’ve got an idea and then we can collaborate and build on it. I just felt like right away we were able to work together very naturally and very easily and sort of build off of one another’s ideas. I didn’t know that we would sort of continue collaborating, but definitely there was an instant connection. And then I think I was giving a talk not too long after that at Book Court, and I remember she showed up, which was great. It really meant a lot to me and then we started collaborating after that. It’s always been this really sort of easy, fruitful collaboration.

Erin: That’s so important obviously. If you’re going to work with someone, you’ve got to have that energy. What was the process of creating what used to be called the Magdalena series and is now called the AfroClassicism series? What was the process there?

Jim: Yeah, Oneika presented it to me as something she was considering pursuing and she was kind of like “I have this idea of a project I want to work on, can I consult you? Get some ideas of how I’m supposed to move forward?” Then we met at the steps of the Brooklyn Museum and we were sitting there talking about it. The more she explained it to me, the more interested I got. And eventually I said “How about I do this with you? Let’s do this together!” To me, it just addressed all these issues of lack of representation, inequality, and injustice, but also the reactions to that and the totality of emotions. Not just anger and sorrow but healing and humanity. I think where we started was the bond between mother and child and it just so happens that the images we’ve executed so far have more to do with pain and the sorrow. But I think what we’re really after is to get a more holistic representation of these issues.

Yeah, we were testing and I just remember looking through the lense and you know we were just trying out ideas but she brought such emotion to it. There was such a tangible grief, frustration, and range of emotions that she was able to bring up and communicate that I think we both realized that it was something we should pursue. Then we got together not soon after, specifically for that, and we’re really happy with the results.

Erin: Would you all consider this project an exploration of trauma in the modern Black experience?

Jim: Yeah I think when Oneika presented the project to me, when we were talking about it, the part that really kind of tied me in or drew me in was the mental health aspect of it and approaching it from a perspective of healing. I think that the representations of anger, frustration, and sorrow are really plentiful but in the experience of injustice and institutionalized racism, the history of this imagery, there are a lot of things that aren’t addressed. The humanity of who these people are and the familial bonds between a mother and a child. The way that a community is severed and affected by these things. These are maybe more subtle but definitely less represented, seeing this as an opportunity to address those things and specifically the way that ties into the AfroClassicism, you know where you have images that don’t represent certain communities there was a real parallel there. And also something that we’ve talked about, that we haven’t shot yet, you know for me, I’ve always been really struck by the way that our sense of history is really distorted. To me, in this context the historic archival images of lynchings are really important in that aspect, you know? And the fact that those episodes were outings. They were reasons for people to have picnics, have their pictures taken, and send postcards. We don’t understand that. That’s been lost through history. There really needs to be a reckoning of what that history truly is. I don’t know, I think at some point we will address that in some way with some images but definitely sort of giving people an opportunity to understand the roots of this and really try to understand something more than the story that we’ve been fed, you know? That’s a really important aspect of that as well.

Erin: Jim, since you do have a plethora of work from commercial to personal, how do you think that your photography has evolved over time?

Jim: I’ve always been interested in a lot of different kinds of photography. I started off most interested in street photography, just kind of wandering around with a camera and never really wanted to be cornered into one genre. So you know I think everything that I approach sort of comes from the same place. It’s a curiosity about people, an attempt to address whatever the subject is honestly and a technical approach that is appropriate and honors whatever the subject is. I think it is always evolving. I am always trying to challenge myself with new projects, whenever I feel I’ve been doing one thing for too long I try to think of how I can break out of that. I was doing a lot of work for one client where I had to shoot things from a very specific perspective and I thought, I want to do another long term project where I have complete autonomy. I started doing a project on the West Indian Day parade here in Brooklyn because I knew it was close by. I could revisit it, build relationships, and I could do it however I wanted. I started doing tintypes because I had always loved that process and wanted to kind of get away from digital and get back into a dark room or analog based photography using you know large format cameras and working very slowly. I think that really helped with our project because it really made me slow down and consider one image at a time. We shot together and I remember just the time of having to really look through the camera and work on a pose. Just the slowness of that, … really working with someone where they see an image come up, it really allows for a collaboration and that’s something I always strive for as well, to find passionate people and dip into that and collaborate together. I think with photography it’s always just working further and further towards personal vision, you know? And trying to get to that.


Read the entire interview on BRIC's website


VISIT James Petrozzello's Website