This month, Jose Aguilar marks his 10-year anniversary shooting models for the covers of Adelante. We hope you concur that his dedication to his craft has resulted in numerous covers that stand out as memorable in the history of the magazine. We spoke to Jose about his photographic style and his motivations behind the work.
Adelante: At what age did you start getting into photography?
At 15 when I was a sophomore in high school. I took photography as an elective. I actually did it because I thought it would be an easy class for me. I thought this because I was always the one taking pictures of family gatherings and events. So, I thought since I was already doing “photography” it would be an easy class.
Adelante: Was it?
No. I got a D minus on my first test. I was upset because I thought it was going to be an easy A.
So, I had to do better for the next assignment. At that time, I was a Madonna fan and the video of Oh Father had come out. I loved the cinematography in that video. The assignment was to do a Portrait picture and I photographed a very beautiful friend based on the Oh Father video theme. I turned it in and got an A+. Once I got that A+ I realized this was my calling. I felt so connected to the Madonna video and the art itself and from that point forward I realized photography would be part of the rest of my life.
As a portrait photographer one must capture facial expressions. It’s like a view into the soul of the person through the eyes of the model I’m photographing.
Adelante: Where are you and your family originally from?
I was born and raised in Santa Ana, California and my parents were born in Mexico. I’m a first generation Mexican American.
Adelante: When you’re doing a photo session, what inspires you?
When I photograph a model, its’ always about the way I’m feeling in the moment. I always try to find an expression or a frame that is about what I’m feeling at the time. I try to portray that feeling in the photo while at the same time try to find some type of chemistry with the model. But it’s really me registering my own feelings through the model.
Adelante: Is it always like this?
I kind of think it’s cocky to say, but it really is about the person who is writing the story than the person at hand. For instance, I’m a huge Linda Ronstadt fan. She used to always do her own covers and she made it seem it was all about her all the time.
Adelante: How hard is it to photograph the Adelante cover models?
Photographing an Adelante cover model is not hard at all. Sometimes I may have to photograph a model that fits the concept or theme of the month, which can be a challenge. The models are easy to work with and they are usually excited to do the shoot. Most are very happy and the majority very humble to be on the cover of the magazine. The models are different. You have some who just want to give you a pose and others who are more energetic and get into the shoot.
Adelane: Do you have a cover shoots that start out one way, then goes another direction?
Yes. An example is the first time I met with the model Dante, for a photo shoot, it was a disaster. I did horrible. There were technical difficulties on my end and the photos were not usable. I asked him if we could do another session. If you know Dante, he wears Go-go shorts a lot because he’s a dancer. I talked with him about being “covered up” for the shoot. I think the initial idea was to have a little more skin showing with Dante. But when we did the shoot, his images came out to be very different and that was a good thing. This shoot was able to show another side of him because we did it this way. Most people are used to seeing Dante with a shaved head or short hair. I fell in love with how his hair was longer and we needed to show off his hair. He was fun to work with. The photos came out great.
Adelante: Are there types of models you enjoy working with?
Yes. I am huge Herb Ritts fan and Herb was known to photograph in black and white and he focused on muscular male models. I was attracted to his photography and to the models he worked with.
For me, I want to show the muscular Latino model. In some ways, I wanted to be the Latino Herb Ritts. What I’m looking for in a model is to show the muscular Latino but show the Latino from Mexico or Guatemala and other places, not just one type. I like to portray how beautiful Latino models are and that was why I was so excited to work with Adelante for these years. It allows me to show off the muscular models that I like to show off.
Adelante: Is there a body type you like to photograph?
Mostly in between the lean and the massive. Not too huge and not too thin, a photo shoot that shows their definition. Now we have muscular guys that are like “dad” bodies. It’s always been the models that look similar to the models that pose for Herb Ritts who I like shooting.
Adelante: Where do you find these guys?
The majority I have found in the clubs such as Arena and Circus. Also on Facebook and Instagram. I may photograph a model and one of their friends may contact me that is interested as well. After the first year with Adelante, a lot of models were contacting me.
Adelatne: From your work, what are your three favorite models and covers of Adelante? And Why?
The one that I thought was very sexy is John Harvik’s cover from October 2019. He is Ecuadorian and I still think he’s one of the sexiest men I’ve ever photographed. I love his skin tone, like brown sugar. His physic was very nice as well as his face and eyes. The shoot theme itself was his idea. John always wanted to do a military shoot. He asked me to put the baby oil on his body and he did the black marks. There were very few shots with this concept on the day of the photo session, but he killed it. He nailed it. He’s very seductive. When I see him, I’m so seduced by his looks.
October 2018. My concept was good and the evil. This cover is a shoot with Dax Lopez. This was my most creative session and I think he was expecting to see the same reflection of himself in the mirror. I wanted to show one trying to lure the other. That was his naughty side trying to lure the good; it was meant to be seductive. The dark one trying to seduce the innocent one, to taint him to no longer be “immaculate”. Although it looks like two different guys, you can see the “x” marks on both models if you look closely. The photo session came out better than expected.
June 2017: (Javier Plascencia, Daniel Cavanagh, Raphael Pimentel, Juan-Pablo Guardado, Marlin Davila-Avalos). This was the most difficult one. It was difficult because when we started to shoot, it was a sunny morning and beautiful outside. Everyone was doing their part and all of a sudden, a storm started to come in. The clouds came in and blocked out the sun. I had to use a studio light, which I had just bought before the photo shoot. It was not charged so when I started to shoot, the light started to die. I literally only shot 6 photos. Everyone was feeling it and I was so sorry because it was getting dark. This photo is all studio-lit and it was only six frames. At that moment, it was one of the worse things I ever experienced. It is so difficult to shoot a group. Pepe wanted to have a diverse group of guys because it was Pride month. Originally it was supposed to be just the guy in the shorts on the cover. But when we talked to him and explained it was Pride Month, he agreed to have others in the photo and he actually got the other guys that are pictured.
April 2016: (with Austin Leigh, Alex Sanchez, Efren Chacon, David Diosa) The sexiest group cover was April 2016. For me what was special was we had a Columbian, Mexican, Guatemalan and a mixed person who is Black and White. It was the hottest thing because it represented Latinos world-wide. Also, they were all muscular, i.e., Herb Ritts and all hot and gorgeous. All these guys are hot. Alex is hot. Efren (RIP) was also a really good friend of mine and he looked really great that day. They were all my friends and this gave me a chance to work with people I already knew well.
Adelante: If you could photograph a famous celebrity, who would that be?
Madonna – the queen. I would first want to photograph the Madonna of today and then Madonna of the past. I would love to have photographed her in the early 90s. This would be during the Erotica album and probably the
Bedtime Stories album, like 1992-1995. I loved the way she was. She was very glamorous and I thought she was at her best and at the height of her looks.
Adelante: What are your goals for the future?
In 10 years, I want to retire from my daytime work. My plan is to make sure that I continue with photography as my second or full-time career.
Adelante: Any details about your life you want to share? Are you in a relationship, have a partner, family, etc.?
I take care of my mom and I’m very family oriented. My mom is happy that I’m doing what I want and for her that is fine.
Adelante: Do you like shooting indoors using props or outside with natural elements?
Indoors because I have controlled lighting. With props, it depends on the concepts. My goals are to become more of a fashion editorial photographer.
Adelante: Anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
I hope that the covers I’ve produced have entertained you and that I’ve captured people that you may know and have connections with. I remember when I first saw the magazine, I was very impressed with the photography. It’s always been about photography. I’ve also been very professional. I’m not going to say that some of the cover models were not tempting. I bet a lot of you out there think there is more to the story. The truth is, there isn’t. A lot of these guys are Go-go dancers, so people tip them, and that’s their fantasy of the Go-go boys.