The idea for Josh Aronson’s new book Tropicana arose when the photographer was sitting in his New York bedroom, unpacking childhood experiences of Florida on his iPhone notes. Sifting through these notes, he turned back time and delved into memories of the places he frequented and the people he knew. He wondered what those places were like today and how the people he knew saw themselves now. And with these chains of thought underway, the photographer – who has shot for the likes of i-D, The New York Times, Dazed and Financial Times – embarked on his latest personal project.
“The pictures in Tropicana,” he tells It’s Nice That, “are autobiographical. I explore my own upbringing in order to create a portrait of a place.” On top of this, he feels an urgency to document the rapidly changing Florida from his childhood. He knows that in decades to come, the beaches and mangroves he knew so well will be near extinct. “When you think of Florida,” he continues, “you’re not going to think of palm trees and Miami Beach any longer.” Instead, an ensuing climate crisis will submerge what remains of the coast. So with this in mind, Josh wanted to “do [his] part” in capturing the beauty, innocence and glory of the place that he grew up.
Though Tropicana is all about Florida, Josh was actually born in Canada and moved to the southern US city at the age of three. This is important to Josh, as he sees the city in a different light compared to his friends who were born there. “In a way, I had an outsider’s perspective,” explains Josh. At a very early age, while his young brain was at the crucial stages of development, Josh was forced to quickly acclimatise to new surroundings. With his senses keenly open to new possibilities, in a matter of time Josh became comfortable in his new home of Florida, and in turn, these “fundamental observations gave my eyes a perspective from which to see.”
It’s this unique perspective that has gone on to inform Josh’s photography practice to date. It’s tuned and refined his approach to the medium, a style doused in colour, sexuality and playfulness. With these three themes at the core of his work, whatever the project, Josh attempts to translate his feelings into the work and have fun while doing it too. The sense of playfulness is evident in Tropicana, in the lush balance of wood settings and brightly coloured garments. Josh presents an alternative side to Florida beyond the cliche of palm trees and blue waters, instead, focusing his lens on earthy browns and beautifully carefree Floridians.
First attracted to the medium of photography through a fondness for music videos, Tropicana similarly possesses a narrative glamour throughout the self-published book. When he was around 14 or 15, he remembers coming home from school, switching the TV to MTV and absorbing himself in music videos. “I joke that MTW was my version of an art school back then,” says Josh. “I was drawn to how I could grasp the information in a music video in just one setting.” And when he eventually came to embrace the art of photography, he understood that, above all, it was the pictures that he found so alluring in music videos. Josh adds: “I think that freedom to give you a feeling of a person or place in just one image drew me in.”
It’s a methodology Josh has carried throughout his practice thus far, and hopes to extend into the future. Elsewhere, he’s also looking to get away from photographic themes which are personal by nature. Citing an influential interview with Frank Ocean, the photographer goes on to explain, “[Ocean] describes breaking away from music that requires him to be deeply vulnerable in order to embrace music that’s more full motion picture fantasy. I read that and was just like ‘Wow, yes!’ That’s it. I’m more interested in fantasy moving forward, going full Kubrick with it.”
GalleryJosh Aronson: Tropicana
About the Author
Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.