Portrait photographers excel at briefly turning their subjects into the most important person in the world. During the session, you’re the star. Getting your photos back is like personal Christmas, with presents you can then show off to everyone, and you and your photographer are happy. When those shutters clamp together in front of the lens, and the camera spits out a pristine likeness — although, it isn’t edited into perfection yet, you already been immortalized.
Devin Pagan-Perez, on Instagram as tone.graphy, encapsulates this mindset totally, turning his models into visions of movie stars, charming and mysterious. He shoots from his hometown of Orlando, a particularly busy scene where both talented portraitists and marvelous models are in no short supply. But in a sea filled with treasures, his work still stands out and holds up.
He’s been taking photography seriously since 2016, so he may not be a rookie, but he isn’t exactly a veteran yet. Looking back, one of the most impressive things is his consistency. There’s a clear evolution to the photos over time, as compositions get more dynamic and the frames feel tighter, more purposeful. The visual storytelling evolves from something well done but perhaps expected to a fresher, distinct approach. He’s aware that “a single frame can be interpreted in many ways” so he plays that up, trying to tell new, nuanced stories with each set.
This steady aim towards self-stylization is, in itself, coherent. More than that, though, Pagan-Perez’s work has had the same big mood since the beginning. The energy both soft and sharp simultaneously, with color and light like out of a movie scene. A tone.graphy portrait has always been unique and recognizable in its own way. He’s merely embracing it more and more now, to increasingly irresistible results. It’s definitely been a conscious decision, too.
“At one point I just stopped caring about doing what was popular and just started doing my own thing with my own vision,” Pagan-Perez recalls. “And I think that’s helped me enjoy this field a lot more, just trying new things that nobody is doing and setting a bar for myself.”
It may be that the more fun you’re having, the more creative and carefree your work has the space to be. Certainly, Pagan-Perez has let his style grow bold and unafraid; in the most recent months past, he’s been in an experimental phase of sorts. Less concerned with maintaining strict realism, he’s delved into manipulated effects and stronger narratives.
The images are superbly executed, featuring a mix of unique details from fun props to engrossing locations. But the editing (and concurrent retouch work — credit where credit is due) truly set them apart after that. You don’t need a magnifying glass to see the noticeable, playful transformations. Rather than accent the photo, they inform it, compel you to take a second look when you’ve glanced away. Divorced from the constraints of a totally “authentic” portrait, so to speak, the model’s likeness takes on a new life of its own within the photo, and it makes them genuinely irreplaceable. The result would be impossible without each piece of the puzzle falling perfectly into place to create it.
It’s not luck, however. Pagan-Perez doesn’t rely on flashy, one-time value to pull anything off. He can carry the effect over into more traditional shots, arranging elements to make a straightforward scene lowkey stunning. The logical next step would be to apply it even more broadly, and since he wants to pursue more video and fashion-oriented photography. “I know it’s kind of a different animal than what I do right now, but it can be such a vibrant and colorful branch of portrait photography.”
Different, maybe. But there’s one thing tone.graphy portraiture has already proven beyond a doubt. No matter what, when he brings his signature skill set to the table, no one will question if he’s getting it right. We’ll be too busy ohh-ing and ahh-ing to say anything else.
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