It was a hot Miami day. One of those days when the sky is so blue and clear you feel almost airy when you look up. Photographer Josh Aronson stood on the sands of Miami Beach, waiting for a stranger to arrive. White clouds floated by, and the sun was gentle.
Meanwhile, musician and activist Antonio McFarlane was using every possible method of transportation to make his appointment with the 26-year-old photographer. He began his morning by biking from his home to a Metrorail station, hauling his bike aboard the train for a ride, biking a little more, and ultimately catching a car ride to his destination.
Aronson had not met McFarlane in person before their scheduled meetup on the beach. The New York-based photographer was working on a new book about his home state, and the young musician was thrilled to be a part of it.
Upon arriving, McFarlane was hard to miss, what with his bubblegum-pink pants and a crocheted yellow top. He started dancing, every step lifting grains of sand that jetted in front of Aronson's lens. As the camera shuttered away, capturing each high-flying particle, time seemed to move slower around the pair.
The final shots from that morning's photoshoot were so compelling, Aronson decided to use one for the cover of Tropicana, his first collection of photos.
The idea for self-publishing a collection of photographs came to Aronson quite organically. "As someone who is consuming and reading all the time, eventually I got to a point where I wanted to be a part of the conversation," he says. Proper representation in the media for his home state was important to him.
"Growing up in Miami, I would watch films or look at pictures about Florida, but it was rare that I ever saw Florida life depicted in an honest, sensitive, and colorful way," Aronson says by phone from his apartment in Brooklyn. "When I thought about what I could offer with my camera, I felt I should show people what I know Florida to be like. Life down here is a beautiful, tender, and special thing."
After high school, Aronson studied film at Northwestern University outside Chicago before moving to New York City.
"I wanted to work with other artists and be in creative spaces," he says, explaining how he went from aspiring music-video director to respected portrait photographer. He compares filmmaking to being in a relationship: "You work on the set every day, for weeks and sometimes years to accomplish something."
Photography, on the other hand, is more like a one-night stand.
"You go get the photograph, it feels great, you're in there, and then the next thing you know you're out and on to your next project."
Aronson says he prefers to work with young artists and activists because they represent a bit of himself and what he'd like to see more of in the world. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Teen Vogue, and i-D. Most recently, he photographed actor and Broadway star Jordan Fisher for Teen Vogue's February issue.
It took Aronson a year to photograph all his subjects for Tropicana. He spent time traveling all over South Florida, mainly its beaches and swamps, capturing image after image of local artists and activists, including Antonio McFarlane.
"There's so much to be seen and experienced and talked about in the young creative scene in Miami, and the kids I got to work with for this project were incredible," Aronson says.
The book contains 40 images sprawled across 70 pages, and an introduction written by one of Aronson's oldest friends, Riverdale actress Camila Mendes.
Mendes and Aronson's friendship spans the greater part of a decade.
"We came to know each other by going out late at night and adventuring about the way that high school kids in Florida do," Aronson recalls. "When I think back on times that we shared together, I remember these magical cinematic nights spent on the beach under moonlight or climbing in trees or just being outdoors."
Or As Mendes puts it in her intro: "As I call upon my memories of a Floridian adolescence, I relive that invigorating sensation of driving down the freeway when the weather is unsure of itself... I spent my most formative years in a paradise of contradiction, an endlessly flat and vividly green landscape of flamboyancy."
Aronson made the conscious choice to shoot all the photos for the book outdoors with the aim of raising awareness of climate change.
"I was interested in depicting Florida life in nature and really kind of creating a document of young life outside," he says. "I wanted to not only remind myself but remind other people that the ecosystems and beautiful landscapes in Florida aren't going to last forever."
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.