Photographer Josh Aronson's "Tropicana" Exhibit Shines a Light on Photography and Design

Photographer Josh Aronson readies for his first solo exhibition in Miami.
Photographer Josh Aronson readies for his first solo exhibition in Miami. Photo courtesy of Josh Aronson
Inside an empty space in the Miami Design District's Paradise Plaza, Josh Aronson finds himself surrounded by chairs stacked waist-high and an arc floor lamp towering over him.

Despite the bubble-wrapped chaos, the 27-year-old photographer revels at the moment as he prepares for his first solo show in his hometown after publishing his first photo book, Tropicana, less than a year ago. Titled after the book, the show consists of 21 images — some large-scale and others in their original darkroom-style proof — paired with vintage furniture.

“It feels amazing [to put on this show in Miami]. It’s kind of like a homecoming moment for me,” Aronson tells New Times.

"Tropicana" is a culmination of Aronson's work photographing South Florida creatives and activists since 2017.

It's only fitting that a project that began in Miami comes to an end here as well.

“It feels like the closing of this really exciting chapter of my life, and I’m looking forward to what closing this chapter means," Aronson says. "This whole series of pictures really meant a lot to me and came from a personal place, so it’s kind of sad to be waving goodbye to that.”

The show's location in some ways influenced Aronson when planning the exhibition. The Design District, which is home to both high-end fashion and design, made him want to rethink how art can be presented to the viewer. Forgoing the white-wall aesthetic, he opted to stage his show amid the fruits of his pandemic hobby: vintage home décor.

“There’s this new way of expression in the home, which is in a way taking over what would have been an expression in clothes and fashion," he explains. "Now that so many of us are tethered to our homes, it’s become way more important to express ourselves with our design goods and our home furniture.”
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A photo from Aronson's 2020 photo book, Tropicana.
Photo by Josh Aronson
Aronson says his friendship with Miami-based furniture collector and seller Jonathan Sanchez of Primaried served as inspiration.

“Jonathan was really that person for me that guided me [in the design world],” he says. “It’s one thing to obsess over something from the comfort of your phone, but it’s truly another thing to share that obsession with another person. Being able to discuss design on a regular basis [with Jonathan] opened my eyes to the most obvious thing — which is that the show is taking place in the Design District, so how can I engage this space for the hub of design that it is?”

Visits to Sanchez's Little Haiti showroom opened Aronson’s eyes to how the right layout can influence an entire space. By staging his images with a backdrop of home décor, he’s creating a livable and relatable scene. Visitors will not only enjoy his vibrant portraits but also be able to envision the photographs in their own personal space.

“Josh made an appointment at my studio, and he was just really excited about vintage furniture,” Sanchez says. “It was nice to see someone from Miami be interested in vintage pieces and amass such a large collection in such a short amount of time.”

When Aronson brought up the idea, Sanchez saw it as a way to turn a cold, empty gallery space into something more approachable.

“It pairs perfectly,” Sanchez says.

“It’s about expanding the audience from just people who might be interested in my photography to now people who are interested in design and furniture,” Aronson elaborates.

Aronson’s goal with “Tropicana” is to blend the realm of design with the world of photography and start a dialogue about past and present, new and old.

“I want to share these Florida stories. I want to bring attention to the young Florida artists that I work with, and if I can use the tools in my toolbox — which now happen to be these really cool old furniture objects — then why not?”

"Tropicana." Through April 11, at 151 NE 41st St., Suite 119 (in the Paradise Plaza building), Miami; 305-608-1176; Monday through Wednesday by appointment only, Thursday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday noon to 6 p.m.
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Carolina del Busto is a freelance writer for Miami New Times. She nurtured her love of words at Boston College before moving back home to Miami and has been covering arts and culture in the Magic City since 2013.