EVERY PHOTOGRAPHER REMEMBERS his first camera as vividly as his first kiss. But getting a camera wasn't so easy for Joaquin Trujillo, who was born in Los Angeles but moved as an infant with his family to Mexico, where he grew up with 10 brothers and sisters in the small town of Ermita de Guadalupe.
When he was 7 years old, he asked his father, who was living in the United States at the time, if he could bring a camera back to him. Only, as Trujillo recalls, "I had a little bit of a lisp back then, so he thought I said cantimplora instead of camara." As a result, the eager young artist with a head of black curls and heavy black eyeglasses received a canteen. "I didn't get a camera until I attended community college 10 years later," he says.
Now he and his longtime partner, the California-born and -raised Brian Paumier, are rising stars in the world of fine art photography. Their images of stagy full-body portraits and carefully composed landscapes are in private collections, galleries such as Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, and museums such as the William Benton Museum of Art in Connecticut. Their daily schedule often includes commercial shoots for magazines including Travel + Leisure and Good, where Trujillo, 32, is the photo editor, and curating photography and contemporary art shows for De Soto gallery in Los Angeles. "I really love their work," says the legendary fashion photographer Paul Jasmine, a former teacher of the pair. "There's a richness to their colors and subjects. I can always recognize one of their images immediately."
This year marks the couple's eighth year as a single hyphenated identity, Trujillo-Paumier, which is how they sign their collaborative artwork. "We really do look at our photographs as our kids," says 35-year-old Paumier. "They're things that we produced together, and when we manage to get one into a collector's home it's always like, 'How nice, we found a nice home for that one.'"
They are talking to me over lunch at a small Vietnamese restaurant near their studio loft in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. The couple finishes each other's sentences, trades knowing looks, and wears similar clothing without realizing it.
"It's fascinating to watch them work," says Shelley de Soto, who represents their photographs through her De Soto gallery. "They move like they're one person, doing exactly what needs to be done without really verbalizing it. It's totally fluid."
The pair met 10 years ago as students at Pasadena, Calif.'s Art Center College of Design. They came from different backgrounds--Trujillo from a large family in rural Mexico; Paumier from a nuclear family in Oxnard, Calif., which boasts a complex mix of farmers, military personnel, and high-tech industries. But it wasn't long before they developed a mutual respect for each other's work. Trujillo, who was a year behind his future partner, says that he remembers being "blown away" by Paumier's large-format portraits of everyday people, while Paumier says he was in awe of how Trujillo could "shoot his dreams."
While there was plenty of flirting going on, they didn't start dating until after Paumier graduated in 1999. "We were kidding ourselves," Paumier says in retrospect. "We weren't really 'dating' in school, but we basically were. We'd talk on the phone for hours at a time and hang out every chance that we could. That's why we say we've been together for almost 10 years now."
Thanks to professors like Jasmine and James Fee, they also developed a taste for a similar type of photography, which they eventually combined to create their signature style. …