The Human Thread

The Photography of Joe Coca
Over the years we’ve reviewed a number of books published by Thrums Books, we’ve had the pleasure to see the stunning photographs taken by Joe Coca. Many of these books focused on traditional craft where we learned about the history of the makers, their heritage and inspiration behind the work. As important as the words are the old cliché that “A picture is worth a thousand words” holds true. Without Joe’s photographic mastery, his knowledge of how light and composition (and let’s not forget how to use a camera and not forget to remove the lens cap), although these books provide invaluable information they would be, well…not very exciting. 
Joe’s photography inspires amateur photographers, like myself, to sit down, study the images, and ask why that particular angle? Which light is best for that particular garment or textile? Does the subject of the image translate better in natural light or does it need the extra oomph of artifical lighting? Would black and white be more dramatic for this landscape?
Joe’s images also inspire travelers to visit and venture out to countries that are not the usual tourist spots. Through his lens, we’re able to take a boat ride on the violet-hued Amazon River or observe a shaman in the Amazon basin mixing his potion, the coppery blurred motion revealing how quickly he worked. These images among many others appear in Joe’s new book The Human Thread.
I’ve always been a fan of portraits so it’s not surprising I’m drawn to the portraits of the artisans featured in The Human Thread such as the profile photo of Fermina Cjuno, an elder from the community of Pitumarca, Peru. We learn from the accompanying text that every village in the Peruvian highlands has its on style of hat—some for daily use; others for special occasions. In this image, Fermina wears one that’s wool fabric is stretched over a wooden frame. The multicolored edging is frilled, but what makes the hat so distinctive is the notch at the tip that allows Fermina to see without having to lift her head from her work. Her hat serves as a protector of the sun, but its style identifies her community. Yet, what makes this portrait so remarkable is Fermina’s dignified profile, her strong jawline. We see the toll of hard work on her proud and beautiful face, but also the devotion to her people and land. 
Throughout The Human Thread color hits us hard in the face (in a good way). In the art, the landscape, the personalities of the makers. Joe likes contrast and show us in Chamula, Chapias, the disparity of color—a man wearing a woolen, handwoven tunic in neutral tones, napping next to the eye-popping vibrant doors of the San Juan Bautista church. In Laos, we see a similar contrast, but reversed—the various shades of gray of a weathered temple and a Buddhist monk in his saffron robes. 
If you’re stumped of what to get a loved one this holiday season, get The Human Thread. It’s the  ideal gift for photographers, travelers, and anyone who loves color in all its shapes and forms.
The Human Thread by Joe Coca is available on


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