Providence, Rhode Island was founded in 1636 by Roger Williams and was named in honor of "God's merciful Providence." The Ocean State's capital has since had many nicknames including The Divine City and The Beehive of Industry. Earlier this year, Mayor David Cicilline and the Department of Art, Culture, and Tourism launched a new campaign to rebrand The Renaissance City. Providence, once again, has a new nickname - The Creative Capital.
Providence has had a long history of creative thinking starting with Roger Williams himself, through to the writings of H. P. Lovecraft to the more recent WaterFire, a unique series of recurring community building events. Providence is also the home of Jose Ariel Diaz, a creative 20 year old with a passion for dance, music and fashion. Like Providence, Jose, also has a few nicknames including Pito and Rebel.
"I love Providence" Jose told me as we met up on Thayer Street, in the heart of College Hill, the neighborhood in which Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design [RISD] co-exist. This Joe also loves Providence. It is where I learned photography while studying at Rhode Island School of Photography [RISP] and where I also lived for several years.
On the day of our photoshoot, we stumbled upon a recently completed mural, outside of the CVS Pharmacy on Thayer and Cushing Streets. CVS commissioned four [past and present] RISD students [Christina Graham, Alison Kizu-Blair, Michael Kolendowiz and Annabeth Marks] to create the vibrantly colored wall art. With Jose and I, both having strong feelings for Providence, it was only fitting that we take some photographs in front of it. Besides, part of the wall matched Jose's socks - socks that didn't match each other. One sock was yellow. The other was green.
Laughing, he says "I NEVER match my socks . Unless I really have to . I like to be different - literally." Different, he is. Not many people have a G clef tattooed on their ear nor can they pull off a hairstyle such as Jose's. The haircut, a modified mohawk, gives this Providence native of Puerto Rican heritage an extra few inches of height. His grooming and one of a kind sense of style also makes him stand out in a crowd. Jose works as a waiter and is required to conform by wearing a uniform but is still able to be distinct.
Another area in which Jose is unique is in his community service. He is a mentor but it's not in academics. For at least six hours per week, Jose, who himself, was recently in high school, blends right in with the 12 to 18 year old teens interested in dancing and modeling. At just 5'4" tall and weighing 130 pounds, he's far from the norm in male modeling which is generally about 6 feet and able to fit a size 40 Regular jacket.
"I'm here to pursue modeling. I also love dancing. I've done a couple of photoshoots." he says "I'm short but that's not stopping me not one bit. I'm representing for all of us short models. I love to try new things and I also love me a challenge."
As Providence continues its quest to rebrand itself with a new nickname, its native son continues in his one man campaign to rebrand the standard for male models. Keep your eyes open for Providence. Keep your eyes open for Jose. Or Pito. Or Rebel.
NEXT WEEK - "Off Off Broadway Joe"