obtained, done, made, etc., by stealth; secret or unauthorized; clandestine: a surreptitious glance.
acting in a stealthy way.
obtained by subreption; subreptitious.
There’s an old maxim among documentary photographers: “If your photos aren’t good enough, it’s because you’re not close enough.” The challenge for street photographers who wish to capture unscripted moments of life in the city is that the closer they get, the more the scene changes. People often smile and pose if asked for permission or frown and turn away if it is not - or even become angry and combative.
To overcome this issue, some photographers work quickly to snap a frame before the subjects can respond, while others - the less adventurous among us - shoot safely from afar using a telephoto lens. The problem with the first technique is that focus and composition often suffer while in shooting from afar there’s a sense of separation and lack of intimacy that exists between subject and viewer.
My solution to this paradox is to employ stealth. By hiding my intent, I’m able to interject myself into scenes and capture them as they actually unfold. There’s no posing nor averting from the camera’s gaze. Though occasionally I receive odd “What is that guy doing just standing there?” looks, mostly I’m ignored and my camera captures life undisturbed.
For this body of work, I restricted myself to only photographs taken without permission and the subject unaware - hence the name “Surreptitious.” Though sometimes a photo might be improved through some form of manipulation or directing, in this case, I allowed myself neither option. I also limited myself to only one lens - a wide angle which forced me to move in close and often intrude into a subject’s space.
Using this approach, I documented life on the streets of the five NY Burroughs: Brooklyn, Manhattan, Staten Island, Queens and the Bronx in May and June of 2018. This is by no means an exhaustive overview of life in New York City. Rather, it’s a snapshot, a blink in the moment of this constantly moving and changing city.
Street photography is created out on the streets, but rarely does it return there. As with most art, it’s displayed on gallery walls and in books separate and apart from the gritty places that birthed it. To change this one-way dynamic, I’ve created portfolios of work that will be installed on publicly accessible fences in the Lower East Side neighborhood surrounding the Storefront Project gallery concurrent with the gallery show.
Those wishing to fully experience the work from this project are invited to visit www.johnmireles.com/storefront to find these publicly displayed portfolios. Whether they’ll be intact and present by the time you get there, I have no idea.
John Raymond Mireles
September 19, 2018
In the land of my father
In 1848, my great-great grandfather Perfecto Telles settled in the Tularosa Valley of New Mexico. Another great-great grandfather, Cipio Salazar, removed the chains from Billy the Kid after he killed two sheriff's deputies in his famous breakout from the Lincoln County jail. A couple of generations later, in the summer of 1945, as my father waited for an early morning ride to his logging job in the Sacramento Mountains, he witnessed a massive glow in the sky emanating from the North, a glow that later proved to be light from the detonation of the first atomic bomb.
Despite this long familial history in the area, my father chose to leave New Mexico and create a new life in California. Through images and filmed oral histories, this series overlays moments from my family history with recollections of the racism and lack of economic opportunity that caused my father to pack his bags for the coast. It also examines the lives of family and friends who've stayed behind and the places they inhabit.
When I first heard of the oil boom taking place in North Dakota, my immediate thought was that here was an opportunity for me to travel back in time, to rub shoulders with the spirits of the Gold Rush era. In the oil fields collectively known as the Bakken, I saw my chance to experience - and document - first hand the clamor, the dust, the chaos, hard work and hopeful spirit that make up an American boom town.
In taking on this project, I decided against hewing to the environmentally focused approach that is common to oil drilling and fracking documentary themes. Instead, I opted to witness the movement of men, steel, trucks, dirt, water and oil so as to allow the story of the people and the place to unfold itself to me.
In so doing, what I found was a narrative far more nuanced than the dominant media portrayals of wanton environmental impact and Wild West gone amok. Instead, the air in the central town of Williston is abuzz with optimistic tales of birth and rebirth. Young men (and a few women) have departed from their forlorn hometowns to find meaningful work and create a financial foundation for their futures. Middle-aged men who’ve lost their jobs, homes and savings in the Great Recession take leave of their families to regain their place in the middle class. The American dream lives strong here.
Emanating from the scruffy military town of 29 Palms in the Mojave Desert, there lies an unheralded road that connects a unique mix of iconic, overlooked and discarded towns along its downhill path. Like an invisible river, this highway flows from the drug-ridden, working class towns of the mountainous desert down to the modernist mecca of Palm Springs, through the wealthy retirement communities of Rancho Mirage and then onto fading desert communities whose fortunes have dropped along with the water level of the neighboring Salton Sea, California's largest lake. Though this paved river runs only for 150 unsung miles, it offers a window into America that's no less insightful than any of the country's great natural waterways.
My intent with this work is to present the wide contrast of people, architecture, landscape, and wealth that lie along this desert roadway and to explore the boundaries where they both meet and separate.
Life of the Party
People find meaning and redemption in the most unusual human connections.
Nowhere is this desire to connect on greater and more unusual display than in a party setting where friends, strangers and alcohol intersect. Though my Life of the Party series abounds with bawdy displays of men drinking and women flirting, my intent with this series is to document how the need for personal connection manifests itself in the presence of lowered inhibition.
In pursuing moments that demonstrate connection, other emotions and motivations emerge as well. Desire for power, attention, intimacy, rebellion, self-expression, vulnerability and approval all reveal themselves to the camera. These transient moments also provide a window into the social lives and rituals of various American classes and subcultures.