Last week, photographer John Raymond Mireles came to Fort Wayne in a battered RV, toting high-end camera gear and an egalitarian mission.He was here, as he’s been in 36 other states, shooting photos of people on the streets, in the bleachers, at the country clubs, and anywhere he’s allowed to set up a camera. There’s no charge for people to be photographed, and there’s no ideal subject he seeks out. He invites anyone; any time the line of people waiting to be photographed empties, he walks up to more strangers and asks them to pose.
On Aug. 2, he was back at the corner of Taylor Street and Broadway for his second photo session in two days. For a backdrop, he hung a screen on the wall facing Broadway between Family Dollar and George’s International Market.
It took him only minutes to find the first photo subjects, Lauren Conklin and Ty Fry. After that, he had volunteers waiting for their turn most of the time.“I started in San Diego; I didn’t expect it to go beyond my fence,” he said. That was in 2015, and the giant photos of his neighbors – 5 and 6 feet tall – quickly became a civic phenomenon. In the spring of 2016, he took to the road, packing gear from his new base in New York.
There’s an important difference between the photos he took of his San Diego neighbors and those he takes now. Instead of tight photos of people’s faces, as his San Diego portraits often were, he now favors three-quarter-length frontal shots.
“When you begin to show the three-quarters shot, you show the clothes, and you begin to get an impression of the people,” Mireles said, noting that the clothing they choose when he finds them on the street and the poses they strike all reveal much about them.
Since he committed to the see-all-America scope of his broadened project, he’s photographed about 2,200 people in 37 states. He’s pursuing swift sweeps through the country because he wants to finish, instead of allowing it to take over the rest of his life.
“With a big project, it’s easy for it to take a lifetime,” he noted. “I made it a commitment to get it done.”
Mireles, 52, had been a photographer for 27 years, at times making his living through more conventional photography, from weddings to commercial art. About the time he was shooting and making gigantic prints of his neighbors, he also was angling to go to art school and pursue a master’s of fine arts degree.
“I applied to the most prestigious schools in the country,” he said, “and I was rejected.”
That helped him justify embarking on his own course of advanced studio. The $100,000 or so he saved by not getting into an MFA program looked like enough to underwrite his nationwide neighbors photography.
In the more than a year he’s spent visiting three-fourths of the states in the country, he’s collected a beautiful sampling of the endless variety of people in America. He’s found an encouraging side effect in his quest, too.
“Everybody thinks we’re so divided, but when you start talking to people, you realize we have much more in common than separates us. That’s the point of this project: to show what unites us,” he said.
The deeper portfolio
To learn more about photographer John Raymond Mireles' work, see www.jraymondmireles.com.