I was recently having lunch in Los Angeles with my friend and photographer colleague Johnny Tergo and he started telling about a photo project that he’s been shooting. With enthusiasm he described how he rigged Profoto strobes onto his pick-up truck and was shooting pictures of pedestrians from his passenger side window.
To be honest I figured that it sounded too good to be true, but I looked up the work as soon as I got back to my LA apt the pictures are really cool, weird and kinda beautiful. They work well as portraits but one of my favorite things about them is that they are a great visual depiction of Los Angeles as a city.
I’ve since asked Johnny a few questions about the project via email.
1. What are we looking at? (Basically, describe how the images are made).
In the “Passenger Side Window” project you are looking at ambiguous portraits of unfamiliar people in unknown locations. I consider these portraits of life. I have constructed a camera/lighting rig on my truck that allows me to take pictures of people and places just as I see them without having to get out of my truck and disturb the scene. I love the way that people look when they are not apprehensive of being in front of a camera and the rig on my truck allows me to make an image of them in their natural state.
2. What came first, the camera/lighting rig or the portrait series idea?
The idea came first. The idea has been in my head for a long time, and I have tried various ways of going about executing it. This current rig has yielded me my most successful results. First, I was just using my iPhone to make images shooting out of my passenger side window. Then I made a mount for my phone which suctioned to my passenger side window and used a bluetooth keyboard to trigger the shutter on the phone. Then I decided to build a mount for my Canon camera, and eventually I wanted to add lights. It just progressed very naturally from one evolution to the next.
3. You shoot, but you don’t make your living taking pictures, does that make you a fine art photographer? (I’m teasing you on this one, but you’re welcome to answer the question too.)
Hah… Yeah, I guess so! I think what REALLY makes me a fine art photographer is that fact that I make images that people enjoy looking at and critiquing but nobody wants to give me any funds to produce them.
4. One of the things that I love about these pictures is that although they have a life all their own they also very much carry your “Tergo” vibe. Discuss.
I believe that this all comes down to process and consistency. I have things that appeal to me visually more than others and I try to consistently work those things in to my process. For instance, I love high contrast and un-natural color so when I shoot I add lights to help with the contrast and gels to the lights to help me shift the color tone. I also do all of my own post processing so all the work done to my files in post consistently has the same fell as well. Also, keep in mind that I am not being assigned any work so all of the things that I choose to focus on are things that I choose myself.