LOS ANGELES -- All the world's a stage -- if only someone would light it properly. For photographer Johnny Tergo's roving street portraits, that meant taking an usual approach: rigging up a photography studio in the passenger side of his pickup truck.
Tergo, a 35-year-old photography assistant, started snapping photos from his truck about a year and a half ago, he told The Huffington Post in a phone interview. Back then, he would suction-cup his iPhone to the passenger side window and use the volume buttons on his headphones to snap the picture. Any photos he found satisfactory would end up on his Instagram account. Tergo began adding more and more to his setup (all with equipment his friends in the rental business would loan him) until it resembled this: strobe lights, generators and a mounted camera operated by an iPad and laptop.
What Tergo's rig looks like from inside the truck cab. Photo by Johnny Tergo.
Now that he has his rig configured, Tergo sets up his truck on days when he doesn't have a gig and scouts the streets of LA until he finds a backdrop worth capturing. He gets out of his car, adjusts the gels and lights, and then waits for a subject to walk into his frame. Unlike the portraits he takes during his day job as a photography assistant, these street snaps are candid, unexpected and lit in unnatural shades of blue and green. The pictures that result are eerily beautiful snapshots of pedestrian Los Angeles.
Photos of Johnny Tergo's "Passenger Side Window" project. Story continues below.
"I wanted a way to capture the moment as I saw it," Tergo explained. He moved on from Instagram, began uploading the street portraits to his website and titled the project "Passenger Side Window." Tergo plans to keep going with his project for the forseeable future, or "until I get sick of it and don't want to do it anymore."
With all the equipment he has at his fingertips, one would think Tergo would get pulled over for his rig. He admits he's been approached by police numerous times, but never for his studio setup.
"I've had LAPD officers pull me over, laugh and give me a thumbs up," Tergo said. "None of the law enforcement officials have ever given me a hard time for the rig."
What pedestrians see through Tergo's passenger window. Photo by Johnny Tergo.
Tergo's portraits contain the element of surprise, which means that he only speaks with his subjects after he takes a photo.
"There's no wall, no defenses," he said. "[The photo] just captures them in their real essence." He admits he can understand why some might be apprehensive about his approach. But when subjects see their photos on his camera, they leave delighted, Tergo said.
"They get happy, they smile," said Tergo. "Erase that, get rid of it -- that's never once happened to me." Since Tergo's photographs have gotten press on Wired, Peta Pixel and other news outlets, he's faced questions about invasion of privacy and profiteering.
To his critics, Tergo said he'd like to emphasize that he doesn't profit from any of his personal photography. Instead, he relies on his freelance assisting jobs to support his wife and four children.
"I see what I do from my vehicle as no different than what photography students do," he said. "Just because I'm using a vehicle as my platform, I don't think it makes me in any way more nefarious."
"I love every person in my images, and I love the way they tie my series together," Tergo continued. "For me, these images are aesthetically beautiful and the moments themselves are what make them beautiful."