An American citizen born to Croatian immigrants parents in 1977, Johnny Tergo lives and works in Los Angeles with his wife and four children. His career as a construction worker led him to travel by truck to neighborhoods throughout the city. He transformed his Chevy Silverado into an ingenious photo mechanism, which captures real life with a sense of surprise. The sidewalks become the theatre for the modest lives that play out upon them.
Where does your photography come from ?
J. Tergo : I have been passionate about photography for as long as I can remember. I can not remember a time that I did not have access to a camera, photo books, or technical manuals. I am a technology and information nerd. I have worked in the photo industry for a long time assisting some of the best images makers in the world. Living and working in Los Angeles has exposed me to the best of both the motion and still photography world. I have had the opportunity to play with any lighting and camera equipment my heart desires. I have learned how to run electrical for massive productions with best boys and gaffers, and I have learned grip work from some of the best key grips in the world. I have worked on small editorial shoots where not a single light was used, and I have lit a group of 125 people for the worlds largest celebrity group shot where we built three 60’x10′ truss frames on electrical motors with an excess of 65 strobes. I have also been blessed with the opportunity to work for Art Streiber for over 7 years. Art is one of the most technical, conscientious, selfless and skillful professionals in the photo industry. I have been taught how to conduct myself on set and how to execute an idea from start to finish by observing this man at work. My personal work is a culmination of eclectic influences from fine art photographers I admired long ago to some of the top working professionals in the industry today.
When is your decisive moment for taking photographs ?
J. T : The decisive moment occurs when all of the necessary components of each individual image are simultaneously ready to do their particular job to achieve the desired result. Every image has an intended purpose and depending on the intent the tools required to achieve the desired results vary. Sometimes the only tools you need are a captured medium and a subject. Other times the tool set is rather extensive. Lights, sets, hair, styling, make-up, props and rigging could all be required. All the components of the image must be properly aligned in the correct way before you can create an image that effectively communicates your desired intent. With a project like “Passenger Side Window” there are many uncontrollable variables. I needed to design a way to control as many of the variables as I could to help make effective images. Since the project involved capturing images from a vehicle I created a platform from which I could control three key components of the final image.
#1) Safety — Making sure that my driving is not impeded and ensuring that I am not creating a safety hazard for pedestrians and other drivers was my main concern when building my mobile studio. I have gone to great lengths in the design of my rig to make sure my eye line is clear and that minimal effort is needed to actuate the firing mechanism of the camera. I also mounted my laptop and an Apple Airport Express in the vehicle so that I could tether the camera and take advantage of Capture One’s “Capture Pilot” app to adjust the settings on the camera from a mounted iPad mini. A Pocket Wizard system is used to activate the auto focus of the camera and also to trigger the firing mechanism. Safety is the first component when deciding my “Decisive Moment” during this project.
#2) Point of View — I felt it was necessary to maintain a consistent point of view for the entire project. If you where to just grab your camera and shoot out the side of the passenger window every time you came across something that you wanted to document without having a fixed platform to shoot from the images would have an inconsistent framing. Inevitably you would frame each image from a different position in the vehicle. It would take precious moments to make sure the images where framed from the correct height, distance and that they where level. To help with consistency I built an aluminum support frame, inside my vehicle, which mounts my camera in a static position. This is the second component that needs to be ready before I decide on my “Decisive Moment”.
#3) Lighting — My subjects are found in various locations, under diverse lighting conditions. Sometimes the light is wonderful and not much more is needed, while at other times the light is such that is detracts from the way I intend to display the images. In order to have control over the lighting I designed a lighting rig on my vehicle that allows me precise control over how the final image will look. It is currently made of three Profoto Pro heads, powered from two Profoto 2400 7A generators. This allows me plenty of power to supplement the ambient light as necessary. In order to power the strobe generators I had to install two gas powered electrical generators in to the bed of my truck with which to power the strobe generators. The lighting is component #3 in the line up for making a decision as to my “Decisive Moment”. When those three components are set and I have the proper subject, proper environment, and gut feeling I have my decisive moment.
What inspired you work/your series ?
J. T : “Passenger Side Window” was conceived in the same place that it gets created, in my truck. I am constantly on the road commuting to and from jobs. Often over great distances and over the course of much time. I often see people walking down the street and think to myself, “Dude, that would be a sick portrait!”. The interplay of environment and the individuals that occupy the space fascinates me. People are usually found in environments that they feel comfortable in. Whether conscientiously or not they often mimic or accentuate their immediate surroundings through dress and demeanor. In “Passenger Side Window” I try to present the viewer with a portrait of a person they can create their own story about. When I first started on the project I imagined the images presented captioned with a location, gps tag and title. However, I choose to leave that information out because I want to present the viewer with an ambiguous portrait of an unknown person in an unfamiliar place and allow them to fill in the blank on their own.
What is the link between your commercial work and your personal work ?
J. T : It is the personal work that often leads to commercial work. Clients like to see your ability to conceive and follow through on an idea or concept. The personal work shows that you can create a body of work for yourself without any outside support and encourages potential commercial clients to trust that you will be able to execute an even bigger idea for them with their own direction and support.
Which is a bigger priority for you : a great ad campaign or an exhibition at a famous gallery ?
J. T : I feel that this is a loaded question. On one hand I would absolutely LOVE to have an exhibition in an amazing gallery, on the other I have four small children that would see a more immediate benefit from me being awarded a phenomenal ad campaign.
The world experience has changed drastically. Its representation has evolved. Has digital become inevitable in the photographic creative process ?
J. T : Yes, digital is and has been inevitable for quite a long time now. Even if a photographers process involves all analog media and devices the images will usually encounter some form of digital along the way. Usually in the display process if nothing else. Film is not dead. There are plenty of amazing photographic images still being produced with film, and there are also amazing collodion wet plate images still being produced. Analog has become the alternative rather than the primary.
Interview by Séverine Morel