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History in the Making: A Surprise Engagement at San Diego’s Gay Pride Parade

July 23rd, 2012

It’s been years since I photographed the Gay Pride parade in San Diego. Usually I have a wedding that weekend so it just hasn’t fit into my schedule. This year, I happened to be free so I pedaled my bike on over the parade route and started snapping away.

Without a doubt, the most anticipated moment of the parade was when the soldiers in uniform walked the route. Normally, soldiers are not allowed to parade in uniform unless they have permission, but, because of the heavy military presence in San Diego (we have three aircraft carriers home ported here, a submarine base and two Marine bases) and the fact that gays can now legally serve in the military, the powers that be issued an announcement a couple of days prior that soldiers could attend the parade in uniform.

The fact that our fighting men and women would be in uniform at a gay pride event was history enough but then this man walked into my camera’s view. I didn’t realize it that time, but he was on a mission. Notice the little box he’s holding in his right hand.

After he passed me, I turned around to find this scene.

There in front of hundreds of people, this sailor proposed to his obviously shocked boyfriend. Before I knew it, I found myself swept up in one of the most emotionally powerful experiences of my life. Yes, here was one person proposing marriage (though not yet legal in California) which is a significant and emotional moment to be sure. But against the background of all the civil rights arguments and the fact that, had this man dropped to one knee a year ago, he would have been expelled from the military, the sight literally brought tears to my eyes.

It all happened so fast and without warning. I was lucky to have been in the right place at the right time. After it was all over, everyone cheered and the parade continued. My immediate thought was that I’m proud to be an American. I’m proud to live in a country where people can accept each other based upon the intrinsic value of human dignity. Where people are allowed to be different from the norm. Where love can express itself free from the constraints of bigotry and religion.

In the photo above, you can see one of the soon-to-be grooms checking out his ring. After they passed me, I let my camera drop and knew that before too long, people would look at my photos and wonder what the big deal was all about. Witnessing his little slice of history made ever more resolute my faith in the fact that this moment will come and in my hope that it comes soon.

John Mireles

How I Came to Love the Beer Bong - Lake Havasu, Memorial Day 2012

June 4th, 2012

Call me a patriot. In the Declaration of Independence, our nation’s founders predicated the existence of our nascent country upon the “pursuit of happiness” - and I take my civic duty seriously.  Over the past few years, I’ve made it a personal project of mine to photograph people in pursuit of fun. To be more specific, drunk people pursuing pumpin’ music, a red cup filled with beer, and, of course, each other.

Now some might argue I’m merely pursuing prurient interests. True documentary photographers go off to war or photograph the homeless, shrinking glaciers or a starving child - all important subjects to be sure. But what about the real life of so many of here at home? Isn’t there a story here? Does all important photography have to document something depressing? Skinny girls with fake boobs and body tattoos need their story told too. How else will the next generation understand this generation’s sacrifices and values?

Though I’d planned this trip for months, come the week prior my motivation waned. Despite the promise of unabashed drunken partying, I instead saw mornings of hangovers, tempting bodies and an unsure welcome. I travel and shoot alone as well. No friendly souls waiting to accompany me over the long weekend. And though I hopefully make it seem easy, it’s a huge amount of mental energy to continually intrude into people’s lives - and risk the rejection and confrontation that sometimes results. But, with encouragement from my girlfriend, I slung my weapons, filled my cooler with ice and vodka and drove off to battle.

For those not familiar with Lake Havasu, it’s a man-made lake on the border of California and Arizona that captures Colorado River water and sends it off to Los Angeles. The actual town was founded in 1964 by some rich guy (how’s that for reporting) who had the foresight to buy the actual London Bridge from London and rebuilt in the desert - thereby attracting lots of tourists. In due time, people with loud boats and coolers filled with beer began calling it their weekend home and a party town was born.

Not just any party town, but the creme-de-la-creme of party towns. Or as I like to think of it, the belly of the beast. Because at times it’s down right ugly. Yeah, I can handle the beer bongs. I can deal with getting soaked by beer spewing keg-standers. I’m not complaining about girls trading their bikini tops for pasties. I’m okay with drunks and drinking games. However, at Havasu all of it whips into a grotesque whirlwind that touches down all too often.

One set of mostly-naked fake boobs is arousing. A few more is fun. An entire fucking sea of them becomes grotesque. Go to Havasu if you want to forget what the undoctored female breast looks like. After coming home and seeing relatively flat chested (i.e. normal) women walking down the street, I’d have to force myself to remember that not every woman has breasts that can lob shells into the next county.

Not just that, but there’s crassness everywhere. Recovering Catholic school kid that I am, I still think that not every photo calls for the guy to stick his tongue out in a mock licking of a woman’s breasts or her ass nor some sort of mock sex act. After all, I’m a documentarian, not a pornographer.

Still, there’s something thrilling about documenting the extremes - be it summiting Mount Everest or the working end of a beer bong. I’m not the only photographer out there shooting this stuff, but the other guys I see don’t connect. They’re on the outside looking in. What I love about what I do is that I’m in the mix. I become a part of the party. I become one with the beer bong - and I had the hangover to prove it.

Let me also say that, though there are bozos and knuckleheads, most of the people are great. They accepted me in their boats and allowed me into their lives. More than one guy told me that if anyone hassled me, they’d have my back. (Hearing that from a Marine in the midst of a drunken, muscle-filled crowd was actually a bit of a relief.) They’re having fun. I’m having fun. Life is good.


Sunny Day, Sail Away

April 20th, 2012

Finally, the icy cold of winter (okay, it’s more like the mild chill here in San Diego, but it feels cold to me) has moved on. Now we’ve got some sun and warmth - which means it’s time to hit the beaches and the bay. I’m usually on the water with my itty-bitty outrigger canoe so drinking beers on a 40 foot sailboat was a welcome, and relaxing change.

The coolest part was seeing the big-ass (that’s a technical term BTW) Navy ships head out to sea. The escort security boats kept a close eye on us subversive beer drinking potential terrorists. The coolest was witnessing the USS Carl Vincent sail out of the harbor. That’s a huge aircraft carrier that takes half a dozen tugboats to unhitch from its moorings. Security kept us far away from that one - but it’s still an awe-insprining sight.


The LA Riots 20 Years Later for Los Angeles Magazine

April 13th, 2012

For Los Angeles Magazine’s article on the 20th year anniversary of the LA Riots, they asked me to photograph former Angelino Titus Murphy. He was sitting at home in South Central LA watching the TV on the afternoon the riots began. As he sat comfortably at home, he caught the news reports of a white truck drive getting pulled out of his truck and being beaten by a vindictive mob.

Once he realized that the mob was around the corner from his house, he ran out the door and helped rescue the poor guy from certain death. Titus was one of the heros of the riots and reminded us that there’s still a lot of good people amidst us who are willing to help when the time comes.

More articles and photos on the LA Riots can be found on the Los Angeles Magazine website.


Walking Around the ‘Hood

April 3rd, 2012

Had 40 minutes to kill while waiting for my camper van to get smogged so I walked about a bit and shot some pretty pictures. It’s fun being a tourist in my own backyard.


Green Truck Party

March 26th, 2012

It’s been one year since the mean Green Truck has been serving awesome food out on the streets of San Diego. Nothing like using an anniversary as a good excuse for a party. I came out with my camera to help celebrate the night with owner David Holtse. Fun times, and good food. The bank rocked it. I jammed on guitar with a couple of the guys a few weeks ago. If I’d known how good they were, I’d probably have been too intimidated.


A Summer Beach Day in Winter

March 22nd, 2012

One of the great things about life in San Diego is that it can be 80 degrees at the beach - in February. In fact, we have some of our best beach weather of the year in winter. Crystal clear and warm without being hot. The living is good…

That said, the unheated pool water was cold. The talent for this beach fashion editorial was relieved when I told him he didn’t have to keep jumping in the pool.

Afternoon on the Golf Course - Disc Golf That Is

February 15th, 2012

Velodrome Portraits

July 14th, 2011

For those of you who don’t know what a velodrome is, it’s a track for cycling. Basically, it’s a banked oval track for bike rides to go really fast around. As it happens, there’s one in Balboa Park near my home. Tuesday is race night. It’s great to go sit in the stand, watch some fun racing, drink beer and have an evening picnic.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve also brought my camera for some portraits of the riders. I especially love photographing the kids. They’ve got such great personalities.


Overpowering Sunlight Workshop - August 16 to 18

June 22nd, 2011

I’m happy to announce that I’ll be offering my Overpowering Sunlight class again this summer. This time it will be over three days in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada just north of Yosemite at the Bear Valley resort. You’ll learn about lighting, work with models and be pushed creatively to break out of the old mold and do your best work ever. This isn’t a workshop where you’ll be shooting over my shoulder. Instead, I’ll be coaching you over youra as you’re creating killer work that you can call your own.

Here’s the link to the website: Overpowering Sunlight Workshop. If you have any questions, you can email me. Hopefully, I’ll see you there!