Johnny Tergo has a Chevy Silverado, an incredible hulk of a car, one that isn’t too out of place on the streets of Los Angeles-except for all the cameras. Paparazzi he is not, although he does take photographs of people standing, sitting and texting on their phones. He sneaks up on them, stalking not the wayward celeb but the ordinary, the day dreamer, the laborer, the bus riders.
Tergo does this by way of an elaborate studio set-up rigged to the passenger side of his truck. He uses a Canon 1D Mark IV with a 16-35 mm lens, a computer, an iPad mini and a studio light, all of which is triggered by a PocketWizard. An app called Capture Pilot allows him to adjust the exposure.
He tends to find his prey in areas where there is heavy pedestrian traffic. When he spots a potential candidate or subject, he drives around the block so he can frame up the image. It also allows him time to adjust the strobes for ambient light. Indeed, the rigging is fascinating and complex; however it is man behind the camera that brings to life his photographs. He is an artist that captures moments in time, people as they are, unrehearsed and unaware. There is no sense of self-consciousness in the photographs – Tergo is too quick a photographer to allow for that to sink in.
What makes this drive-by series so fascinating is the ordinary-ness of it all. People are being people, going about their lives as they typically do. It is oddly thrilling invitation, to see people just as they are, and Tergo uses the element of surprise (because who would expect Chevy packing a studio-quality camera) to capture them unawares.
One might consider it a form of exploitation, and the artist himself has said that certain subjects have gotten angry at having their picture taken, but there is tenderness, a love that emanates from some of the photographs. As if this day, this person, this moment are the most important things in the entire world. And they are.
P.S. Keep a lookout for the Easter Egg in each picture: a hint of the passenger side mirror just in frame, just enough to let you know that Tergo’s watching.