On the Homefront


By Christina Dylag

(Published in the March 2010 issue)

The annual rediscovery of the vacuum marks the arrival of a new season, but for photographer John Mireles, this year’s Spring Cleaning focuses not on removing dirt, but rather on renovating his outlook on life in San Diego.

“Last year was a terrible year for a lot of people,” he says. “The phone wasn’t ringing; nobody wanted to spend any money. I was frustrated and thought, ‘Why not simplify? Why not just get rid of everything and go?’”

Strapped by the weak economy and consequent decreased local demand for his work, Mireles considered uprooting and moving with his wife to a more affordable city. Even the higher-paying gigs that originated from Los Angeles had been dwindling, so continuing to pay separate mortgages for their home and his studio here seemed to stop making sense. The couple visited several cities, but couldn’t find what they were looking for.

“It seemed like every place is just as expensive,” Mireles says. “I realized that I had to make San Diego work.” Hoping to gain a fresh perspective on his hometown, he turned to photography and managed to find beauty where he hadn’t seen it before.

“I was looking at something that was very ordinary, a mid-century home that I’ve seen a thousand times and never impressed me. Now, I saw it differently. I wanted to take what was already in front of me and make it interesting. To me, photography is just a way to express who I am. Photographing these houses where I grew up is part of me. It all ties in.”

And in a flash, as the photographer captures San Diego, the city he loves has recaptured him.

Photographed in Allied Gardens
“That’s an Astroturf lawn. Like the vacuum shot, it’s about obsession and the idea everything needs to be perfect. But then there’s an underbelly: there’s sex, and there’s desire, and there’s vice in this little cookie-cutter existence that we put ourselves in.”

Out, Damned Spot
Photographed in Kensington
“She’s obsessive. It’s this suburban ideal that everything should be perfect. Nowadays, there are all these homeowners associations-you can’t leave your trashcans out front, you gotta paint your house a certain color and you gotta mow your lawn. Everybody tries to put on this façade of ‘everything’s perfect.’ We all drive expensive cars, even though we have no money in our bank accounts. This woman is just taking that to the Nth degree.”

Grease Monkey
Photographed in Allied Gardens
“She was heading out, and the car broke down, so she’s gotta make it happen. Allied Gardens is a postwar neighborhood that nobody thinks about; sort of ignored. Driving around, once you get into it, there’s actually a lot that’s interesting there.”

Rush Hour

Photographed in Mission Valley
“He’s the kind of guy who walked out of that Madmen TV show, an ad guy that walks around in a three-piece suit. He’s a little bit of a throwback, with a briefcase like my dad used to take to work. Nobody really takes a briefcase to work anymore. I wanted to put him in this ultramodern environment to create a bit of a contrast, which I like.”

Hell on Wheels

Photographed in Allied Gardens
“It’s this idea of lust and sex in a very banal environment. It’s a contrast of the two. We don’t think of these suburban houses in a high-fashion sense, but I think there’s an element there. Who knows what’s happening behind closed doors.”