When photographer J. Raymond Mireles moved to Logan Heights, he was immediately intrigued by the idea of making his new community a part of his art.
“I lived in the East Village in the 1990s when it was still pretty rough but moved away to North Park,” says Mireles, who’s lived in San Diego for nearly 25 years. “I came back to Sherman Heights and Logan Heights area and fell in love.”
After finding a new place, “I had this idea for a big, long fence around the house, and after I was done with it, as an artist, I wondered, ‘How can I present art on it?’ About the same time, I began photographing some of the locals in my neighborhood. When you live in an area that is very homogenous, coming from that to a place that is very diverse, that immediately struck me.
“There’s a lot of people there who were kind of invisible. I wanted to celebrate the community that I was in and make these people visible in my world.”
He began photographing people in May 2015, and by October, he had enough 4-by-5-foot color photos to display on the fence.
Mireles, 51, says he wants his photography to deal with social issues, “so what I wanted to do was physically bring people into the community through art - white people mingling with black people mingling with Hispanics.”
“When I put the work up, especially putting the work in public, I had no idea what sort of reaction I was going to get. I just had no idea. I was surprised - happily surprised - by the overwhelming positive response. People quickly accepted it. I’ve had people come up to say that they were so thankful. I hate to think of things in terms of race, but we as a society are so segregated by race, and moving to Logan Heights confirmed that. I think the people in the neighborhood realized that ‘Hey, it’s for us and about us.’ And they were OK with that.”
After more than a year on the fence, “Neighbors: Manifestations of Change” has moved indoors to the Bread & Salt gallery, where it is on display through Dec. 29.
“Neighbors: Manifestations of Change"
When: Through Dec. 29
Where: Bread & Salt, 1955 Julian Ave., Barrio Logan
“I didn’t coat the material I used, so the color began to fade,” he says. “People scratched and marked the photos. One or two of the images have been tagged and defaced. One had some dye on it, and it almost looks like a bloody nose. There was interaction that took place between the prints and the environment and the community.”
Now, many months later, “the photos have taken on a different dimension,” Mireles says. When photographs are created for an exhibition, “everything is done to prevent them from changing. This is the exact opposite of what happened here. The photos were in this unique position in the community, and it was interesting to see what the community had to say about it.
“In a way, it served as a record of this dialogue between art and the community. That doesn’t happen very often."
Mireles so loved the idea of chronicling his community that he took that concept on the road across America - from New Hampshire and West Virginia to Idaho and Washington and many points in between.
In a June 15, 2016, blog post on jraymondm.com, he wrote: “Along my journey, I’ve been reminded over and over just how good and polite and friendly Americans are. I’ve been welcomed by sawmill workers, clam diggers, pot growers, baristas, bartenders, farmers, urban hipsters and even a surprisingly friendly rodeo announcer. As much as I love photographing the people of America, the sum of all these connections is more powerful still. To photograph America is to understand that we’re indeed one people with common values and a spirit of caring for each other.”