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Art or intrusion? Photographer Johnny Tergo's 'drive-by' portraits

By dpreview staff on Apr 11, 2013 at 01:54 GMT

Street photography isn't everyone's cup of tea, and for every Cartier Bresson, watching from a distance, there's a Weegee, pushing a camera into the faces of their bemused subjects without asking permission. Los Angeles-based photographer Johnny Tergo has taken this approach to a new level, rigging up his truck with a camera and bright studio strobes in order to 'bring the studio lighting aspect to everyday real life on the streets'.

To take his curb-side portraits, LA-based photographer Johnny Tergo pulls up alongside his subjects and takes their photograph from his truck, using a remote-triggered Canon EOS-1D Mark IV rigged up to two studio lights.

In an interview published by wired.com Tergo explains that as a freelance photographer he spends a lot of time on the road, and wanted to 'exploit his time behind the wheel' for a series of candid portraits of people going about their everyday lives.

According to an interview published at wired.com, Tergo 'leads moving subjects by pulling forward slightly, waiting for them to enter the frame'.

To achieve the studio-like lighting, Tergo has rigged his Chevy Silverado with two high-powered strobes, powered by twin 4000W generators in the truckbed. Inside, a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV is connected to a laptop, and triggered by a Pocket Wizard. Tergo has a dashboard-mounted iPhone for reviewing his shots via onboard Wi-Fi. On a normal day, Tergo claims to take '40 to 50' shots. 

This is Johnny Tergo's Chevy Silverado truck, rigged up with two studio strobes and twin 4000W gas-powered generators which are nestled in the truckbed.
His EOS-1D Mark IV is triggered remotely using a Pocket Wizard, and his subjects are captured from the passenger window on a 16-35mm lens. 

It's no surprise that some of his subjects don't react well to being zapped with high-powered studio lights from the window of a passing truck, and in the interview Tergo claims that 'a lot of people think I’m up to something nefarious'. Despite occasional confrontations, Tergo plans to add a second truck, and more lights to his portable setup, claiming 'I don't want to stop with good enough, I want it to be awesome'.

Although we're impressed by some of Tergo's work, his approach won't be to everyone's taste, and raises troubling questions about privacy. What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

Comments

Total comments: 376
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plasnu
By plasnu (Apr 11, 2013)

Good example to discuss about the morality of the street photography and cheap digital film effects. Interesting, indeed.

0 upvotes
SeeRoy
By SeeRoy (Apr 11, 2013)

I don't know if anyone else has pointed it out (lots of comments!) but "tergo", in Latin, translates as "behind".
Ergo (groans) "Johnny Assh0le"

7 upvotes
Provia_fan
By Provia_fan (Apr 11, 2013)

In my experience of years of street photography, what annoys people really is big SLRs and Flashes. I now stick to rangefinders or occasionally a small film SLR. When I used flash it is never directed at people, I always bounce it off somewhere and you get better results too. Also, your demeanour when you take a pic. If someone refuses to be photographed respect it. If you already got the shot, good for you they are usually interesting and legally you are not breaking the law as the law says in public you lose the right to privacy. Simple as.

If it wasn't for street photography a lot of the social history of the 20th and now 21st century would gone missing, would have been just words.

Thank you Bresson, Winogrand, Meyerowitz, Gilden and the lot of you, for your dedication and art.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
3 upvotes
alpha90290
By alpha90290 (Apr 11, 2013)

If he want to use a truck. He should use a large format camera. The result doesn't look better than one taken by a compact point and shoot.

0 upvotes
Bookie
By Bookie (Apr 11, 2013)

Alastair Thain
http://www.bjp-online.com/british-journal-of-photography/report/1940459/self-building-cameras

0 upvotes
iaredatsun
By iaredatsun (Apr 11, 2013)

At first I was horrified but at least he's being brutally blatant about the street photography problem. Unlike Philip-Lorca diCorcia who an Orthodox Jew tried to sue for the same kind of street portrait approach in Times Square a few years back. But that guy didn't know it had been done until he saw it in an exhibition catalogue afterwards.

Comment edited 19 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
MarcMedios
By MarcMedios (Apr 11, 2013)

It is a picture... of course, but not really a portrait. A portrait should tell us something about the subject.

On another bent, I'm surprised no one has taken a couple of shots at him

3 upvotes
Gordon L
By Gordon L (Apr 11, 2013)

This clown is certainly rude and obnoxious. Kind of a high tech small balls version of certain street photograhers who do it up close and on foot.

12 upvotes
Cailean Gallimore
By Cailean Gallimore (Apr 11, 2013)

What rubbish.

5 upvotes
chj
By chj (Apr 11, 2013)

Tens of thousands of dollars in gear, and that's the result? There are iphone photographers that do better.

12 upvotes
Simon97
By Simon97 (Apr 11, 2013)

Good shot of Jesus :-)

0 upvotes
stevo23
By stevo23 (Apr 11, 2013)

Jesus mows my lawn.

0 upvotes
JohnMueller
By JohnMueller (Apr 23, 2013)

I've taken my kids down there and met that Jesus and got my son's photo with him. I had no idea how much to tip so I gave him the $2 in my pocket. He murmured to me, "thanks a lot Dad, what a big spender..." I then told Jesus he was an asshat.

0 upvotes
Dennis
By Dennis (Apr 11, 2013)

It's certainly intrusive. Which is fine. I wouldn't call it art. But that's not because of the technique. I'm sure another photographer could do better using the same technique (and others would do worse). There's nothing in most of them to hold my interest.

2 upvotes
StevenE
By StevenE (Apr 11, 2013)

I would not be comfortable doing this.

More importantly, I think you get better photos from co-operative subjects, and you find many more opportunities and stories by going up and talking to your subject first.

1 upvote
Cy Cheze
By Cy Cheze (Apr 11, 2013)

"Excuse me, Ma'am. Can I take your picture?"

"My WHAT?"

"I'm a 'street photographer.' I want to win an award and make money from sales of prints at auction. You remind me of a Munch painting."

"Eeeeek! Heavens no. With my hair like THIS? How about if I take YOUR picture? For the COPS to see!"

Cooperative subjects: dogs, ducks, flowers, ants, grave markers, or clouds.

15 upvotes
inframan
By inframan (Apr 11, 2013)

Cy Cheze you made my day.

0 upvotes
Demon Cleaner
By Demon Cleaner (Apr 11, 2013)

StevenE I wouldn't be comfortable with it either, however what you're describing there is portraiture work, not street photography.

0 upvotes
JordanAT
By JordanAT (Apr 11, 2013)

Cy - you forgot cats. If there's anything that dpreview has taught me, it's that cats are the perfect combination of available and cooperative whenever someone has a camera and feels a burning need to take a picture and post it in the forums.

1 upvote
Provia_fan
By Provia_fan (Apr 11, 2013)

You just made this thread man :D There's no more simple and blatant way to put it to those who don't even understand street photography and make statements about it.

0 upvotes
quangzizi
By quangzizi (Apr 11, 2013)

Lol the mirror is in every picture. That's street photography at its finest.

1 upvote
agentul
By agentul (Apr 11, 2013)

that mirror will soon be a new instagram effect. for the hipster ironically pretending to be a hipster honestly pretending to be an artist.

3 upvotes
quangzizi
By quangzizi (Apr 11, 2013)

"Ladies and gentlemen, today we present to you our latest Instagram effect: the Tergo effect. Created by the talented photographer Tergo, this effect will allow you to illustrate his legendary style of street photography. Please search under "terror effect" section on the apps section for this app"

1 upvote
veroman
By veroman (Apr 11, 2013)

An old, tried-and-true choice of subject matter (street shooting) with better lighting. Subjects are interesting, though ... indicating that the photographer knows how to edit his work. I do question, though, the "surprise attack" approach. I'd be pretty upset if it happened to me. The drive-by technique appears to me to be a complicated issue from a privacy standpoint.

0 upvotes
Petka
By Petka (Apr 11, 2013)

In most countries* it is perfectly legal to photograph anything you like on public places like streets without asking for permission. Studio flashes or not.

*) not in France, though, and in Italy it is illegal to take pictures of minors. I think Norway also has some strange restrictions.

0 upvotes
eopix
By eopix (Apr 11, 2013)

Why doesn't he use daylight?

0 upvotes
RoelHendrickx
By RoelHendrickx (Apr 11, 2013)

Frankly, I don't care about the controversy.
When the results look THAT bad, why bother?
It seems almost like the controversy is sought, to make up for lack of inherent interest.
Like the photos from the photographer who installs a trapeze everywhere in the vicinity of landmarks and then shoots while doing a sommersault (I am making this up, but I am sure someone will pick up on the idea).
I would be willing to take (a certain amount of) risks or be provocative for the sake of art, but not for the sake of such boring and random results.

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
15 upvotes
Provia_fan
By Provia_fan (Apr 11, 2013)

Well, the results are not meant to look bad or good, they are meant to look real with maybe a little magic thrown in by the light in this case. I don't like his approach but people don't understand that street photography is not primarily looking at finding pretty pictures of cooperative subjects. It is after the rawness of the street, of life. Occasionally magic happens. Before making judgements, one must understand what is street photography.

1 upvote
the Mtn Man
By the Mtn Man (Apr 11, 2013)

"Before making judgements, one must understand what is street photography."

That just sounds like a poor excuse for boring pictures. There are much better examples of street photography than what has been provided here.

3 upvotes
kona_moon
By kona_moon (Apr 11, 2013)

If you live by drive-by shooting, you will die of drive-by shooting (of different kind).

1 upvote
SunnyFlorida
By SunnyFlorida (Apr 11, 2013)

Typical Canon User

7 upvotes
agentul
By agentul (Apr 11, 2013)

if only BMW made pickup trucks...

1 upvote
the Mtn Man
By the Mtn Man (Apr 11, 2013)

Am I the only one who thinks the pictures in the article look like boring snapshots? If the article presents itself as "Art or Intrusion?" then I, for one, would like to see compelling examples of both.

Comment edited 21 seconds after posting
2 upvotes
SunnyFlorida
By SunnyFlorida (Apr 11, 2013)

In L.A.? Just wait til he photographs a gangbanger, he'll look like Swiss cheese

2 upvotes
ryansholl
By ryansholl (Apr 11, 2013)

The only thing keeping this guy's windows intact is the "wtf just happened" factor.

7 upvotes
Antony John
By Antony John (Apr 11, 2013)

Also the strobe/flash helps the getaway.

0 upvotes
max metz
By max metz (Apr 11, 2013)

lol. In Australia, three nights tops an you'd be in hospital eating through a straw.

7 upvotes
tornwald
By tornwald (Apr 11, 2013)

This concept has been done long before by artists like Philip-Lorca diCorcia. And much better and more intelligently.

5 upvotes
Bookie
By Bookie (Apr 11, 2013)

Also, Alastair Thain
http://www.bjp-online.com/british-journal-of-photography/report/1940459/self-building-cameras

0 upvotes
Cy Cheze
By Cy Cheze (Apr 11, 2013)

Artists of note are invariably wild or daring. If they don't skirt rules, there will be nothing to excite viewers or buyers.

Some will disagree. "Look at all the wonderful paintings and photos for sale at Walmart and Target. What lovely images! So soothing." Works of the late Thomas Kinkade are their model. Good for filling reception area wall space.

Commercial photography is something altogether different: products, posed shots, everything strickly conventional. Everything is representational, composed to suit the pixel-peeper's demands.

Advertising is something of a hybrid. It has to seduce, excite, alert, or even slightly offend. OK if low-res or off-color.

2 upvotes
Tom Goodman
By Tom Goodman (Apr 11, 2013)

I frequently experiment with subjects and techniques; however, I don't subject the public to every one of them.

2 upvotes
atlien991
By atlien991 (Apr 11, 2013)

Ah, so THIS is how suburbanites do street photography when they move in to the big city!!!!

3 upvotes
Cy Cheze
By Cy Cheze (Apr 11, 2013)

More innocent than pictures of casualties of war, floods, storms, and quakes.

0 upvotes
nodrog
By nodrog (Apr 11, 2013)

What a lot of old women there are on this site.
LOL

3 upvotes
aaron_kelley
By aaron_kelley (Apr 11, 2013)

The photographer rude? Some of your comments are pretty rude. Street photography is done without permission daily and it's okay. But, as soon as someone gets strobes out, it's automatically wrong? No. I do drive by video all the time of normal every day people on college campuses and in the city without "permission". If you're in the public, expect yourself to be public; especially in today's generation with photo sharing websites.

0 upvotes
Josh152
By Josh152 (Apr 11, 2013)

NONE of that changes the fact that the DECENT thing to do is at the very least ASK for permission to publicly publish the photos.

1 upvote
itsastickup
By itsastickup (Apr 11, 2013)

Just because one is on a public street doesn't mean that the law should automatically give 3rd parties the right to intrude on your private life. A great number of people want to be able to carry out their lives, including day-to-day unavoidable activities like walking on the sidewalk, without a stranger splashing their faces, health issues and conversations in a magazine or website.

" If you're in the public, expect yourself to be public". It's also to treat the word 'public' as something simple. It's not simple at all. Tomes could be written on the subject of public and private. There is 'public services' (ie. government provided), private commerce offered to the public, really offered to other private persons (revelaing hte ambiguities/subtleties of the words); those who expressly live in the public view therefore giving an implicit license to publish, but not necessairly to record and publish their personal conversations, or their private pics of their private parts.

7 upvotes
itsastickup
By itsastickup (Apr 11, 2013)

Media is a distinct entity, distinct from day to day living. It should, like any human/on-animal activity, be subject to responsible (and limited) restraints in the service of the greater good and happiness of people leading their difficult lives.

1 upvote
creeker
By creeker (Apr 11, 2013)

Okay by whose low standards, yours? Being in the "public" doesn't give you the right to invade someones privacy. People like you can't make it in the real world of photography, you think art is a lousy picture of a person walking down a dirty street. Do you hide your cameras in bathrooms too? Stick your camera in my face and you'll be wearing it where the sun doesn't shine.

2 upvotes
KonstantinosK
By KonstantinosK (Apr 11, 2013)

Intrusion.

7 upvotes
Josh152
By Josh152 (Apr 11, 2013)

Next we will here about how he is being sued because he caused someone to turn an ankle as they stepped off a curb and got blasted by flash or fell down from being startled by the flash while walking down the street or while backing away from a creepy guy pulling up to them in a truck. Or because he caused a seizure or asthma attack or something.

Not to mention what he is doing is very rude even at it's most benign. He even acknowledges most people don't like it in the interview. Just because you can do something doesn't mean it's a good idea or the right thing to do. Sometimes you have to say "you know what I could blast total strangers in the face with my flash from my truck but I think I'll be a decent human being instead and respect their right to privacy and to not be harassed by a dumb ass photographer."

This guy is a grade A D-bag.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
10 upvotes
Johannes Zander
By Johannes Zander (Apr 11, 2013)

Street View on a tiny scale. Google has a job for him.

5 upvotes
balios
By balios (Apr 11, 2013)

He should do outdoor weddings.

0 upvotes
jm67
By jm67 (Apr 11, 2013)

....at night, for that 'deer in the headlights look'.

3 upvotes
Backstage
By Backstage (Apr 11, 2013)

If somebody takes a foto of mine in the street where I have at least a chance to meet him and communicate with him/her I am potentially able to decide about it.

When somebody takes pictures of me without any chance of personal reaction or simple human exchange I totally disagree. I feel like somebody is stealing someting. Fact is that the "hunter" uses me as a simple object.

For me it is part of my freedom and respect in human interactions to at least have a chance to say "no".

3 upvotes
Cy Cheze
By Cy Cheze (Apr 11, 2013)

To follow your rules would make it very difficult to get any gallery grade or Pulitzer material. Just maybe, however, were you to nod "yes," but scowl at a rule-abiding photographer, the result might resemble Dr. Byron McKeeby, the dentist immortalized in "American Gothic." Of course, the artist took some liberties with the clothing and background.

0 upvotes
CameraLabTester
By CameraLabTester (Apr 11, 2013)

Why is there always an escalator on the left of the photo?

Ooops!

It's the rear view mirror!

Dang! There goes the wide angle creepity crop...

.

3 upvotes
Peter Horn
By Peter Horn (Apr 11, 2013)

Now, at last, the American way of warfare has entered photography. I guess this drive-by people molester will get his ”share“ sooner or later. His only achievement so far is that he has a proof if he tells everybody ”I saw Jesus at Hollywood Blvd“!

2 upvotes
walliswizard
By walliswizard (Apr 11, 2013)

An observation: He's achieved what many of us will never do. Fame. Or Infamy perhaps. His photos suck. Some would say William Eggleston's suck. Some would say they are art. Whatever, most of us have heard of WE's photos and they are a topic of discussion.
Johnny T here has done something nobody else has done - something different, and that has got people talking. People may refer back to this for years to come, who knows.

Somebody paid $.25m for a pic of a child's bike, didn't they?

(true though, these pics still suck)

0 upvotes
Cy Cheze
By Cy Cheze (Apr 11, 2013)

Tell us what you like. Dog pics? Memphis Hound?

0 upvotes
walliswizard
By walliswizard (Apr 11, 2013)

Yeh, why not....

Elliott Erwitt does a mean dog pic or two.... and no trucks were involved.

0 upvotes
MrTaikitso
By MrTaikitso (Apr 11, 2013)

I'm now so sensitive to the concern of others about being photographed (probably to do with social media/YouTube/ease of which UK papers will print anything, no matter the ethical implications) that I'm going to cease street photography and focus on my family and video blogging only - unless I have the courage to ask the subject if I may photograph them. Purely for my Flickr account, not any dubious service that encourages voyeurism, schadenfreude and/or childish comments. There is a lot of suing going on in the UK right now over just about anything, even a police woman suing the victim after she hurt herself doing her job! Oh dear.

3 upvotes
rhodianblue
By rhodianblue (Apr 11, 2013)

It is obviously an unauthorized use of vehicle lights. I am wondering the cops haven't cited him yet. Some reference here: http://njtrafficfines.com/statute.php?statute_id=19

2 upvotes
RedDog Steve
By RedDog Steve (Apr 11, 2013)

Overkill, I'd say.
Twin generators ?
Does the trucks engine and electrical system not have enough capacity to power the lighting system ?

1 upvote
JordanAT
By JordanAT (Apr 11, 2013)

Of course it does. The hybrid version of the Silverado even has a pair of 120V outlets in the cab and in the bed. These are strobes, not studio lights, so their draw is almost certainly pretty tame. A simple run of 4 gauge and a heavy duty inverter would do the job.

Hell, in LA just the subwoofers on most car stereos pull more juice than his lights.

0 upvotes
balios
By balios (Apr 11, 2013)

The side mirror in the composition really gives these photos that certain 'je ne sais quoi'...

0 upvotes
marike6
By marike6 (Apr 11, 2013)

Every article about some would be street photographer seems to mention Henri Cartier Bresson, but these images are about as far as you can get technically and artistically from Cartier Bresson's images.

I've gotten a few lucky images from my car, but in general, it's always better to actually get out and take the time to make pleasing compositions rather than simply pointing and shooting in a "drive-by" situation.

I looked at his images on Wired, and very few of them are good or interesting as the lighting is harsh, and the side mirror in the frame is distracting. He left the mirror to show that they were taken from a car. My question is: so what?

5 upvotes
JEROME NOLAS
By JEROME NOLAS (Apr 11, 2013)

I think they are excellent and original!

0 upvotes
Bookie
By Bookie (Apr 11, 2013)

Alastair Thain
http://www.bjp-online.com/british-journal-of-photography/report/1940459/self-building-cameras

0 upvotes
toomanycanons
By toomanycanons (Apr 11, 2013)

A gimmick done badly by a loser.

11 upvotes
JEROME NOLAS
By JEROME NOLAS (Apr 11, 2013)

Nobody shot him yet?? Then he is not working in LA!

3 upvotes
Josh152
By Josh152 (Apr 11, 2013)

At least the isn't dumb enough to be leaning out his window with a black lens/camera that could easily be mistaken for a firearm in the heat of the moment, especially in such low light. If that were the case he likely would have been shot or at least drawn on by now.

Comment edited 34 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
epl17d50
By epl17d50 (Apr 11, 2013)

He does not know what he is doing. He is just terrorizing his subjects.

9 upvotes
friedduck
By friedduck (Apr 11, 2013)

Talent. He doesn't have it. Street photography requires nerve and he also lacks that as well. Hiding in a truck?

15 upvotes
Josh152
By Josh152 (Apr 11, 2013)

These photographs are TERRIBLE. I would never want to be photographed this badly and then have them publicly displayed. This clown is just doing it for the publicity he thinks the controversy he is trying the crate will give him because he is to scared to get out of his truck and actually interact with the people he is photographing so he can get decent shots.

7 upvotes
desidown
By desidown (Apr 11, 2013)

I like the pictures so I am guessing it is subjective ? ;)

0 upvotes
EssexAsh
By EssexAsh (Apr 11, 2013)

" and for every Cartier Bresson, watching from a distance"

have you ever actually seen Bresson's work? Do you even know who that is? Just how wrong could that statement be. Awesome reporting again DPR.

5 upvotes
Ken Johnes
By Ken Johnes (Apr 11, 2013)

mary or angelin or strokey whatever your name is , can you go to some porn site with your junk spam adv?.no one here wants to know how much your mom makes a week. dumbbell

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
CameraLabTester
By CameraLabTester (Apr 11, 2013)

His photos will not be hot with the foot fetish crowd...

tsk, tsk...

.

3 upvotes
Woodlink
By Woodlink (Apr 11, 2013)

does he also text while driving?

3 upvotes
Woodlink
By Woodlink (Apr 11, 2013)

so, when this guy causes someone to have an epileptic seizure from the strobes (or heart attack)...

there is a reason street photographers, for the most part, don't use flash.

this guy is using it for effect only, and boy, lets just see what the effect results in.

Comment edited 21 seconds after posting
3 upvotes
Plakanina
By Plakanina (Apr 11, 2013)

Is this a drive by shooting? Try it in East L.A. next time!
There is something seriously wrong with this dude. Obviously suffering from chronic dissatisfaction.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
2 upvotes
Total comments: 376
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