Connecting the City One Photo at a Time

Humans of sa2 (jennifer alejos)

Photo Credit: Jennifer Alejos

San Antonio is known for being culturally-diverse; its residents come from different backgrounds, speak different languages and hold different beliefs. It is this concept that Michael Cirlos keeps in mind when photographing and showcasing San Antonio citizens for the online project, Humans of San Antonio (HOSA).

Beginning with the movement Humans of New York (HONY), a project to share the stories of New Yorkers, HOSA is a part of the Global Humans Project, a network of major cities around the world dedicated to capturing a glimpse into the lives of the everyday citizen. From Amsterdam to India to Rio de Janeiro, San Antonio joins the ranks of cities photographed and shown through social media to the rest of the world.

Cirlos, an alum of UTSA, had little experience with photography when he set out. “I just started teaching myself as I went along,” says Cirlos. “I practiced for a couple of months, went to downtown San Antonio and started taking pictures of strangers.” Cirlos was attracted to the downtown area specifically, because of the fact that so many varying individuals live together in such close proximity of each other. “It is an opportunity to get to know the culture. It is an opportunity to see the kind of people in the community.”

In starting the project Cirlos hoped that the city could benefit from such a positive movement. “The project is really about meeting people. It’s about challenging yourself and approaching strangers, asking for a photo, maybe asking a question too and see if you can get a little bit of information about them,” says Cirlos. “The idea is to promote diversity, and to showcase the individuality of people in San Antonio.”

Personally, Cirlos is an introverted and shy individual, but has found that while his approach failed in the beginning, he has improved his technique and is getting more approval for shots.” In order to get those expressions, you have to be able to communicate well with a person and establish a positive relationship, “says Cirlos.

Cirlos’ technique is simple. First, he spots someone that “catches his eye” and he asks them if can take their photo for HOSA. If they say yes, he takes it and if they are unaware of the project, he then explains it to them. This opens the flow of conversation between Cirlos and the subject of the photo. Cirlos keeps up this dialogue by asking personal and thought-provoking questions. After really making a connection with the person, Cirlos then asks to take another photo, one that almost always ends of being better than the previous shot because of established connection. “That’s what’s really special about the ‘Humans Of’ project because sometimes you do get really good stories and the only way you can get those stories is or that photograph is if you take the time to learn about someone,” says Cirlos. “I think people appreciate that and are willing to share more, like genuine, honest information about themselves.”

From how he started conversations with people to what they left him thinking about, there is not a photo that Cirlos cannot recall the story behind it. “A lot of these people I wouldn’t have approached if it wasn’t for the camera.”

Now almost a year after he first started and with a following of over 3,300 on Facebook, Cirlos has learned how to not only “shoot in the moment” but the San Antonio native has leaned new things about the city he did not even know. “I’ve learned that San Antonio is actually a vibrant city. Even though it may not have the most hip things to do, there’s still activity going on in the downtown area and I think that it’s live enough to be photographed and learned about. And to do that is through people.”

For more information on Humans of San Antonio follow the project on Facebook at