Michael Cirlos is a 32-year-old South Texas native. His collection of images, Humans of San Antonio (HOSA), portrays the essence of our city and the substance of humanity.
In order to take his social media project and give it new life in the form of a book, Cirlos has launched a Kickstarter campaign to cover publication costs. CultureMap caught up with him recently to learn more about HOSA and explore how he captures such captivating photographs.
CultureMap: What sparked your interest in this form of art?
Michael Cirlos: I was in Thailand and had several friends who were photographers. I was hanging out with people who were into the arts. When I came back to the United States, I picked up a camera. I have been taking pictures since 2008.
CM: What inspired you to begin the HOSA project?
MC: While working as a substance abuse counselor, I learned a lot about people by listening to their stories. They were sharing frustrations, but I could not share that information. I felt that there wasn't enough journalism downtown and that was a way to share what I had learned. A friend came across the Humans of New York site and suggested I could do this as a way to promote diversity and inner-city culture of San Antonio.
CM: What prompted the decision to move forward with the Kickstarter/book idea?
MC: I wanted to share the work that I created with a larger audience — hoping that it represents downtown. I have fallen in love with storytelling and want to promote my work as a photographer. It has been an idea for three years to put all my work together.
CM: You have a background in social services. Can you provide some generalizations of the issues within our city?
MC: My interviewing skills helped give me skills and confidence to talk to people. There are many controversial examples of San Antonio culture. A lot of people vent about what the city should do differently. Some people criticize the lack of public art in San Antonio. Others complain about the bus line. It's expensive to live downtown and there's the issue of gentrification. Others want to focus on the dating scene.
CM: What is your favorite post? Your readers' favorite post?
MC: I search for stories that capture cultural relativity. More than 20,000 people follow HOSA. One lady, a mother with three kids, told me her roommate stole $700 in cash and some belongings. The next day, people wanted to get back with her. She started getting gift cards.
I tried for a while to interview a Muslim woman but every time I would try, I was denied. Finally, one lady agreed. She explained her love for Islam; she had memorized the entire Quran. "Most Americans have a negative image of Islam," she said. "I want to change that."
CM: What was your most significant HOSA moment?
MC: A man near St. Mary's and Commerce [streets] appeared to be homeless. He had this amazing look — long, black hair and leathered skin. His face was scary but gentle. He had a look in his eyes that was so sincere — like he found peace in himself. He exuded solitude and comfort. He really touched me emotionally. "Life is what is beautiful," he said to me. There were 700 likes for that one image.
CM: What have you gained from your experience?
MC: San Antonio has a lot of opportunity for business. It's a great place to raise a family and most places are affordable. I hope San Antonio will continue to promote the arts. We need to make more of an attempt to keep local artists. We need to have less segregation and more development of culture. That way, San Antonio is not only a place to exist but a place to thrive.
CM: What's next? Do you plan to continue the HOSA project?
MC: I do, as long as I'm in San Antonio. It's my portfolio. I want to continue to show, to help me become a journalist. My exhibition at the K23 was my first gallery show. I've had exhibitions at the Lullwood Group, the City of San Antonio downtown, and the Southwest School of Art. On January 9, DreamWeek will feature my work at the AP Art Lab.
CM: Our city is experiencing rapid growth. Where do you envision San Antonio in 10 years?
MC: It depends on our leadership in city council and the mayor. There's a difficult balance between development and preserving inner-city culture. I'd like to see more opportunity for artists. For a million people, we have a small art community. I'd like to see a unique city; one that has more creative intellectuals. We need to promote diversity.
You can learn more about HOSA during DreamWeek, a 12-day summit featuring various keynotes, exhibitions, and events to celebrate out multicultural world. Cirlos and his work will be at AP Art Lab on Saturday, January 9.
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