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Michael Cirlos' Peacock Alley mural shows the extraordinariness of ordinary people

by Ben OlivoApr 19, 2019
This is one of six pieces in the Humans of San Antonio mural, photographed by Michael Cirlos, in Peacock Alley. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Though Michael Cirlos closed his popular Humans of San Antonio street photography project in 2016, the collection of portraits of predominantly working class people lives on.

Of course, it's all archived on social media. But then in June 2018, the eponymous book came out and Cirlos signed copies of it at the Texas Book Festival and the most recent San Antonio Book Festival.

In early March, Cirlos and artist Daniela Rojas installed six portraits from the collection on the side of the World Trade Center building, 118 Broadway, in Peacock Alley using the wheat paste method—where paper is glued to a surface. The mural spans 100 feet across the building's second floor.

On Saturday, from 5 to 9 p.m., a grand opening reception will be held at Peacock Alley. The free event will include live music throughout, and food by Bad Mami's Food and Burnwood '68, among other activities. Visit the Facebook event page for more info.

The photos chosen for the mural, which include a portrait of a seasoned accordion player, and a peak inside a VIA bus in the waking hours of the morning, intentionally spotlight members of our society who have become marginalized, Cirlos said.

"The people who are represented in the photos are, in a way, part of the marginalized in the community," Cirlos said. "We are bringing the marginalized demographic above ground, and putting them up high, looking up at a marginalized community and saying, 'These people are important, too. These people matter, too.' "

Michael Cirlos founded the Humans of San Antonio project in 2012, and ended it in 2016. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Of the six photos featured—three portraits, three scenes—five were taken on Commerce Street. The other was taken next to City Hall.

"These are real people in downtown San Antonio," Cirlos said. "These are people who walk the streets every day. The guy with the accordion. The guys hanging out at the bus stop, or what have you. These are longtime residents of downtown San Antonio."

Cirlos, 35, whose day job is staff photographer and videographer for downtown advocacy nonprofit Centro San Antonio, drew inspiration for the mural from JR, the French artist who uses wheat paste. JR is perhaps best known for his recent piece of a giant infant peering over a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. Many times, JR installs his pieces illegally. For the Humans mural, Cirlos got permission from building owner Laurence Seiterle of Zurich International Properties.

Cirlos doesn't know how long the mural will last. It largely depends on the elements.

"This is a wheat paste. It's meant to disintegrate over time," he said. "All wheat paste installations vary in terms of longevity, but this one ... it could very well last a whole year."

Each photograph featured is four panels, about 8 feet long. Cirlos and Riojas, who is a current Joan-Wich Fellow at the University of Houston, worked at a local FedEx Office until 9 a.m. printing out the pieces on architecture paper, a kind of sturdier, but also lightweight, paper. The installation took an entire weekend in early March

"While we were installing, there were all kinds of people hanging out, cheering us on, people were stopping by to say 'hello'," Cirlos said. "A bunch of kids were skating down below while we were installing."

The Humans of San Antonio is on display in Peacock Alley. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Full disclosure: Zurich International Properties is a sponsor of the Heron. Click here for a complete list of sponsors.

Contact Ben Olivo: 210-421-3932 | ben@saheron.com | @rbolivo on Twitter

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