A popular social media project to document the diversity and culture of Texas’ third-largest city is now a photography book.
Humans of San Antonio features images of people from all walks of life—including street dancers, homeless men and women, and artists—and includes quotes that tell deeply personal stories. Michael Cirlos, the photographer behind the project as well as the book’s author, writes in the introduction that he always started the conversation with a simple question: “What is one memory you never want to forget?”
Cirlos has spent most of his life in San Antonio, excluding his college years spent in Thailand and the Netherlands. Traveling changed his perspective on his hometown’s culture, Cirlos said. After seeing photos from the highly successful Humans of New York project, he wanted to do the same for his city.
The book, published in June by Trinity University Press, is the culmination of more than a thousand conversations with strangers and five years of photographing the people of San Antonio. Although the “Humans of San Antonio” project has ended, Cirlos hopes it will inspire people to do what he did: get to know their neighbors.
What got you interested in photographing the people living in your hometown?
I think what helped me see San Antonio from a different lens was traveling. When you’re really young, at least my parents didn’t take me traveling, and when we did, we stayed in Texas. I personally wanted to experience new things, and when I did that for myself and I came back to San Antonio, I felt like a different person. I had a better understanding of the world, and so I started to appreciate more the history and culture that is here in San Antonio, which I discovered to be really unique compared to other cities in Texas.
What do you hope the book will accomplish?
I just hope the book helps someone like traveling abroad helped me. There’s a really rich history and culture in San Antonio, and you have to be open to it and you have to participate in it. It’s easy to get stuck in your bubble, and you don’t really venture off and you don’t discover the new mom-and-pop restaurant that opened up in Southtown or little things like that. I hope the book encourages people to challenge their lifestyle and seek things that may not be in their daily routine.
Which photograph affected you and your project the most?
One of the early photos. I was at this coffee shop and I saw this man who appeared to be homeless—I don’t know what his situation was—and he looked like he was having a hard time. We started chatting, and he let me take his photo there on the street. He was telling me how much he appreciated that I talked to him because he was having a bad day, and having the opportunity to tell someone about his hardship was going to bring the positive that he needed in his life. I was just really taken aback. I felt like telling people’s stories was really important after that.