Miguel Valencia’s Street Photography Takes on the Gritty Side of San Diego

All images and words by Miguel Valencia. Used with permission.

My name is Miguel Valencia and I am documentary/street photographer with an obsession for capturing the epidemics in gangs, drugs, prostitution, and the homeless within the margins of South and South East San Diego, where these lifestyles influence dread and consume many communities here. My vision is to bring awareness, inspire and tell the stories about people really living those lifestyles, and for many of them to be heard because not too many of these persons in my captures will be alive or incarcerated. I don’t use anything fancy partly because of costs. However, I shoot with a Nikon D5300 and upgraded to an 18-200mm lens, and a strapped backpack for my camera.

I explore different and dangerous parts of town. Sometimes, I have trespassed, and most of the time my captures are edgy because of whom I was introduced to or people I have met. However, it is all exciting and gives for unique perspective of reality at its finest.

I believe that readers want to see this kind of photography because it is something they don’t see or hear about. They also get a glimpse into something up close and personal. They’d want to know these stories I have yet to write about, especially in San Diego.

Why did you get into photography?

I found what I feel strong about and it feeds me the adventure I lack in my career but also for the people when I first shot as a part of an elective for college.

What photographers are your biggest influences?

Daido Moriyama and Saul Leiter. The way they convey color and black & white through natural moments are beautiful.

How long have you been shooting?

Two years.

Why is photography and shooting so important to you?

Because these are moments and stories the world will never see, but they inspire and make an impact.

Do you feel that you are more a creator or documenter? Why?

I am both creating and reshooting to project a certain aesthetic are important for me but also documenting a kind of reality just as important if not more difficult but very rewarding.

What’s typically going through your mind when you create images? Tell us about your processes both mentally and mechanically.

What goes through my mind is why am I doing this, but damn this is fascinating and something no one will do. I constantly shift angles and positions. If shooting someone I walk them onto a pose or catch a natural expression. Mechanically, my settings depend on weather, lighting, and if something is not coming out the way I want it to.

Want to walk us through your processing techniques?

For my process techniques, being with weather most of the time, I shoot on gloomy days for crisp b&w but also for mood. My night and sunsets are similar for low color tone in grittiness. I process my work into Adobe Light Room.

Tell us about the project that you’re pitching, or your portfolio.

My project is called The Other side of San Diego. It tells about the side where surfers are not present, and where drugs and gangs are a way of life, if not better than college.

What made you want to get into your genre?

What made me get into this is how I grew up and the people I once knew. But it’s also with looking at time stop in motion and viewing who these people or landscapes are that inspire me for further research or ideas on how I will tell these stories.

Tell us a bit about the gear that you use and how you feel it helps you achieve your creative vision.

I wear loose or fit athletic clothing for easy movement in walking, climbing, and a backpack for camera carrying. I am able to achieve what I need to do because everything is fast, balanced and steady.

What motivates you to shoot?

The people I meet, the stories they tell me, and the things outside I see are timeless, ruthless and simply life in motion.

Check out Miguel Valencia’s Artwista portfolio and Instagram to see the rest of his work and stay updated on his photography projects.