Highpower Nicky and The Wizard

Street portraits prove adage that a book shouldn’t be judged by the cover

When three photographer buddies of mine and I walked up the Hays Street foot bridge just outside of downtown San Antonio, Texas, a couple dozen young folks were hanging out.

Texas grunge street portraits

Jesse “The Wizard” Casias poses on the Hays Street bridge in San Antonio, Texas.

Low-riding pants, tattoos and ear gauges were the norm, and rap music blared from an iPhone speaker tucked inside a backpack. The small crowd was scattered along the center of the bridge, with a couple balancing on bikes while the others laughed or just sat quietly.

A few beers were popped and wrapped in paper bags.

The tough-looking 20-somethings didn’t talk to us, and we didn’t talk to them. At least at first.

Eventually, David Morefield and I struck up a conversation with one of the guys, who was snapping a few pictures, and he opened right up to our questions.

Jesse Casias was immediately interested in what we were doing. He shared some photos he had taken with his phone, and was eager to share his love of art and his philosophy on life.

“They call me ‘The Wizard,'” Casias said, “because I make things happen.”

As we talked, I snapped a couple of photos just to see what Casias’ reaction would be. It didn’t seem to bother him.

But one of the other young men in the group also grabbed my attention because he had tattoos on his hands and face, and some of the largest gauges I’ve ever seen stretching his ear lobes.

He would make a perfect subject for some grungy street portraits.

“He’s got a Faberge egg in his ear,” Casias laughed after I mentioned that the guy’s ears just had to hurt.

Almost on cue, the young man walked over to Casias to say he was leaving — but when asked if he would let us take some photos, “Highpower” Nicky Leal’s face lighted up, and he and Casias stood close for a shot.

grunge street portraits

Nicky Leal and Jesse Casias pose for street portraits in San Antonio, Texas.

And then the impromptu photo session became magic when I asked the two men if they’d really pose into the camera. I snapped away as Leal and Casias struck different poses, flashing hand signs and generally hamming it up for the camera.

It helped that the lighting was perfect — it was less than an hour before sunset, and the light had a great quality to it as it hit the tough-looking men’s faces. And a light situated beneath a grill on the surface of the bridge hit the two as they leaned over in a perfect substitute for a flash.

We all laughed and chatted while some incredible images were captured, and the differences in our backgrounds seemed to melt away.

When it was over, we collected some contact information so the images could be sent to them, and then we received man hugs like we were all old buddies.

As David, Tim Stanley, Jeremy Mancuso and I walked back to my truck, I couldn’t help but think about the openness and friendly reception received from those young folks who so obviously lived in a different world than us.

The few minutes spent shooting their photos proved that stepping out of your comfort zone can lead to the most-interesting experiences — and that almost everyone still loves to have their picture taken.

About Andy Crawford

Andy Crawford has been a photographer and writer for more than 20 years, with thousands of images and articles published in magazines and newspapers around the country. He now focuses on Louisiana photography, landscapes, HDR photography, urban prints and other fine art photography. He also is a portrait photographer.