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Photos That Embrace Life on the Fringe

John Francis Peters documents travelers seeking a life beyond the systems and institutions that have failed them.

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Aug 23 2018, 3:23pm

All photographs by John Francis Peters

Photographer John Francis Peters grew up in Upstate New York's Hudson River Valley. But because his mother is from Los Angeles and his father moved to San Diego, he always saw California as a place he could escape to, both literally and metaphorically.

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“What my mom and I experienced [in Upstate New York] was a lot of hardship,” Peters explains. “California was always a part of me because of my parents. It was always a place that I could envision myself living in one day. I spent my summers there. It just had a really good energy. And so much diversity in one block. That was something I didn’t have Upstate.”

It was that experience that inspired Peters’s project California Winter, in which he photographed travelers seeking to discover themselves, to push against capitalist culture, and to run away from abusive homes. Some of his subjects include young veterans, hippies, and a guy who has been walking the country ever since his divorce. The project, according to Peters, relates back to his family’s nomadic, free-flowing lifestyle and his life in two different worlds.

Karina and Tex in the Morning, From the series California Winter, San Diego, CA 2012-2017

One might see Peters’s California Winter series as a project about homelessness, but he cautions against that.

“We live in a world where everything is so tidy and homogenized. You can go anywhere in the world and see the same stores, the same trends, and the same habits. I’m interested in the people who push back on that, who find alternative ways to live their lives, who feel the system we have accepted isn’t working for them,” Peters says. “My subjects are not confined to being ‘homeless people.’ Upon first glance, I think that is the biggest misconception of my work.”

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Peters’s art, including his California Winter project, is documentary photography. But it is not shot in a traditional "photojournalistic style." Although he captures found moments and engages with the environment around him, his work is not meant to simply inform. Instead, it serves as a bridge to different dimensions that people live in and pass through.

“What’s important is that we’re always pushing the dialogue of how to interpret different parts of not only ourselves, but our world,” he says. “A lot of people tend to repress and disregard the abstract relationship we have with life, but an artist’s job is to investigate that.”

A Woman Resting Before the Trump Rally, Phoenix, AZ 2017
Shopping Cart Filled with Rocks, San Diego, CA 2017
March for Our Lives, San Diego, CA 2018
A Young Man's Gun, From the series Desert Ranges, AZ 2017
Handmade Dummy, From the series Desert Ranges, AZ 2017
Protestors engage TSA agents during the Muslim Ban Protests. The airport was holding travelers who had just arrived from Iran. San Diego International Airport, CA 2017
The late earthquake activist Jackie Dill observes an oil well which borders land owned by St. Francis of the Woods Spiritual Renewal Center, Coyle, OK 2015
Trophies stored in a spare room while Crescent High School's gymnasium gets repaired. An earthquake on July 28, 2015 destabilized the gymnasium’s walls forcing the school to repair the entire structure. In 2015 the state of Oklahoma experienced over 900 earthquakes which many attribute to the oil and gas industries use of fracking. Crescent, OK 2015
Prisoners embrace as part of an exercise during a Defy Ventures workshop. Defy is a nonprofit comprised of volunteers from tech companies and venture capital firms that engage in workshops with inmates at 11 prisons in California, New York, New Jersey, and Nebraska. California City Correctional Center, CA 2016
From the series Color Dunes, CA 2016
The 4th of July, Bend, OR 2017
Armando Rivera Matos uses a tub of water to cool down outside of his home. His neighborhood had been without water and electricity for more than two months in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Loiza, PR 2017
Toni with Her Bird Abby Hall, From the series California Winter, San Diego, CA 2012-2017
A horse grazes in a recreational park damaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Loiza, PR 2017

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