Capturing The Images (1990-2001)

Thanks to the support of generous donors, the Essence of Mexico Project has, at the end of the year 2001, successfully met its goal of documenting the important festivals of over sixty of Mexico’s indigenous cultures. More than forty thousand images, each alive with beautifully captured anthropological information, have been produced.

Some festivals such as the six rain-propitiating fiestas de la Santa Cruz celebrated in Nahua Guerrerense villages of Acatlan and Zitlala, Guerrero, in early May, were visited and photographed over a four year period in order to capture and represent them all. Other interesting cultures such as the Huastec, Huave, Chontal de Oaxaca, Chontal de Tabasco, Zoque Maya, Huichol, Cora, Seri, Mayo, Tarahumara, Tepehua, Nahua de la sierra norte de Puebla, Totonaco, Cruzob Maya, Tzotzil and Tzeltal have been revisited, documenting change over the years.

The opportunities to photograph these festivals ranged from hours to days and resulted in a number of images directly proportional to the time that I was allowed to photograph. I always tried to get several images of what interested me, so as to have a good selection from which to pick. After a selection was made, I tried to make it a practice to return any "extras" and snapshot type images of people to the communities photographed, a gift that has been highly appreciated by the recipients. I usually shot some 15-30 rolls of 36 exposure film per festival, depending on its photogenity and the degree of cooperation of the celebrants.

Challenges In Capturing The Images

The Mexican Indians are not easy to photograph due to the basic mistrust fomented by existing sharp socioeconomic contrasts. In addition, five centuries of cruel exploitation since Spanish conquest compounded by constant aggressive pressure on them to join the modern world, has long threatened their cultures, religion, family structure, economic systems, even their cherished relationship with the earth. There are additional complications since light-skinned "gueros" such as myself, are identified and thereby associated with the class that created and heavily supported the corrupt system that has exploited them for the last 71 years. However, if one is able to gain acceptance into the community, as I have been more than 200 times to date, the people are warm, hospitable, even generous despite in many cases, pitiable poverty. Once they become aware of the extent of the project’s mission, which in a sense is a form of their immortality, the people usually become enthusiastic collaborators.

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