Auld Lang Syne – Part 3

I really, really became a photographer in Mexico City, after having survived some pretty exciting and heady times in my first couple of years there. Shortly after my arrival the whole city was torn up to build the Metro, which was an enormous undertaking that would make the city ready for the hordes of sports fans who would come for the ’68 Olympics. This desmadre (a slang word for chaos – use it sparingly, it’s not nice) coincided with the Student Movement of 1968, which cast an atmosphere of tension and violence for nearly an entire year before the beginning of those Olympics. Random government violence and spontaneous street “meetings” dominated everyone’s lives during those days, all finally culminating in the bloody Massacre of Tlatelolco, where at least 400 people were gunned down by the government. And then, of course, there were the Olympics themselves. I was not yet a photographer however, so these times came and went without my recording my view of them. If you’ve ever been in a third world country during times of unrest you’ll know the tension and fear that infiltrates nearly every aspect of life, and it was probably better not to add a gringo with a camera to the mix, especially when that gringo was me!

So after the turmoil settled, I visited the States and came back to Mexico with a camera (Pentax Spotmatic) and began to take pictures (learn to take pictures, more accurately). In those days I was a pretty shy guy but I forced myself out of that shyness by taking pictures of complete strangers whenever I thought they wouldn’t bark at me. A good portion of the work from my Mexico years was portraits, some of which you’re about to see below. It’s hard to imagine that the people in these photos are either passed on or some fifty years older. Somehow, at least in my mind, they have all frozen in time and this is how I’ll always know them.

A young commuter on a Mexico City bus

My early days included a lot of street photography. I never went out without my camera and before long I became sort of a roving fixture all over central Mexico City. I often met people at parties whom I never saw before who told me that they recognized me. I did a lot of walking!

A flirt on Paseo de la Reforma

This beautiful little girl made my day! I reckon she’d be about 60 now and like so many others I’ve shot I wish I could find her and give her her photo.

A young couple at the campground of Avandaro, Mexico’s first rock festival (1971)

Another flirt. Or maybe it was me. No one who was young or who had kids in those days will forget Avandaro, Mexico’s first rock festival. Set in an idyllic lakeshore by the same name, a vast field was occupied by Mexican hippies for a weekend of band after band playing their music. To everyone who was there or had heard about it, it was either the arrival of the new age or the work of the devil; there was very little opinion in between. What I remember most was trying to keep my camera dry in the almost constant rain fall. What a sloppy, muddy mess it was! But the kids gave it all they had and I got enough good pix to publish my first book.

Young man at Avandaro, Mexico’s first rock festival (1971), Valle de Bravo, Mexico, Mexico
Young people at the information kiosk of a book fair on Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City

I doubt very much that any of these kids attended the festival at Avandaro; manning a kiosk for the annual book fair on Reforma was much more their “onda” (trip). I think that guy on the left didn’t even know I took his picture – his mind is elsewhere.

Son of a Mexican Stage Producer, back stage at the Teatro de Chapultepec (ca 1970), Mexico City

I had a bit of a career as a stage photographer in those days so spent quite a few nights with my actor friends photographing their work and then partying after the play. It was a fun circle to be running with and I’m glad I could do it.

Kids at Magdalena de Kino, Sonora, Mexico

The story of the above photo requires a bit of a telling.

I used to have to leave the country every six months to get my tourist visa renewed and so I would take advantage of it to visit family and friends for a while. On one of these times I stayed with a friend in Santa Rosa, California, who was an avid bike rider, and at his rather insistent nudging I bought a brand new bike, a beautiful French Mercier racer. What a machine! The thing was so light I could lift it with my pinkie. Somehow, while in love with my new toy, an idea took hold of me to do something that in reality was really absurdly extreme or extremely absurd: I decided to ride my bike all the way back to Mexico City, some 2500 km! With this newly found purpose in life I began riding every day up and down and around the hills surrounding Santa Rosa until I became quite strong and able. When I felt I was ready, my bike and I got on a bus to my brother’s place in Phoenix, my jumping off point. As the fateful day grew closer, I became more and more trepidatious, wondering if I really knew what I was doing. (Which, of course, I couldn’t.) But I had committed myself out loud and in the presence of others so there was no turning back.

My brother offered me a ride to the border at Nogales which I readily accepted. I remember well crossing the border with my bike laden with saddle bags, a sleeping bag, a camera bag, and a back pack. I especially remember the border officials giving me a look of high incredulity – “what does this idiot Gringo think he’s doing?” was written all over their faces. My brother and his wife waved me off, probably not expecting to ever see me again, and I began to pump out my first miles on Mexican soil. My first goal was Magdalena de Kino, about 100 km south. It was just a little town, very typical of any Mexican rural village, and I made it there before sunset. I stopped at a cafe to have dinner and then find a place to stay. Outside the eatery these kids gathered to gawk at me and I took my first photos on the trip. (The original is on Kodachrome but I think I prefer it in B&W.) After my first day touring the PanAmerican Highway I was still alive!

Young laborer, Hermosillo, Sonora

This kid had been unloading sacks of flour or something similar and my attention gave him a chance to take a break. I was staying in Hermosillo for a few days rest on my bike trip. I knew the city quite well from four or five previous visits back and forth to the border and felt comfortable there. The gringo with the camera proved to be something few people could let go by without a comment or question and it always worked for me. It helped that by this time my Spanish was getting to be quite passable too.

A Zapoteca girl in the town of Macuilxochitl, Oaxaca, Mexico

I’ve begun to realize that there is going to have to be yet another installment of this series of portraits; some of my best are still yet to come, mostly from Mexico. We’ll call it quits for now and in a couple of weeks I’ll have the next one ready. Maybe sooner.

Thanks for hanging in there with me!


This entry was published on April 5, 2022 at 4:34 pm. It’s filed under Mexico, People, street photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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