The Warmth of Mexico - Part VII - Ana Victoria
Saturday, March 10, 2018
In 1975 my wife Rosemary, our two Mexican-born daughters
Alexandra and Hilary and I moved to Vancouver from Mexico City. We drove in our
The first difference I noticed as we drove on Kingsway was
that cars had muted colours and the city was muted, two. The mountains were
blue green and the sky was cyan blue. Overall in comparison to the Mexico we
had left Vancouver felt icy cold.
In 1977 I still felt the pull of Mexico so I traded with
Mexicana de Aviación, tickets anywhere in Mexico in exchange for some slides.
Some of the photographs that I took in Yucatán of Chichen Itzá, Tulum and Uxmal
became my first published photographs in a long defunct Vancouver travel
I have looked at these Kodachromes and what is most
interesting is that the ruins are free of crowds and I even have pictures of
the nighttime Light & Sound show at UxmaI. I had brought my medium format Mamiya RB-67
with the only lens I had for it at the time, a wide angle (for the format)
65mm. Because all archaeological zones are regulated by the INAH (Instituto
Nacional de Antropología e Historia) the adamantly prohibit the use of tripods.
I remember using the plastic chairs to rest my Mamiya to take time exposures!
went to Oaxaca
where there was a week-long festival. I went to city hall to get my accreditation
for taking pictures. The noisy hall held many photographers and writers lining
up for the same accreditation.
Suddenly there was silence in the room. It seemed to be an
apparition. A striking woman dressed in native clothing and wearing lots of
silver jewelry, walked into the room, past the long line and got her permit
immediately. I inquired who she was and I was told she was the writer for the
Siempre is a unique
magazine that publishes articles from the political left and the political
right. It has some intelligent editorial cartoons and most Mexicans (I can only
speak for men here) read Siempre at the barber shop. I left with my own accreditation with the image of that unearthly beautiful woman in my head.
That afternoon while I was shooting some native dancers,
the Siempre correspondent and an older woman kept getting in my way until I
told them off. The older woman said I was rude but both moved on.
Later on when I was strolling in the zócalo I spotted the
two women having lunch in an outdoor restaurant. I cannot understand exactly
what happened but suddenly I was facing them and I heard myself telling the
correspondent that I wanted to photograph her. She introduced herself as Ana
Victoria and told me that the other woman was her mother. She asked me to pass
by her hotel after siesta.
She appeared in a beautiful Oaxaca dress and it didn't take me
long to realize she was wearing no underclothing. I attempted to take her
pictures but was having a difficult time. Her gaze was unnerving.
She told me that she was in Oaxaca to educate native women
on natural and herbal contraceptives. She said she was flying in a small plane
the next day for a rest at Puerto Escondido and asked me if I wanted to come
I explained that I had a tight schedule and that I had to be
in Mérida that day. I declined. It was at this point that Ana Victoria told me
something that I have never been able to forget or shake off.
"Most men are
robots trying to pass as humans. Your tragedy is even worse. You are a human
doing his best to be a robot. You are an extension of that device that you call
The Warmth of Mexico - Part VI - Raúl Defragments His Life
Friday, March 09, 2018
|Raúl Guerrero Montemayor|
Mexico DF, 1967
I have been writing a series of blogs with the title The Warmth of Mexico. I felt this rush of nostalgia for a country where I lived for many years when in our (with my Rosemary) recent trip to Mérida I found the lovely and inspiring book Nahui Olin by Adriana Malvido.The five previous segments are all about women. It was time to write about a man, a friend, a mentor Raúl Guerrero Montemayor. My portrait of him here could never mask his warmth and positive attitude towards life.
I met him in the early 60s and after my two year stint as a conscript in the Argentine Navy I returned to Mexico confused as to how I would procede with my life. It was Raúl who invited me to stay with him and taught me the Berlitz method for teaching English. He educated me into the European arts, introduced me to his Hungarian baroness friend and was a witness at Rosemary and my wedding in Coyoacán, Mexico. He is also the godfather to our younger daughter Hilary.
With Raúl we conversed in fashionable cafés in the Zona Rosa. We went to art shows and discussed the intricacies of language and how they affect how we read books.
But this was his best quality. When I needed advice I went to him. With his fine baritone he would say, "Si esto es lo que quieres, cómpralo," or "If this is what you want, buy it." He always gave me the advice I wanted and expected to get. Without Raul alive in Mexico City I really do not know anybody there. My family is gone. But perhaps I might return and find a remaining warmth from my memory that would surely introduce me to new friends with that warmth that only Mexico can give.
Thursday, December 27, 2012
A Friend Defragments His Life
Not too long ago I was describing to a friend my method before I
photograph someone I have never met. This often happened in my Vancouver
Robson Street Studio which was at the corner with Granville. The
building has been torn down. I told my friend that I would scan my
subject and note positive features and negative features. After a few
short minutes I knew (very important) what I could not do. What was left
was what I could do. I likened this machine-like method to that of a
computer. It was then that my friend said a most startling thing, “No, not like a computer, but a computer scans like a human being. You must thus say it is very human.”
This process also brings to mind the very early Star Treks
(Odisea del Espacio
in my Mexico City of the late 60s) with their onboard computer that
only Mr. Spock seemed to know how to use. The computer had an almost
(but not quite) sexless/synthetic voice that would utter stuff like, “Computing,” “Cannot compute, not enough information.
” When it was the latter it was exactly as it was a few years later at the banks when my teller would say, “I cannot help you Mr. Waterhouse-Hayward, our computers are down.”
There was a finality that went along with the preciseness of the zeros and the ones and with no space for anything in-between.
As I sat with my friend in Mexico City last week, a friend who has an
incurable prostate cancer we talked about our mutual pasts, our mutual
friends and asked each other questions which began, “Whatever happened to…?
My friend was an elegant man who spoke many languages and had traveled
the best and most beautiful cities of Europe and the Orient. As he lay
in bed I saw his many pairs of shoes and loafers and knew that they as
well as his beautiful suits and sweaters were toast.
By the wall there was a watercolour that resembled Tulum in Mexico. But
it was not so. It had been given to him by the Hungarian countess and it
was a picture of Ragusa, now known as Dubrovnik. I told my friend I had
been in Dubrovnik and I had visited the nearby island of Lokrum where
Maximilian, the Emperor of Mexico installed by the French in the 1860s
had had a summer home. I told him I had seen an ashtray with the ashes
of his last smoked cigar before he went to Mexico and his eventual fate
in front of a firing squat at the Cerro de Las Campanas in the now State
My friend helped me buy a coffin for my dead mother and somehow was
present when we buried my grandmother Lolita near Cuernavaca in the
State of Morelos.
My friend insisted on telling me the story. It seems that two “pelados
(ordinary men) were tripping over the ground in an effort to take my
grandmother’s coffin to its resting place. My friend indicated we should
help and the four of us finished the job with efficiency. My friend
said, “I could not but think that your grandmother who was a haughty
woman would have approved of the fact that the two lowly men were being
helped by two of a better class.”
We spoke of going to see French films at the Cine Chapultepec on Paseo
de la Reforma in Mexico City. We refused to see the close to one hour of
government propaganda news reels (featuring presidents of Mexico
cutting ribbons to the latest Social Security hospital). This meant that
there were few seats left and we would sit in separate areas of the
theatre. When the inevitable bidet jokes happened we could hear each
other laugh. We were the only ones who knew about bidets.
My friend and I spoke of many other things. He was exhausted and he
would fall asleep. I would walk back to my hotel to freshen up and
return for another bout of conversation.
Flying back, with the memory of his tears as I said goodbye to him I
suddenly came to me that a man unlucky enough to suffer from the
indignity and pain of prostate cancer has one positive advantage going.
This is an ability to tie loose ends, order one's life, the past as best
as one can, and to make sure that the future is an easy one for those
who are left to deal with the eventual paperwork needed to handle a dead
man. For such a lucky man, death is no longer a surprise but something
that is faced slowly, little by little until resignation settles in (I
am guessing here).
By being with him I was helping him defragment his life. Files were
being pushed back and forth. Loose ones were placed with others.
After defragmenting one’s life the body may be exhausted but the mind
will be lightened, loosened up and ready for what may follow.
We defragment our computers. This is an extremely human activity which a computer can only, at best, mimic.
The Warmth of Mexico - Part V - Ivanova
Thursday, March 08, 2018
a Mexican woman in Vancouver who was studying criminology because she wanted to
be a policeman. I photographed her in the home of Argentine painters Juan
Manuel Sánchez and Nora Patrich.
Ivanova had a voluptuous body, one that her
Mexican counterpart, Manuel Álvarez Bravo would have savoured and appreciated.
I am not sure if in his later years Bravo used the 4x5 camera he inherited from
the Italian-born Tina Modotti when she was expelled from Mexico for being a communist.
Modotti had been given the camera by Edward Weston when he left Mexico for
There is a nice symmetry there for which my ancillary photographs
of Ivanova in the nude, alas cannot be shown here.
the look of Mexico in her face. There was something about her mouth and those
lips that conjured hot earth for me. Not the humid earth of my mother’s port
city of Veracruz but the dry desert heat of Nueva Rosita, Coahuila where I
lived when I was 16.
asked Ivanova to cover her breasts with her hands, a terrible cliché! - there
were those long fingers of her hand that made me think of Coatlicue:
Coatlicue is multifaceted. As Coatlicue she is
the Aztec earth goddess, creator and destroyer of earth, mother of gods and
mortals, the one who gave birth to the moon and stars.
|With Juan Manuel Sánchez|
The Warmth of Mexico - Part IV - Indiana the Face of Mexico
Wednesday, March 07, 2018
One day I asked him something I had my doubts about. He
confirmed it saying something like this:
“At one time you could examine a live or dead person’s mouth and know by the dental work
their country of origin. Now this has become more difficult.”
is definitely becoming like the bread, the only bread they used to sell at
Safway when we arrived in Vancouver from Mexico in 1975. It was mostly white,
bland. It tasted like cardboard. That is no longer the case at our
nearby Kitsilano Safeway. The variety and quality of their bread is superb.
other hand, at the end of that lovely shopping street that is Calle Florida, corner with
the equally interesting and historically famous Calle Corrientes there is a
beautiful baroque building that houses a Burger King. Once inside you could be
anywhere in the US, Canada and who knows perhaps even Iceland.
like this is happening (but very slowly) with the look of nationalities.
thirty years ago if I saw a young man (and not so young) at an airport wearing
grey flannel pants, a blue blazer with metal buttons and penny loafer sans
socks I would have identified them (100%) as Argentine.
That is now
become a bit more difficult for me. I have to listen to a few words of their
Spanish or note their accent when the speak English.
Vancouver in 1975 I was in a state of confusion when I spotted what looked like
Mexicans on the city streets. I would begin conversations in Spanish and only
when I noted the blank looks did I find out that they were Native Canadians.
long I had banked on the incorrect and improper classification of “red Indians”
and the “yellow” Japanese. But strange for me to insist here that in those days of
my youth people from India (in spite of their colour) where listed as
Caucasian. And I then knew, because my mother was born in Manila that
Filipinos, Indonesians and Malaysians were not Chinese but of the Malay race.
Now with my
knowledge settled I find that the recent influx of people from Iran makes me
think some of them are Mexican. And of course, they are not!
recent trip to Mérida, Yucatán I found it a supreme pleasure when we arrived at
the Mexico City airport to be surrounded and see Mexicans, that I knew to be
Mexican. And even better it was to watch the inhabitants of Mérida and note
that their profiles were Mayan. They looked like ancient Mayans in spite of the
fact that some of them might have been wearing Levis.
I am still
very good (in spite of Iranians, etc) at spotting the nationalities of Latin
I first met
Indiana Luna years ago when I took Argentine Tango lessons from Carlos Loyola.
Luna is almost 6ft tall but her face can only be of Mexican heritage. “Tiene ese no sé qué,” or that quality
that you cannot quite pin down.
Luna has an
alto voice and legs from here to there. She is not fragile. She was booted from
an American boarding school of beating up a fellow classmate.
I liked to
dance with Luna because she wore long, tight and black dresses with slits on
the side. When I danced with her nobody noticed my efficient dancing (and no
more than that) because all eyes would be on her.
|A tango voleo|
for me a few times. Now looking at those pictures after my trip to Mérida
reinforces my idea that Mexico has a face and her face is Mexico.
The Warmth of Mexico - Part III - De Ojos Claros y Divinos
Tuesday, March 06, 2018
Possibly my eventual writing about the wonderful book, Nahui
by Adriana Malvido that I bought in our recent trip to Mérida will become
a reality as I meander on the theme which I began here
on the warmth
of a Mexico I experienced after many years of living there.
But today there will be a hint on who Nahui Olin is and how
the book about her has released in me a torrent of nostalgia.
When my mother, grandmother and I arrived in Mexico City from Buenos Aires,
Mexico was experiencing a height of cultural expansion because of its films,
its writers and its music.
|Nahui Olin by Dr. Atl|
My grandmother was a low diplomat working at the Philippine
Embassy. She had a budget to entertain, particularly those of the artistic
community. It seems she was the unofficial cultural attaché. This meant that
she rented a big mansion in Lomas de Chapultepec, a lovely, upscale
neighbourhood. She gave parties. We had to dress up in Filipino clothing. This
13-year-old had to wear a pineapple fibre barong-tagalog so similar to the
guayaberas worn in Yucatán and other tropical cities of the area.
When the parties were not in our house I was dragged to a
place (I believe it was in Coyoacán called el Rancho del Charro). Both there
and at home on Sierra Madre I met (but did not consider these people important)
Diego Rivera, Dr. Atl, Nicté-Ha (who called herself a Mayan princess and Alma
Reed. Of all of them I only remember Reed who was a famous American journalist,
a New York Times correspondent sent to Mérida who fell in love with Yucatan
Governor Felipe Carrillo Puerto. He was executed in 1924 when Reed was in San
Francisco getting ready to marry him. Luis Rosado Vega wrote the lyrics and
Ricardo Palmerín to Peregrina one of the loveliest and saddest of all Mexican
songs which was dedicated to Reed. Below, the first line reads: Peregrina of
divine and bright eyes.
Peregrina de ojos claros y divinos
y mejillas encendidas de arrebol,
mujercita de los labios purpurinos
y radiante cabellera como el sol....
Rosado Vega, 1922.
I never met Frida Kahlo because she had died. And by 1955 Nahui Olin was out of the picture and
away from Dr. Atl’s interest. By then she was walking in the city square, La
Alameda saving stray cats. But she did have almost blonde hair and the most
beautiful green eyes.
Sometime around 1979 I traveled to Mexico (Oaxaca and
Yucatán) for the then airline Mexicana de Aviación. They paid for my hotels and
flights in exchange for my Kodachromes.
But in 1975 when Rosemary had suggested we move with our
two daughters to Vancouver we had put our house for sale. We quit our jobs.
This was premature as the house did not sell for long time. To make ends meet
(armed with a Pentacon-F and a Pentax S-3, two 50mm lenses and an 85) I began
to photograph wealthy Mexican families with Kodak Tri-X. Believe it or not my
fame at this portrait work grew and I was doing just fine. My neighbours kept telling
me to change my mind. We didn’t.
In that trip to Mexico in 1979 I contacted some of the
families. One in particular insisted I take portraits of them but especially
their beautiful blonde, green-eyed daughter. She was icy. For these pictures I
used the only lens I had for my Mamiya RB-67. It was a 65mm wide angle. I could
not get too close to the icy blonde (I have long forgotten her name). The fuzzy
edges of one of them is due to my spreading on a clear filter (but not in the
As I attempt to find the appropriate subjects to
photograph in the spirit of Nahui Olin I will have the problem of finding a
face, blonde hair and green eyes like the icy blonde’s. Was she my Nahui Olin?
The Warmth of Mexico - Part II - Ivette Hernández
Monday, March 05, 2018
In my continuing series
about the warmth of Mexico on my way
to write of the startling book, Nahui Olin
by Adriana Malvido that I found in Sanborns in Merida, recently, this segment, Part II, is about Ivette Hernández. She was a student of mine at Focal Point, a photography school that closed a few years ago. The Kosher thing to do was to wait for the course to finish and then ask
her when I no longer was her teacher. That she consented to my request is
something I have marvelled now for some years.
She had a face.
She had a face of Mexican volcanoes (even
though she was from León, Guanjuato were they are in short supply).
She had the
face of hot, sun baked Mexican earth even though her skin was smooth and
She had the body of a woman who ate well but exercised (she
was a construction worker in Vancouver).
She had the face a mestiza, that exotic melding of the
Mexican aboriginal and the Spanish. A melding that is now condemned by those
who are tearing down the statues of Columbus. Few in our PC Northern America
(with Mexico to the south of it) would understand that in Latin America they
celebrate the 12th of October as “El Día de la Raza” which would
translate with the implied meaning that on that day a new race was born.
She had the face of a woman, a Mexican woman who had the
questionable heritage of patience. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th
century that Mexicans had enough and launched their revolution.
She had the face of a Mexican woman who thinks about death
often and is not repelled by it nor fears it.
She had a face of fatalism, of accepting with dignity her
fate but willing to change it.
She had the face, an elegant face of a proud people who only
during the Mexican Olympics of 1968 finally celebrated the copper race
I worked with Hernández for several years and our
communication ended up being a silent one. I would think of a pose or
expression and there it was facing my lens.
In Mexico they
(Nemesio García Naranjo intellectual from Monterey, Nuevo León during the time
of Mexican strong man Porfirio Díaz coined the expression), “Poor Mexico so close to the United States and
so far from God
.” This troubling conundrum makes Mexicans and Latin-Americans
more observant and less willing to take life too seriously and perhaps gives
them a more tolerant take on what surrounds them.
When I look at these portraits of Ivette Hernández I cannot
believe that I took them. Are they too good for my
white-man-son-of-an-Englishman perception? Or did my years in Mexico, those
years of seeing the volcanoes, smelling the earth, the combination of corn meal
laced with the lime, the smell of tortillerías, the smell of ripe Manila
mangoes, pineapples, hot chiles roasting on gas stoves, the smell of bunker
oil, sewage, seawater and the humidity when in proximity to the port of
Veracruz may have seeped into my being and made me what I am today.
I am a confused, Argentine, American, Texan and Mexican.
Time will tell when I will finally love my Vancouver and my Canada not because it
is a practical place to live but because I will feel it in my heart.