When we came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1959, my mother brought along a simple cardboard box of family photos, which became, for me, a connection to the extended family we left behind in Mexico City. As I child, I often studied the faces in the photographs and connected them to obscured memories of our relatives and their facial features. That box held, and continues to hold to this very day, so many marvelous photos.
While there are many exquisite pictures taken by my father and other family members, I have always been drawn to those taken by anonymous Mexican street photographers of the 1950s. The photographs shown above are two excellent examples of their skill. Both were shot in Mexico City near our home at 59 de la Calle de Republica de El Salvador in 1954. These street photographers typically covered specific blocks on a daily basis. They took candid shots of people going about their daily activities. After photographing their subjects, they provided them with a claim ticket, which was used to pick up their photos later that day.
Although they had but a few seconds to take "the shot", by looking at the collection my family owns, I can say that each and every composition is striking. These photographers succeeded in capturing their subject's spirit, as illustrated in the photos above of these two beautiful Mexican women. Whoever these photographers were, I believe that they were undeniably talented and relentless in their pursuit of artistic expression.
The black and white photo (above, left) was used in the above video, "This is To Mother You". It was recorded by Sinead O Connor, Mary J. Blige and Martha B., and was used by GEMS (Girls Educational & Mentoring Services) as a tool to spread awareness and to honor the many individuals who help in the fight against commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking of American girls. To donate, click on the GEMS link.
Years ago while visiting family in Mexico City, I went to the Palacio de Bellas Artes where they had a fabulous exhibit of contemporary Mexican artists. I enjoyed the exhibit tremendously – it was great stuff, no doubt, but I cannot recall the names of any of the exhibiting artists. However, what I do remember vividly from that visit to the museum was the name of Juan de Dios Machain, a late 19th century Mexican photographer known for his post-mortem photographs of children.
His photographs were not on display; they were in an Artes de Mexico issue entitled El Arte Ritual de la Muerte Niña, Numero 15, Primavera 1992. I found the photographs so evocative that I bought, the now tattered, and partially unbound issue of Artes de Mexico (seen below are two from that edition). The photographs were initially disturbing, yet they compelled me to look at a subject matter, most often considered morbid, in a very different light – not as morbid, but as beautiful surrender. So moved by his photographs that I began a series that addressed death – the ultimate surrender, and the death of children, which later evolved into loss of childhood. The paintings were monochromatic and painted on canvas using thinned out oil paint – all inspired by Juan de Dios Machain's photographs.