A metaphor, this title is not. Indeed, on the evening of the final (outdoor) show, a mere hour before the exhibition was due to open – and in the same minute that the participants arrived to see their mounted photographs – the skies gave way; Nature took a deep breath and blew over Mexico City a series of tornadoes, the first in all its written history. I hear you ponder, But why had no preparations been made for rain in a climate-dependant exhibition? I ask myself the same, often. The sun had beamed down on us for two weeks, and when the clouds began to gather on that fateful day, and I inquired with the museum into a Plan B in the likely case of rain, in all their unbreakable Mexican optismism, they simply rationalised that, “It won’t rain”.

Oh, but how it rained!

Panic stricken, I saved our precious photographs from the elements and tearfully announced to the expectant particpants that the show was off, for the museum had no space for us inside. Faces fell, indignant voices were raised, and I confess to you, faceless reader, I broke down.

Luckily for me, I had two best pals with heads tightly screwed to their shoulders to pick up the debris of the exhibition. Foamboards and frames were hauled inside and reconstructed in the childrens’ workshop, Claire Atri’s trained eye measured the layout and nailed the frames, Sophie James quickly went about documenting the scene, and thanks to her initiative, I have photographic evidence of the event. In its own adhoc way, our exhibition had its charm and drew in visitors from another event at the museum – and the show did go on…

Before the storm: me and my specially built outdoor mounting frames – the bane of my life for an intense two weeks.

Claire saves my day: last minute remount of exhibition indoors

The event saved and in full swing.

Triptych of the park they slept in by 12 year old Yadira and 13 year old Fabiola, mounted indoors.

That’s not all. This will be my last blog entry posted from Mexico and I write it far from the smog and cacophony of its City’s concrete horizons. My nine months amongst the young inhabitants of its bridges, sewers and plazas are up, and so I came to end my Mexico days in the warm climes and cactus deserts of San Luis Potosí. However, I would not be so remiss as to say goodbye without one last look into the lives and perceptions of those aforementioned young people.

In my last two weeks working with Casa Alianza Mexico, I was approached by a friend of Miguel Ángel’s, a gentle, smiling boy named Edwin. He’d been wondering about these cameras he’d seen his friend with, and inquired into whether he too could take some photographs. I was, of course, happy of a volunteer and after a quick chat about what he would like to photograph about life on the steet (drugs, money and food), the last camera was handed over. In the stretch of two weeks that he had that camera, Edwin helped me paint the foamboards and brought me jugs of juice from the office during those long, hot afternoons of monotonous painting in the playground. It was he and Miguel Ángel, my two trusty street vagabonds, who saw it through to the end with me. Miguel Ángel contributed extensively to this blog, disappearing for lengths of time but never straying far from his word. True to this form, they both arrived at 6pm sharp to the exhibition opening night, despite the rain and tornadoes. I was only sorry that I couldn’t deliver to them the recognition that they deserved. Still, this blog is here, they have the address and I know they regularly check it.

For the forseeable future of the Street Children Photography Project, London calls for a January exhibition, and I am positive that geographic and economic distances will surely attract the exposure and recognition that all the photographs (and photographers) deserve.

Gallery? Check. Tequila sponser? Check. Rain? Double check. As any seasoned Londoner knows, we are always, always prepared for that.


Metro Hidalgo is the setting for much of Mexico City’s under-age prostitution (mostly gay). It is where Edwin and Miguel Ángel work and play, and where Casa Alianza is based.


Sleeping grounds: Miguel Ángel in foreground, Edwin in back.


The street outreach team often takes street children on day trips and excursions to distract them from drugs and get them interested in the wider world. This was taken on a trip to the zoo that Edwin joined.

The verb ‘to sniff glue’ in Mexican Spanish is ‘monearse’. Andrés, in this picture, is doing exactly that. Most street children are to be found like this from the moment of waking to when they sleep. It’s a full time occupation.


Food at a street taco stand


Edwin’s self-portrait

Change raised from begging and lying across glass shards…

And its rewards, in bottled, sticky inhalant form.

For anyone in Mexico City on Friday, 1st June, 2012, and who would like to come to the opening event of Transitions exhibition, please contact me for guest list entry. The event will take place from 6pm in the Patio Rojo of the Museo Nacional de San Carlos.

And for all those reading at home (and beyond!), I invite you to read the exhibition statement, presented below in both in the English and Spanish versions.

Transitions was, initially, a photography project about street children in Mexico City, some living in the homes of Casa Alianza and some still on the street but making regular contact with the foundation. The idea was always to teach them what I knew about photography, in the hope that it would help them to communicate their lives and find self expression using a visual medium. However, as the project progressed, less and less it became about street children as I began to see that this title had connotations too negative and did not fit with the participants’ photography. These teenagers’ visions were not limited to the experiences of the streets, or the experiences that had led them to the home, for what struck me above all else was the sense of overcoming I saw in their pictures, a sense of moving forward from the old life into a new era.

It was at this point that I decided the project was not about street children, but about the universal experiences of adolescence and change, in this case in the context of one of the world’s largest urban sprawls. The young photographers of this exhibition are undergoing complex periods of personal transition, whilst denied the stabilities offered by a nuclear family and home, and acceptance in the general community. This exhibition is proof of the participants overcoming past rejections, rising above the limitations imposed upon them by society and exposing a part of themselves to the wider public. Every photograph represents these psychological transitions, in which there are revealed the physical transitions also: from street to society, from prostitution to school, from biological family to a chosen family, from drugs to sobriety.

From the twenty or so disposable cameras that I handed out to teenagers on the streets to document what they wished of their lives, two were returned to me. Both these boys had already lived in Casa Alianza and were both to return soon after they’d delivered me the cameras. In another five cases of boys on the street, I spent an afternoon with them, a street educator from Casa Alianza and my own digital SLR camera, teaching the boys how to use it. Of these five, I only ever saw one again. He is still on the street washing windscreens but his best picture is displayed here; he had an outstanding eye for the right moment. Given the chance, his capabilities reach well beyond scraping the filth off a car front.

Of the teenagers living at Casa Alianza, we carried out an eleven-week intensive course in which they learnt how to use a professional camera, and in which we carried out various activities encouraging them to think about how they could express themselves via imagery instead of words. Over the weeks the participants began to open up, and as a result their photography began to tap into intimate corners of themselves: revelations of their secret places of solitude and reflection, the methods they employ to help them reflect, preparations for an independent and stable life, their interpretations of what liberty is or what luxury means to them; objects that had been carried with them through thick and thin and skills they had acquired from the families from which they had been separated.

Behind every photograph lies the story of an individual. The exhibition is not about the grim, hopeless life of the streets, nor is it about a happily-ever-after ending in a stable home. It is about the in-between and the difficulties that lie in changing one’s life in a society that is apathetic towards those who fall behind; it is about the universal experience of readjusting, reinventing, overcoming and creating a personal transition.

  Transiciones era, inicialmente, un proyecto fotográfico sobre los niños de la calle en la Ciudad de México, algunos que estaban viviendo en los hogares de Casa Alianza, y otros que estaban en las calles pero en contacto continuo con la fundación. Siempre estaba la idea de enseñarles lo que sabía de la fotografía, con una visión que les ayudaría a comunicar parte de sus vidas y descubrir una auto-expresión por un medio de lo visual. Sin embargo, durante el progreso del proyecto empecé a ver que este título tenía connotaciones muy negativas y que no iba de acuerdo con las fotografías de los participantes. Ahora no se trata de los niños de la calle; las visiones de estos jóvenes no estaban limitadas a sus experiencias en la calle, o las experiencias que les habían conducido al hogar; se me ocurrió sobre todo que sus fotografías revelaban una intención de superación – un sentido de moverse desde una etapa de la vida hacia una nueva.

  Fue en este momento que decidí que el proyecto no trataba de los niños de la calle, sino de las experiencias universales de la adolescencia y el cambio. En este caso, estas transiciones se ubican en el contexto de una de las extensiones urbanas más descontroladas del mundo. Los fotógrafos jóvenes de esta exposición están experimentando periodos complejos de transiciones personales y al mismo tiempo no tienen acceso a los servicios básicos y de bienestar: una casa, familia nuclear y la aceptación de la comunidad. Esta exposición es un testimonio de que los participantes pueden superar rechazos pasados, sobrepasar las limitaciones que les ha impuesto la sociedad y que han adquirido la confianza para exponer una parte de sí mismos al público. Cada fotografía representa estas transiciones psicológicas, en las cuales también se revelan las transiciones físicas: de la calle a la sociedad, de la prostitución a la escuela, de la familia biológica a la familia elegida, de las drogas a la sobriedad.

  De unas veinte cámaras desechables que regalé a jóvenes de la calle me devolvieron dos. Los dos chicos que cumplieron con el taller ya habían vivido en el hogar de Casa Alianza y regresarían ahí poco tiempo después de haberme entregado las cámaras. Hubo cinco ocasiones más con chicos de la calle donde yo y los educadores de Casa Alianza pasamos una tarde con ellos en la ciudad y les enseñé cómo usar mi cámara digital profesional. De los cinco chicos, sólo volví a ver a uno. Aun se queda en la calle limpiando parabrisas, pero su mejor fotografía está expuesta aquí; tenía un ojo excepcional para capturar el momento perfecto. Con suerte, sus capacidades rebasan por mucho quitar la mugre de los coches.

  Para los jóvenes en Casa Alianza, llevamos a cabo un curso intensivo de once semanas en el que aprendieron cómo usar una cámara profesional. Realizamos varias actividades para fomentar el desarrollo de cómo se podían expresar por medio de las imágenes en vez de palabras. Durante esas semanas los participantes empezaban a abrirse y, como resultado, su fotografía empezó a acceder a partes más íntimas: revelaciones de sus lugares secretos, soledad y reflexión, sus métodos que emplean para hacer esas reflexiones, sus planes para una vida independiente y estable, sus interpretaciones de la libertad o lo que es el lujo para ellos; los objetos que han sido parte de su vida, y las enseñanzas aprendidas con las familias de las que fueron separados.

   Detrás de cada fotografía se halla una historia individual. La exposición no trata de la vida dura y desesperada en las calles, ni trata de un final feliz. Trata de el paso y las dificultades que se encuentran para integrase en una sociedad que se muestra apática con ellos; se trata de la experiencia universal de reajustarse, reinventarse, superarse y crear las transiciones personales. 

I am all too aware that this dear blog of mine has been stagnating at the bottom of the ever-renewing cyber literary pool for over a month now, and I am not proud of that. I can only be honest in saying that this past month has been one of manically hemming the frayed ends for the final phase of the Street Children Photography Project. In fact, much of it had to do with the looming exhibition which I, having been all-engrossed in getting the kids to take photographs, hadn’t given much thought to in a while.  Suddenly, I found myself on a hamster wheel spun to the rhythm of the gallery I’d been in touch with over the past eight months. Well, they certainly cranked up the pace and, in doing so, whipped me into a frenzy…

At the end of March, the Centro Cultural de España gave me an [unexpected] deadline of mid-April to present them with the exhibit photographs, at a point when, admittedly, I still had minimal exhibit-able material. The following two weeks (down from my planned four) were a mad chicken-dash to achieve the production of a photographic exhibition by ten perplexed teenagers and children, who couldn’t understand why I had suddenly hit the acceleration button on their relaxing camera workshop. This was not the only new challenge April presented me with; the other was to write an exhibition statement that would unite 26 photographs fabricated from a multitude of personalities, backgrounds and circumstances, and that would not fall to the easy prey of lumping them together under the label of ‘street children’ (for I like to think we have progressed in our understanding of one another since the creation of this blog).

Having been presented with the desired photographs and statement, the Centro then had to know what sizes these photographs would be, and what would frame them, before they would concede to lending me their walls. It has recently come to my attention that I am someone unable to envision measurements without having a measuring device in front of them. This and the fact that I was clueless as to the dimensions of any space the photos might be exhibited in rendered it impossible for me to mentally conjure up the much sought-after photograph sizes. I had no idea. Lucky for me, they had a measuring tape at Carbón 4, the patient, helpful printers who put themselves at my disposal the day I turned up on their doorstep spluttering barely decipherable Spanish queries about street children, an exhibition and a discount.

To cut to the chase, and so that we can return to the core essentials of this blog, street children and photography, I will skip over some details and turn to the bottom line. The Centro Cultural de España had closed the doors on a May exhibition back in March, when I’d failed to present the materials then, despite an eight month continued contact regarding an exhibition for this month. Whilst disappointed, I might also be grateful to them. Grateful that they startled me from my contended lull and in four weeks had me reel in the numerous lines of this project in preparation for a smooth roll out to the finish. And, with fingers crossed and printers permitting, smooth it shall be. Thanks to the sharp reflexes of Casa Alianza, who immediately set to work on another location, the Museo Nacional de San Carlos, Mexico City, has granted me its 200-year-old walls on which to hang our modest treasures.

Finally, the paragraph you’ve all been waiting for. I have in my possession a second set of photographs taken by this blog’s star photographer, Miguel Ángel. I feel that this blog is as much the story about him as it is about this project. Throughout its entirety, he has been the single constant, coming and going but always, in the end, a man of his word.  Miguel Ángel is a changed boy since when I first met him in September. Back then he used to smile a lot, was very generous with his hugs and would comb and style my hair whilst chattering about this and that, very little of which I understood in those days. Those days are gone; these days I understand more and Miguel Ángel says little. He cracks an initial half-hearted smile, affords me a limp hug. After leaving Casa Alianza his story is very much a typical one for a teenager on Mexico City’s streets; crack, glue and prostitution have enwrapped him in their soporific shroud. When I’ve spoken to him, it seems his mind fumbles for something to grasp to – something to study, a career – but Street Life always grabs it back; the Street always takes this round, and the next.  This is really the first time I have encountered the rapid and irreversible demise of someone I care about. The second disposable camera I gave Miguel Ángel was my last attempt to draw a connection with him, or draw something out of him.

We saw one another again by chance. I was accompanying a young woman to a day care centre with the Casa Alianza street educators and it was there that I saw him for the first time in weeks. Skinnier, scraggier looking, he sidled over to me, eyes towards the floor, Hola Ale. He told me, with some excitement, that he would be going to see a play about an English king. Really? Which king? King Henry, he thought, it was a play by Shakespeare that was showing free to the public in Mexico City centre. So, he still likes his culture. That’s a good sign. He asked about la fotografía, I said I still had a disposable camera left over, and since he was the only one I really trusted to bring it back, would he like to take a second set of pictures.

I have assigned to these photographs the theme of ‘work and wandering’. A couple depict some of the means of self-employment popular amongst Mexican street children, and the rest are representative of the long, heavy days of wandering and sitting that are inherent a day routine dictated by homelessness.

Miguel Ángel self-portrait

A photo of the broken glass Miguel uses to perform ‘faquir’ on the metro. A peso or two is given to the street child for lying down on the broken glass.

In between cleaning car windscreens on the roadside.

Plaza del Zarco

Miguel is sat atop Mexico City’s sewage tunnel, also home to a community of teenagers and their babies.

By metro Hidalgo where many teenagers living on the street will go to wash windscreens at the traffic lights or prostitute themselves. Taxis are dependable clients.

Miguel’s best friend, Edwin.

It was only a matter of twenty-four hours from writing the last entry (The Roller-coaster) before the seat next to me on said ride became occupied once more. The occupier himself was a freshly shaven, snipped and painted Francisco Javier, all smiles and apologies. He claimed he had been staying with some friends in the neighbouring Estado de México; reality (as testified by friend Miguel Ángel) suspects that he was really plied by some Dirty Old Man with offerings of beauty treatment and a place to stay, indulgences tantamount to the holy sacrament for a homeless, gay prostitute of an impressionable fifteen years. But such atrocities are best not dwelt upon. The point is that he came back and he is with us to stay. Last Friday a nervous but cheerful Francisco Javier was successfully installed in the Casa Alianza boys’ home, excited by the possibility of a new future, even if it means he’ll have to find his own beauty treatments.

The morning of the ingression photographer Mauricio, Francisco Javier and I pored over the 20 or so disposable-camera images Francisco Javier had taken in the last two weeks of his soon-to-be old life. They may have been few but the story they told ran deep. It was a story about a small family: a prostitute, her young daughter and the boy who lived with them for two years, Francisco Javier.  The story was a portrait of them and their house, their surroundings and their solitude. Most of all, the photos are the reflections and intimate memories of Francisco Javier in his final days in that house with those women, and they echo the sounds of all they’ve been through together. I’m sure he will cherish those images for the rest of his life.

In the final four weeks of the photography part of this project, before we start preparing for the Mexico City exhibition, I have decided to take this approach with three other street children who are making regular contact with the Casa Alianza street educators. All three teenagers are eager to move into the homes, but the condition is that first they must complete two weeks of meetings with the educators to ensure their commitment. As part of this process, as with Francisco Javier, I will give them the disposable cameras with which to reflect on and tell the story of their last week on the streets. I hope, if all goes to plan, it will give them the chance to contemplate on an important transitional stage in their lives.

Below I present you with Francisco Javier’s story, as edited by Miguel Ángel, who arranged them in the way that he thought best told a narrative. I think the story they have created speaks volumes both for itself and for them.

Francisco Javier (Left)

Santa Muerte (Holy Death)

The following were not in Miguel Ángel’s edit:


Rubbish in the area surrounding the house

Friends listening to music


That’s the sound of the emotional roller-coaster I’ve been riding for the past seven months with these teenagers. That was the sound it made as it plummeted last week towards ground zero.

The problem is that it is nobody in particular with their hand on the control stick, not me, not the kids, nor the street educators. Their is nobody to blame – the machine bumps and rolls, advances and reverses under circumstance. And circumstance is not in anybody’s control.

Here follows the story of the last two weeks.

A week after the events of the last entry (Public Space Invasion), Mauricio and I arrived at the Casa Alianza gates at 8.45am to be warmly greeted by a deserted street; nobody from the week before had turned up, not even Miguel Ángel. As we sidled along behind the street educators, en route to a pair of newly found young girls, Mauricio made those dreaded words, already ringing silently in my head, into tangible, regrettable sounds: “Ali, this isn’t working”.

We crossed through a food market in Garibaldi Square, where the sombreroed mariachis come to sing and the restaurateurs chime out their menus. In one booth not yet open, beneath the littered tables and overturned stools, we found the sought out girls, heaped together with worn, stinking blankets and tightly clad in last night’s hotpants, Hola, Catarina. Hola, Maria Antonia. They greeted us sleepily, flattening out their hair and readjusting their clothes. After this brief introductory meeting, they reluctantly agreed to join us back to the Casa Alianza HQ with the promise of a change of clothes, some breakfast and a hint of photography.

A surprise awaits around every corner in this job and that day was no exception. On our return to HQ we caught sight of Gerald, the Belizian boy who had unexpectedly turned up the week before after his escape from the home. A week on the streets had taken its toll, he looked a little rougher, a little older, although he had smothered the signs with fresh make up. Alongside him was a boy I had seen now and again around the Alameda Park, well known for its wealthy supplies of under-age gay prostitutes. His name was Francisco Javier, he was clean, smiling and enthusiastic.

Huddled in the back office with our three new members and Gerald, Mauricio once again magicked up his ice-breaker, the Foto Buzón postcard photos. Maria Antonia made it her intention to show as little interest as possible, although she eventually warmed to it. Catarina, on the other hand, picked out this photo and stared at and searched it for minutes. Just like Itzel from the week before, she said it reminded her of home, she is from the state of Michoacan. She also noted the young bullfighter practising with his cape, and this seemed to make an impression on her. With the ice now cracking, we decided to give it a final breaking blow with the digital cameras; we hung up the black background and had the three of them snapping away, first at me, then at each other. To me, it seemed Catarina was totally captivated.

Francisco Javier getting into his role as photographer.

Catarina's portrait bi Francisco Javier

After this successful first encounter, Mauricio and I did not lose any time in arranging a second meeting for the next day.  Gerald (quite inexplicably and very obstinately) refused and Maria Antonia violently shook her head; they had not been taken by the impromptu workshop and true to their word, they did not arrive the next day. Catarina and Javier, by contrast, happily joined us. My roller-coaster ride was trundling up a steep incline, jittery and slow, but heading towards a sunny sky. Our second workshop took us to the Revolution Plaza with its great monument to the ideologies of that movement, and it was here that I listened intently and with wonderment to Catarina’s inspired interpretations of the images Mauricio had given her. She pored over those photography books, savouring every image; when she spoke about them, she spoke of religion, poverty and the human condition. If anyone knew of these things, it was she and she was articulating them well. My roller-coaster was ascending faster now, hyped by a cork-screw twist in the track. The next hour Catarina and Javier spent wandering the Plaza, each with a disposable camera, choosing their own moments to freeze in time.

These images were a practice for the second set of disposable cameras that I gave them. This time I took a different approach. I asked them to specify a story they wanted to tell, not necessarily about themselves, but to create a narrative with these cameras, similar to the ones they’d seen in the book. Javier said that he wanted to tell the story of the people who work in the rubbish dumps of the city. Catarina wanted to tell the story of the children of Tepito, a notoriously dangerous zone in Mexico’s Federal District and the place where she resides.

That was the peak, and then came the inevitable plummet. Last week neither Javier nor Catarina appeared with their cameras. We looked for them; José Juan and I trawled Tepito, shuffling between its hoards of black-market stalls and searching the groups of faces of the youngsters who shelter beneath them at night. Outside the soup kitchen that Catarina goes to for lunch, we found Maria Antonia. She told us that Catarina had been taking photos, but that she’d disappeared two days ago without a word and Maria Antonia didn’t know where to. No one had seen Catarina. And Javier, who had been turning up at the Casa Alianza gates regularly for weeks, was not to be found. He hadn’t been seen outside Casa Alianza that week at all. We circled Alameda Park, asked the men adorned with their heavy eyelashes if they had seen little Francisco Javier, no, they told us, not for a while, although someone mentioned they had seen him in the waiting room of the HIV hospital. Via these contacts we passed on messages to both participants, but I could feel my roller-coaster hitting ground level and slowing down towards the exit sign.

That said, I won’t be disembarking this ride for a couple of months yet, and so the best I can do is keep my seat and wait for the next go. It is sure enough that a couple more loop holes await me ahead. It is still even possible that Catarina and Javier might appear to accompany me for a second go on the ride.

Catarina spots a parallel Kodak moment.

"The Thinkers" by Javier

A lone passerby, by Javier

Javier looks below for inspiration.

Javier shoots the square from a new perspective

My favourite by Javier of the street cleaners.

Catarina looks up for inspiration.

Catarina's ground shot of the Monument - shame about the tiny little bit of finger!

Catarina runs with the dog, and just manages to get him.

"The Boys" by Cata

My favourite by Catarina: a perfectly framed and captured facial expression.

I was planning for the second half of Sheyla’s life story to be gracing these pages for this next entry, but I’m afraid that that shall have to wait a little longer, for what I am about to recount now follows on splendidly from the last entry.  Once again, it is all to do with our photography enthusiast Miguel Ángel (and in case you were wondering, he did read the last entry, even going as far back as the video in which he features, pasting it all into Google translate).

Good old Miguel Ángel, he did it again. He surprised me, appearing when I least expected it. And it was not only him; by his side were Gerald and Oswaldo, two boys freshly escaped from the home as of Monday. I was overcome with this strange alien feeling, which I warily identified as parental concern, at seeing them outside of the home all snotty noses and dirty fingernails. I’ve grown a great fondness for Gerald and Oswaldo over the months, they have both been photography regulars and were the first to welcome me as a newcomer into the foundation in September. But like every cloud, this one too has its silver lining: newly immersed in the freedom of their own devices, they had independently decided that one of those devices was to be the street photography workshop, which they’d heard was taking place at 9am that morning. I was, well, chuffed! This ensures they will maintain a strong connection with Casa Alianza through the project and, we hope, lead to their return.

Our little group straggled towards the pitch for the usual preliminary game of football to get the juices flowing and the concentration levels up. Although, this time football was only enthusiastically received by our one female participant, Itzel, and two of the boys. Our group of young men were, for the most part, gay and intent on living up to the stereotype of their sexual orientation by sitting in the middle of the pitch cross-legged, gossiping and creating quite a shambles as they one by one paraded off the pitch on account of “tiredness”. If I sound spiteful I don’t mean to – I was secretly grateful for this behaviour, not being much of a Cristiano Ronaldo myself (in saying that, the street children who I’ve played football with in the past took to calling me Wayne Rooney. More on account of my goals than the potato head, I like to think. Sorry Wayne). The premature cessation of the game also meant we could get down to the part I like best, the nitty gritty photography stuff…

Andrés describes what he thinks about this photograph.

Enter Mauricio Palos. Without wanting to bestow too much praise upon him, I cannot miss out the part about how grateful I am for this photojournalist’s voluntary participation in the project. Over the next nine weeks, Mauricio will be helping me run the street photography workshop: it helps that he is both Mexican and a professional in the photography industry. For this first session, he magicked up a bundle of postcard photo images, themselves courtesy of a project called Foto Buzón from Yucatán, Mexico, which aims to promote photography as a communication medium through its free distribution in letter boxes and public spaces. Mauricio put the postcards to their assigned role and handed them out amongst the group; within minutes he had the boys and Itzel talking about the ins and outs of each photograph. He then had them taping the images onto the fence and encouraging passers-by to come and look at the display and take their favourite photograph home. The importance of this activity must not be overlooked – it had the teenagers interacting positively with members of the public. For youngsters who are so accustomed to asking, begging or even selling themselves for things, it was an opportunity for them to offer others something for absolutely nothing in return but a friendly smile between human beings.

Mauricio discusses with the group what they can read from the images their holding.

Gerald (front) and Oswaldo (back) tape up postcards, whilst a passer-by looks on with interest.

The group takes a break after much hard pasting work.

At the end of the session, the group were allowed to pick out their own favourite images to carry away with them in their pockets. Itzel peeled away from the fence a simple photograph of a green cactus against a bright blue wall. “Why have you picked that one, Itzel?” asked Mauricio. Itzel didn’t hesitate to reply, “Because,” she said, smiling, “it reminds me of my home. Lots of flowers everywhere, loads of colours, nice smells and the warmth.”

All seven of that group have agreed to come to next week’s session, in which we will invite members of the public to have their portrait taken. It is never certain who will turn up, but maybe, just maybe, I can count on the appearance of one person…

Iztel's first photograph. The boys take a break against the circus truck.

There are times when the Universe works so precisely at making coincidence happen in my favour that sometimes I wonder if it’s not reading my mind. Thanks to its recent workings in Mexico City, I saw the first successful return of a disposable camera by a street child. It was camera No. 8 and the boy’s name was Miguel Ángel.

I met Miguel Ángel in the Phase 1 home of Casa Alianza. He makes a brief appearance in an earlier video on this blog and he was an enthusiastic participant of the photography project. But, as I continue to learn and re-learn, the call of the street is stronger than the promise of stability and Miguel Ángel could not resist its cries. I was more than a little surprised to see him outside the Casa Alianza offices in Reforma – I wasn’t aware he had escaped. Although, on seeing him it was unmistakeable: the tired smile, the droopy eyes, the unwashed clothes. He asked me about el curso de fotografía. As it happened, I was about to go and take a session with his old housemates. He wanted to join but, of course, he couldn’t straight of the street, so we came to a compromise. He could still be involved if he would record a week in his life on the streets. We arranged to meet outside the offices the next day to follow up and exchange the camera. He never turned up. I left with a heavy heart and the camera still in my bag.

Two days later I was on my way home from the Sony Studios when I decided last minute to make a pit stop at the office for a reason that now escapes me. I jumped off the train at Metro Hidalgo as the doors slammed. I remember being in a pessimistic sort of a mood that day because I was huffing and puffing my way up the stairs. Then, like a love story (which, I must assure you, this is not), I looked up and saw him and he seemed to me like a sign sent from the Heavens. Miguel Ángel was standing there watching, just people-watching. He saw me and smiled.

“Hola, Ale.”

“Miguel Ángel! What are you doing here?”

“Nothing. Just watching. I’m sorry I couldn’t come the other day.”

We took out a couple of minutes to sit on the top step and make a list of themes, including family, food, fear, fun (please excuse the alliteration), daily life and interest. I noted down the next meeting date for a week later. We would meet outside the Casa Alianza office 11am sharp. I hand over to you to guess the next part.

Indeed, I’m supposing you guessed right – Miguel Ángel was a no-show and I thought I’d lost another camera. But the Universe has its ways; later that day it put me on that same metro train, only this time at rush hour. As more people piled on at Hidalgo and I was crushed cheek by jowl into the next perspiring commuter, the Universe knew I would not bear it a moment longer. I decided I could do with the exercise of walking and fought my way off, heading this time for a different exit. I hurried past a pair of boys huddled together in the corner of the stairs. “Ale!” I ignored it. “Ale! I have your camera!

He’d done it. He had taken the photos; he hadn’t lost the camera, sold it or given it to a friend to look after. I have given him the address of this page because he was eager to see his work on the internet. He won’t understand what this says but I know he will be proud.

Miguel Ángel – for I know you will recognise your name if not what comes next – proud you should be and proud you have done me! Gracias!

A glimpse at a week in the life of 15 year old Miguel Ángel who left the house of his parents 3 years ago and has been on and off the streets ever since.

This is where I'm staying at the moment, it's where I eat, sleep and shower. It's free but you have to say prayers and read a Bible before you receive bedding and food because it's Catholic. I don't mind because I'm religious. My favourite book of the Bible is Revelations.

This is what I was given to eat on that day - chicken, bread and sweet bread. It changes daily though. About 15 people come and queue for the food every day.

I always come to these stairs at the metro. Everyday I come to watch people from this angle, there's never ever a day goes by when I don't

This Andrés. He's the only family I have. He's like a brother to me. He's the only person in the world who knows everything about my life.

This is the playground where I often come alone to sniff glue. I come here because there are hardly any people. When I'm high I don't think about anything, I like to lie back and look at the sky.

This was an exhibiton of the body. They do regular talks on how to look after yourself, your heart and your health. I'm really interested in the body and how to cure people. When I'm older I would like to be a doctor. I read a lot about cells and neurones.

This is the celebrations for the Chinese New Year. This is the year of the rabbit. I went alone, I usually go to see things alone.

This is the street I walk through to get to the place where I'm staying at the moment. I usually come home around 11 or 12 at night. It's very dark and lonely and I get scared.


I want to show the contamination in my city. I never throw my litter on the street but people throw their's and no one picks it up. That's why we have so many rats here.


I am aware that this blog has been left stagnating a month or so now. There are two reasons for that: firstly, I went on holiday(For details please see http://www.shesmiddleagingdisgracefully.wordpress.com/). Secondly (and this is the part that I didn’t want to write), Andrés Brayan didn’t come up trumps. I wanted to believe that he had – so much so that I went back to him every day, twice, three times a day sometimes, for over a week, believing that he had indeed forgotten the camera, would go back to his bedsit and fetch it, had given it to a lady at one of the stalls to look after; I believed him when he said she didn’t usually get to her stall until 3pm, I believed him when he said he’d get it off her later in the afternoon.

Eventually, I came round. “Andrés, which lady is she? Which stall? I’ll get the camera from her myself.” A vague wave of his arm indicated that it might be any stall, any lady. The fact was, he didn’t know and she didn’t exist. He was fast running out of excuses. “I’ll go and get it developed myself if you like, Ale.

“Andrés, if you haven’t shown me that you have the camera, how can I believe that you’re going to get the photos printed?” We went on with this rhetoric until I said what neither of us wanted to say.

“You’ve lost it, haven’t you?”


“Tell me, you’ve lost it.”

His head dropped. “I didn’t want to tell you”.

Now, I could tell you all about my reaction but I’m sure you can already imagine it. Anger? Check. Disappointment? Check. Frustration? Check. Tears combining all three of the previously mentioned? Check. I thought it only sensible to wait until the turmoil had ebbed away to write this down. I don’t want to vilify Andrés Brayan because he is a good boy. However, I will never understand his logic in thinking it was the lesser of two evils to make me keep coming everyday rather than simply tell me that he couldn’t return the camera. But there we have it, human beings are unfathomable creatures.

Feeling sore, I sought fresh inspiration, which brings me to my next shining light (for there must always be one). If I’m going to learn about picking myself up and starting over again, it’s got to be from my next protegée.

Sheyla by Pati. Sheyla holds her personal diary and the teddy bear she was giving to her mama for Christmas later that day.

Sheyla Olvera Guerrero is 17 years old and a Casa Alianza resident of three years. She came bounding into the photography project all guns blazing and it transpired that she is currently applying for a university placement in Communication; she wants to be a journalist. With this in mind, she and I are putting together a sort of Communication Project which will include photography and writing by her about her. She told me that she had only ever written privately, so I presented her with the first challenge: to write something for the public eye. You, readers, will be her first critics.

I present it to you both in Spanish and in my English translation (comments on this also welcome for those bilingualists!).

Guest blogger, Sheyla Olvera Guerrero (Part I).

Quiero que mi primer blog sea de mi vida.

Mi familia es algo amm….  Muchos dicen que disfuncional, yo le digo rara. Mi papa y mi madre se divorciaron  cuando yo tenía 3 años; desde ahí  digamos que empezó mi infierno. Mi hermano abusaba de mí. Dicen que los niños hacen lo que vieron o les hicieron, así  que siempre he pensado que a él le hicieron lo mismo. Mi hermana era dura, muy dura, para ser sincera se volvió así. Tal vez  desde que mi padre le dijo que no era su verdadero padre. Desde ahí ella me humillaba por un abrazo; ya que me sentía muy sola.

Mi mama desde que la dejo mi papa se obsesionaba con su trabajo. Cuando yo era pequeña mi papa me robaba, mi mama siempre hacía todo lo posible para que yo estuviera con ella. Ya que mi papa siempre querría que su otra esposa tomara el lugar de mi madre. Claro que yo sabía muy bien que mi madre era Alín. Con el tiempo me sentía rara, no sabía con quien estar: con mi padre o con mi madre. Al fin de cuentas mi mama se quedó con mi custodia y no me quedó de otra que dejar de ver a mi padre y solo estar con ella. Más bien estar sola. Cuando iba a la primaria era duro pues salíamos muy temprano, a veces por las prisas de mi madre. Principalmente, a mí jamás me ha gustado su trabajo así que hacía todo para que la despidieran, pero mis intentos siempre fueron fallidos.

Mi hermano era muy peleonero, a veces me defendía de los niños que me molestaban y esa fue la razón que mi mama me cambió de escuela. Ahora me quedaba a unos minutos de mi casa, pero tal vez ese cambio fue lo peor pues conocí a unos amigos si, se les puede decir así, casi no entraba a la escuela. Siempre la escuela mandaba a llamar a mi madre y yo por miedo jamás le dije. Me gustaba estar sola mas no sentirme sola. Con mi madre casi no había comunicación, ya que nunca estaba. Cuando estaba era raro pues no había tema de conversación. Claro que no le iba a contar de mis faltas en la escuela. Ella al fin del mes se daba cuenta y mis castigos eran moretones en la piel, al igual que los de mis hermanos. Recuerdo que nos pegaba con lo que fuera: cucharas de metal, palos, lazo. Su frase era, “te voy a pegar hasta que me canse,” y así lo hacía. Eran como 20 o 30 minutos de dolor después. Si no estaba tan enojada te daba de comer, pero aun así no me importaba paso el tiempo.

Un día, cuando tenía 8 o 9 anos, estaba sola, ya era común, y me decidí salir con mis “amigos”. Recuerdo que tomé demasiado alcohol, tanto que tomé la loca idea de consumir activo con tachas. Eso me hizo sentir bien, más bien sentirme en un planeta que jamás había estado y donde me gustaba estar todo el tiempo. Cuando me acordaba de todo, lo que me hacían poco a poco consumía cada vez era más, y ya no solo esas drogas sino también consumía  piedra, cocaína, marihuana y todo lo que me encontrara. Así pasaron años. Eso me hizo muy rebelde. Mi mama no encontró de otra más que correrme de la casa; yo ya tenía 11 o 12 así que ya no me daba miedo. Me fui con una de mis tías paternas. Siempre me iba con la misma tía hasta que llegara el momento en que se cansó y ya no me aceptó en su casa. Me fui con otra tía. Ella me aceptó por mucho, pero mi primo quiso abusar de mí así que me salí y fue mi primera vez en la calle.

Esa noche estaba lloviendo y yo no llevaba suéter. No me quedó de otra más que estar en una casa abandonada y así estuve tres meses. Fueron difíciles pero no me importaba; prefería vivir ahí que regresar a mi casa. Mi mama no me buscaba. Llegó el momento en el que no querría ya estar ahí; me dolía mucho el cuerpo y regresé con mi tía. Ella no me dijo nada como había faltado 3 meses a la secundaria pues tomé la decisión de regresar. Empecé a ir pero mi vecino de enfrente un día me hizo una propuesta: el empezar a vender drogas. Me dio mucho miedo pero lo empecé a hacer en las noches cuando mi tía dormía. En la  secundaria entraba por la puerta principal y me salía por el estacionamiento. Llegué  a tener problemas con otros; por eso muchas veces me corretearon  y solo sentía las balas cerca de mí. En esos momentos yo pensaba, “¿Qué hago aquí? ¿Por qué lo estoy haciendo?” Y siempre corría por mi vida. Era difícil salir y siempre estar volteando para ver si no te están siguiendo.

I want my first blog to be about my life.

My family is something ummm… Many say dysfunctional, I say strange.  My dad and my mother divorced when I was 3 years old. Let’s just say that that was when my hell began. My brother would abuse me. They say that children do what they have seen others do or what has been done to them. I’ve always thought that they did to him what he did to me. My sister was a very hard person, very hard; in order to be sincere she became like that. Maybe she was like that ever since my father told her he was not her real father. Since that day she would humiliate me just for being hugged; already I began to feel alone.

After she left my dad, my mum began to obsess over her work. When I was little, my dad kidnapped me from her, so my mum always did whatever she possibly could to make sure that I was by her side. My dad already wanted another woman to take the place of my mother. Of course, I always knew who my mother was, she was Alín. Over time I began to feel strange, I didn’t know who to be with: my father or my mother. At the end of the trial my mother won custody over me. She refused to let me ever stay with my father or see him; I was only ever with her. Better said, I was alone. When I began primary school it was very hard because we would leave very early in the mornings, mostly because my mother was in a hurry. I have never liked her work and so I would do everything in my power to get her fired, but my attempts always failed.

My brother was a fighter, sometimes he would stick up for me against the kids in school who bullied me. It was for that reason that my mum had me change school. Although now I was only some minutes walk from my house, perhaps that change was the worst decision she made; I made some new friends and, let’s say, I hardly ever went to school. The school was always leaving calls for my mother and from fear of what she would do, I never told her.

 I liked to be alone but not feel alone. With my mother there was hardly any communication between us, she was never there. When she was there, she wouldn’t talk to me. I obviously wasn’t going to tell her about my failings at school. At the end of one month she found out anyway and punished me with bruises all over my skin, same as my brother and sister. I remember that she would beat us with whatever was at hand: metal spoons, sticks, whips. Her phrase was, “I’m going to beat you until I get tired,” and that’s what she would do. We would be in pain for 20 or 30 minutes afterwards.  When she wasn’t annoyed she gave us something to eat, but as time passed I stopped caring whether she did that or not.

  One day, when I was 8 or 9 years old, I was alone, as was common by now, and I decided to go out with my “friends”. I remember I drank too much alcohol, so much that I had the crazy idea of taking Activo glue and ecstasy. It made me feel good; I felt so good, as if I was on another planet and I wanted to be there all the time. When I look back on everything, what I was doing was consuming more and more every time, and not only those drugs, but also crack, cocaine, marihuana and anything else I could find. Years passed like that. I became rebellious. There was nothing for my mother to do but throw me out the house; I was 11 or 12 now and I was no longer scared. I went to live with one of my aunts. I was always with that aunt until the moment finally arrived when she got tired of me and didn’t want me in her house. I went to my other aunt’s. She accepted me for a long time, but my cousin wanted to abuse me so I left and that was the first time I found myself on the street.

 That night it was raining and I didn’t have a jumper. I did nothing else but stay inside an abandoned house where I remained for three months. They were difficult months but I didn’t care; I preferred to live there than to go home. My mother didn’t look for me. Eventually, I couldn’t bear to be there anymore; my whole body was aching and I went back to my aunt’s house. She didn’t say anything to me about it. I had missed three months of secondary school so I took the decision myself to go. I did for a while, but then my neighbour, the one who lived opposite, made me a proposal: he was going to start dealing and I would help him. I was really scared but I started to sell drugs at night when my aunt was asleep. I would go to school through the front gate and then leave for the station. I began to have problems with the other dealers; there were many times when they chased me and I could feel the bullets around me. In those moments I thought, “What am I doing? Why am I doing this?” And I would run for my life. It was difficult having to go out and always be checking behind your back to make sure no one was following you. 

This is Sheyla’s ‘ideas’ page about herself. It says:

She finds it hard to follow rules.

She likes Rhianna – although her life wasn’t so beautiful she puts in her all.

She [Sheyla] has great dreams.

One of those is to become a journalist.

Street children. One day they’re filling you with enthusiasm and goodwill and the next they suck it back out of you. The engagement that you’d carefully teased out of them is gone, dissolved into the glue and vanished up their nose; the glimmer of hope you’d guarded just for them is snuffed out. So it was with David, Pablo (the first boy presenting the video) and Martín.

I returned last week to give Martín the disposable camera, but he was nowhere to be found amongst the littered environs of his base. David was to be found but still hadn’t finished the camera roll. He’s had it 3 weeks now and my patience is being tried. I asked if he wanted to come and practice another hour with the SLR. He took a deep breath from the worn, sticky hanky of glue and shook his head. I rolled my eyes, told him there’s more to life than Activo and gave him another week to finish the photos before I take back the camera. That’s tomorrow. And Pablo. Pablo escaped from Casa Alianza about a month ago and is a different person from the one you see in the video. His eyeballs have turned yellow, he has new scars on his face and he looks tired, really tired. He ignored me when I approached him. After all we’ve shared, Pablo! I felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach, but then you can’t take these things personally.

No, you can’t take these things personally. I hadn’t lost faith entirely, so on Thursday when JJ (Hota Hota) introduced me to 15 year old Andrés Brayan I gathered up my shattered enthusiasm and made an arrangement for a Friday morning meeting. In the end, JJ couldn’t join us, so I decidedly went alone, and there I found Andrés Brayan where he said he would be, by the traffic lights of Metro Hidalgo.

Andrés Brayan works a tireless 12 hour day at the traffic lights, washing windscreens for a peso or two. He has to ensure he makes enough everyday to pay for his bedsit room (that’s MX$100, about £5), so I felt bad taking out three hours of his precious time. But if he was annoyed he didn’t show it. We ummed and ahhed about where we would take our photo session. “Why don’t you go to the Basílica?” said the wife of his boss, “there’s loads of activity there. Just don’t be giving him any glue…” (Andrés has been off glue for over a year). I assured her that that is not the way I roll and she noddingly gave her consent. Off we bumbled just Andrés and I, a funny pair we must have looked.

After some time, he ventured to ask me, “Where are you from?”

“England,” I replied, “Do you know where it is?”  He shook his head, although funnily enough I noticed he was wearing an Inglaterra t-shirt. The bus arrived.

“Do you miss your home?” He asked me.


“Me too, I miss my home sometimes.”

A silence ensued as we got on the bus, both contemplating our respective homes, although the situations that had got us there couldn’t have been further apart.

The Basílica was heaving, it being the days running up to the day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico’s patron saint. We gazed on at the people bent backwards carrying their bedecked plastic Virgins. “I don’t believe in the Virgin”, said Andrés before asking a man if he could take his picture.

Andrés' first documentary photograph of a couple with their Virgen de Guadalupe.

Usually with these sessions it is I making the suggestions for a photograph, but not with Andrés. I found myself following him around like a limp biscuit as he snapped quality shot after quality shot. “I think I understand this!” He finally exclaimed, “I just need to work more on understanding the settings”. He was even self-criticising and that does show an understanding beyond the basics.

I went back to the traffic lights today as we’d arranged. There he was, leant over a bonnet, scrubbing away. He saw me and waved. I showed him the contact sheet of his photos and we picked out together the ones he would like to exhibit (see below). I then put all my faith in him and handed him the disposable camera. “I want you to document your Christmas, Andrés Brayan, make a visual diary.” He nodded. “We’ll see each other next month?” He nodded again. I trust him.

A cripple sits next to the Virgin. Andrés wanted to show how much the people rely on her for help

Andrés stood for ages waiting for the perfect moment to take this picture of people paying for their blessings.

And finally, both our favourite - a father and son touch the painting of recently sainted San Juan Diego, who had the vision of the Virgen of Guadalupe all those years ago. The light came out just right!

JJ (Hota Hota in Spanish) is a Casa Alianza street educator, which means that he has the difficult task of persuading teenagers to get off the streets and the glue and come to live at Casa Alianza. Besides a lot of dedication, the job also involves a lot of football and more games of Uno than it’s worth mentioning. However, in the past two weeks JJ and I also discovered a new way of building up a confidence with the teenagers whilst encouraging them to commit to something. My Canon camera is the secret weapon.

I have given disposable cameras to two street boys: David, 17, and Martín, 16, who has lived on the streets for 8 years and recently came out of jail. I am due to pick them up tomorrow. Before I gave them the cameras we had a little photography lesson, one on one. I showed them how to use the manual settings on my camera and we left the mattressed grounds belonging to the street community and went a-wandering the city. Looking at the world through a lens meant that the boys were able to observe life beyond their enclosed camping grounds and apply a little experimentation to their day. I have never seen such a look of surprise as when I hung the camera round their neck and told them it was their turn to take the pictures. In both cases their initial reaction was to shake their head and try to give it back to me.

Martín was the first boy we tried this with. He became really enthusiastic the more we walked about, and he learnt how to use the manual settings within the first couple of hours. We went to watch the fountains outside the Monument of the Revolution; Martín sprawled himself on the ground in order to capture the movement of the water and the people running through it, making the most of the midday sun on the monument. Below is my favourite photo taken by him:

Martín's view of the Momument as two girls prepare to brave the fountains. This was the first time he'd ever used an SLR camera - all the manual settings were done by him.

So enthused was Martín by this day out that he asked if we could do the same the following week. The next week we met to climb up the Monument (free entry to the mirador on Wednesday’s for anyone in Mexico City). Martín arrived with his cousin Miseal, who was interested in observing his cousin’s new-found interest in photography. And so our little group climbed the monument. Here is my favourite Martín photo from that day:

Martín captures a new perspective from the lift up to the view point.

After this session, I felt I might have gained enough commitment from Martín to give him the disposable camera. With that little exchange off he went and I was sure there was even a small skip in his step.

David’s was a little more of a difficult case. His glue consumption is much higher than Martín’s and this has taken its toll on his attention span. The first twenty minutes had his interest and he put a lot of concentration into learning how the speed and aperture control the entry of light into the camera. However, a visible change came over his face after a while and I could see his mind was on other things. After we finished our walk I asked him if he was sure he wanted to commit to the project. He hesitated and then said yes. I have my doubts but I have put some faith in him and I gave him the Kodak disposable. In David’s favour, he took some well thought-out shots. Below is my favourite David photo:

David captured the "perfect moment" as this man in white walked passed the church on Calle Juarez.

Whether or not David and Martín will commit to the project is definitely not certain, but I’ve learnt that sharing a camera does break the ice; for the most part we have engaged them in a new activity and, for the most part, they took an interest and some quality photographs. All else will be revealed tomorrow…