Archives for posts with tag: Camera

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.

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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.

“Sometimes.”

“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!