Archives for posts with tag: Mexico City

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. 

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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:

Home

Rubbish in the area surrounding the house

Friends listening to music

Whooooshh.

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.