Archives for posts with tag: Photography exhibition

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.