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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

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?”

“No!”

“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.

“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!