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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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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