Reflection on “Romantic Mexico” Aug. 2 to Aug. 8, 1923

“La Troneta” (Spain, 2016)

The part I read today was the description of the passage to Mexico by Tina, Chandler, and Edward on board the S.S. Colima between Juli 30 and August 5, 1923.

“At last we are Mexico bound, after months of preparation, after such endless delays that the proposed adventure seemed but a conceit of the imagination never actually to materialize.”

I can remember the feeling, it was the same for me when I left home for the first time for Lanzarote in 2002 to live there for 18 months. Although you are packing buying the ticket, putting all your belongings you won’t take with you in storage – it took boarding the plane to “begin to feel the actuality of this voyage.”.

Weston was traveling by ship, a Mexican ship. And he loved it. Just as I came to understand and at least tolerate the “inefficiency “according to our standards” just as Weston did with the Mexicans. “It is a relief to escape from that efficiency which makes for mechanized movements, unrelieved drabness. I have seen that confirmed in other countries later – Turkey, Ireland, Thailand and of course Madagascar. I had the warmest welcome in the poorest places.

August 4: “A half-moon half-hidden by heavy clouds – sculptured rocks, black, rising from silvered waters – shriek of whistle and rasp of chain; 1:00 AM and we anchored in the harbor of Mazatlán, my first foreign port.”

To experience things for the first time. I regret how many things I did for the first time and can’t remember that moment anymore. I had a camera back then, I always had something I could take pictures with, but just as a notebook, a journal, I didn’t use any of those regularly. I know there is a journal called “Arnhem Days” about what happened when I lived in the Netherlands trying to get into the conservatory to study jazz guitar. And I guess there are some things jotted down somewhere about those months on the Canary Islands. I’ll get back to that when I find them.

“Did I visualize what I was to see in my first Mexican port? This is hard to say today …” Again, Weston’s style of writing appeals to me. It is not so much that I could see what he saw, but I can feel what he felt, because I felt the same way, when I arrived at a new place.

“Later, exploring the city streets at night, we found life both gay and sad – sharp clashes of contrasting extremes, but always life – vital, intense, black and white, never grey.” – Edward Weston

This is like the first night on Naxos. I went out wearing my Ireland rugby jersey and met a couple, he Irish and she Finnish, who praised my Irish accent, just as some guy at a gas station in Sweden years before that claimed I sound like upstate New York. Trying the echo again and again in those parks in Oslo late at night, the Holmenkollen in the distance before the car broke down just before we could make it to Arhus for Christmas day. A quick beer on 55th Street with a friend who came over from Jersey just for that, but distances meant nothing, we traveled the earth in those days.

And again now. Don’t get me wrong, images are everywhere. I always said that and I stand by it. But there is something so very special about going places you have never been to. That blank page staring at you, daring to fill it with something, anything. If you just dare to take that bus, catch that plane, get on that boat. And live as desperately as you can manage.

August 6: “I was tempted in Mazatlán to “go tourist” with my camera, making “snaps” of street scenes – even doing Tina in her grand coach backed by a ruin. But yesterday I made the first negatives other than matter-of-fact records – negatives with intention. A quite marvelous cloud form tempted me – a sunlit cloud which rose from the bay to become a towering white column.”

Needless to say, any of us would have shot a lot more, on the ship as well as ashore. I always carry my iPhone of course and when I can a Nikon P7000, which gives me more features and of course, since it is digital we all have to admit that at some point we went “spray and pray”. I do not like that we, in general, take way too many pictures and if you ever stand in front of me and block my view because you need to take a picture with an iPad, somebody’s going to get hurt.

But to have the ability to take an image wherever you find it with a device that fits in your pocket has its advantages. I have made iPhone images I really like and there are times for the phone and times for the “big boy cameras” (as Harold Davis calls them). There is no reason to dislike any of them. On the other end of the spectrum, I really like the feel of heavy cameras like the D300.

I also think that today (partly because of all the devices and their features at our disposal) we don’t need to separate this “going tourist” and being serious as a photographer anymore. And even though I can feel a deeper meaning about my work, I don’t want to take myself too seriously all the time.

Weston arrived at the harbor of Manzanillo on August 5 and went through customs “though not without much palavering, suspicious glances at my battery of lenses, chemicals and personal effects” and prepared to move on to Tacubaya and again he felt something I totally could identify with. Like the first evening on Lanzarote. Not settled in yet, not even the bags were completely unpacked. There were things to do like all the paperwork to get the residencia, get registered for a tex number. But in the evening I was sitting overlooking the laguna and the sunset over the ocean and there were three layers of clouds, each in a different shade of dark red and purple, I just couldn’t believe I was there, actually there. And I couldn’t have put it better than Weston did:

“But it was more than the music – the hospitality – the blue sea – which broke my resistance: I knew this day marked an end – and a beginning.” – Edward Weston

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