Self-Portraits by Invisible People [excerpts]
By CAROL KINO
Published: October 23, 2005
SINCE the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Mexico in 1519, the story of that country's indigenous people has largely been told by others. And, since the 19th century, much of it has been told through photography.
Not long after the invention of the daguerreotype, European and American archaeologist-adventurers were hauling their equipment across the Yucatán to photograph Maya ruins. They were soon followed by anthropologists, like the American ethnographer Frederick Starr, who focused their cameras on human beings. Then, during the Mexican Renaissance of the 1920's, art photographers like Tina Modotti and her Mexico City-born protégé, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, began to celebrate the indigenous life and culture in their work.
But in 1992 a small organization in Chiapas, Mexico's poorest state, began to correct this imbalance by providing cameras and basic photography instruction to the local Maya Indians, many of whom could be descendants of those who were depicted by outsiders in the past. To date, the organization, the Chiapas Photography Project, has worked with more than 250 Maya photographers from 10 different ethnic groups living in and around the highlands city of San Cristóbal de las Casas, a tourist magnet that is the commercial locus for Indians living throughout the state. [...]
Because many of the photographers live in the Zapatista conflict zone, one might logically expect their lenses to be trained on political subject matter. Instead, they tend to focus on the pleasures of daily life, revealing an aesthetic outlook that is more elegant and spare than historical photography might suggest. [read full article]
More about the
Chiapas Photography Project:
The Indigenous Photography Archive is an artistic project by and for indigenous photographers in Chiapas. AFI has four main activities: education, collection, outreach, and research.
Education: LOK´TAMAYACH directs most of the educational activities, which begin with basic instruction about camera use and continue with a program of workshops to improve technique and develop individual projects.
Collection: The base of the collection, which is housed at AFI, is made up of the photographers’ negatives, with approximately 75,000 images, the majority of which are color, with a growing area of black and white work. The photographers are not only forming this collection for their present-day communities, but so that their descendants will have their own visual history. Among the many themes are portraits, food, and fiestas.
Outreach: Activities include exhibitions and publications as well as slide presentations and panel discussions.
Research: The indigenous photographers as well as many international, outside researchers consult AFI’s collection and frequently request permission to use images for academic ends – books, theses, articles, videos, etc.