Thursday, July 16, 2009

it's the photographs that got small


I met her on the airplane coming south from Los Angeles. July of last year.


She was from one of those cities in central Canada that always cause me to shiver when I hear the name.


Recently divorced, she had come to Mexico for a week to experience A New Life. She was almost giddy with the prospect of seeing the Magic of Mexico. You could almost hear the extraneous capitalization of nouns.


I ran into her on the streets of Melaque several times.


Everything was Perfect. The People were the Fiendliest People she had ever met. The weather, though hot and humid, had touched "The Center of My Soul."


The Little Fishing Village was filled with nothing but joy for her.


I was happy for her, but I was starting to worry that, like Billy Pilgrim, she was beginning to come unstuck in time.


The last time I saw her was on a street corner. She was looking dreamily into the middle distance. We began chatting. Suddenly, her eyes went wide. And she started looking frantically in her beach bag. If we had been in Detroit, I would have thought she was looking for a hand gun.


"Where IS it? Where IS it?"


I was beginning to think she had become unstuck from more than merely time.


I then glanced over my shoulder. An elderly Mexican woman with an umbrella was walking toward us.


Ms. New Life raised her camera just as the woman was about to walk past us.


But that did not deter her. In English, she said in her best Cecil B. DeMille voice: "Excuse me. Could you go back and walk toward us? I would like a Photograph."


The Woman With The Umbrella (as the photograph would be known) would never enter the world of art. The Mexican woman looked bewildered but continued on her way.


Ms. New Life looked at me, pure exasperation airbrushed on her face. "They are so friendly, but frustrating."


Every time I think about this story, I find it hard to believe that it happened in Melaque. This is the type of story that keeps San Miguel de Allende residents amused -- because they have seen it happen.


But how does it happen? I have been using cameras for almost 55 years. I cannot imagine going up to a stranger and asking her to repeat her walking pattern merely to satisfy my desire to control my enviroment. Melaque is not merely a sound stage put together for the benefit of people hunting for A New Life.


But I am a bad example, I find it difficult to take photographs of people. I have lots of human backs in my photography collection -- some of which you have seen.


Did she ever find her New Life? I don't know.


I certainly have not seen her around this year. Perhaps, she is chasing The Magic in another Village.


But I am listening for the echo of: "Are you ready for your Close-up?"

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

I do not think this person's problem is Vonnegut's great synchronoclastic infundibulum.

It is solipsism.

john

Constantino said...

Your answer was in your first sentence my compadre, nuf said!

Felipe said...

Ah, the prototype walks the streets of Melaque. I always figured he/she was, as you say, in San Miguel.

Must be more than one.

Islagringo said...

I, too, find it difficult to take a face on picture of somebody without their permission. But by asking permission, the moment I wanted to capture is gone. I guess that's why you see so many sneak view pictures on my blog.

Bev said...

Your true character comes out so often in your writings. I wish more people were as sensitive to others as you are. Wishing you the best! Bev

1st Mate said...

I try to ask permission to take photos of Mexicans, even if it's just a quick gesture with my camera and a questioning look (which usually works). But I don't ask them to pose. Often they do anyway, and sometimes they want to see the shot.

comitan said...

Sounds like the digital camera could solve your problem.
Take your picture then show the image to the stranger and ask if you may keep or you if must delete

BajaDove the other side of Comitan

Liz said...

Comment on "A kiss is just un beso"

I mentioned previously that I would share with you my secret to quick conversation skill.
"Read aloud to yourself"
Start with VERY easy stuff that you know most of the vocab for, pehaps children's books you can check out at the library. Translations of classics you are very familiar with in English would be a bonus (Three Little Pigs, etc.) Read them OUT LOUD to yourself enough times that you can finish the sentences without looking at the book (except to check for accuracy).
And most importantly, LISTEN to yourself while you read, improves your hearing comprehension.
You can also use this with any reading you are assigned in your lessons. OUT LOUD is the key, doesn't mean LOUD, I used to do it riding the trains in Japan, just under my breath, but my lips would be fully forming the sounds, and my ear would be listening.
Once you are familiar enough with whatever you are reading, you can even do it walking down the street or beach, just glancing at the book occasionally to keep you on track.
Prof. Jiggs would probably enjoy being read to, too ;)) I used to "read to" my cat all the time.
And carry on rudimentary conversations about whatever we were "reading".
BONUS- you get to be the crasy person who walks around talking to himself all the time. ;))
Try it.......It works!!!!!!
Mata ne
Liz

Steve Cotton said...

John -- Glad you caught the literary reference. But, isn't the term "chrono-synclastic infundibula"? I hesitate to make the suggestion due to your academic prowess in the Vonnegut oeuvre. Even solipism does not quite fit the bill. She seemed to acknowledge that other minds existed, but they existed for her pleasure. Rather like a ride on the Madderhorn at Nietzscheland.

Constantino -- I would have thought so, as well, comrade, except for the second paragraph. I thought Canada was made up of people a little less intense.

Felipe -- You keep telling me I missed my first choice in Mexico. Maybe she did, as well.

Islandgringo -- We will simply go on sneaking shots, I expect. Without my zoom lens, I would never have taken the photograph of the fellow on the mule.

Bev -- Your first sentence worried me. For a moment, I thought you had discovered I was basically a crumudgeon. Thanks for the very nice compliment.

Steve Cotton said...

1st Mate -- Good suggestion. But most of my more problematic shots are sports shots.

Comitan -- Or just buy a bigger zoom lens.

Liz -- Hmm. After I perfect that method, I could use it to get opermission for my photo shoots. See how it all comes together?

jennifer rose said...

What is wrong with this compulsive photographers? What gives them the right to assault, impose upon and steal from strangers -- all in the interest of art and culture?

As a stranger, I am not interested in looking at the image on your digital camera. Now you've not only taken my image, you're stealing my time. Only a fair degree of socialization keeps me from causing serious damage to you and your camera, dear photographer. And a bigger zoom just replaces a .22 with a bazooka. These jerkoff photographers should be deported directly back to Manitoba and Decatur. Forthwith.

Anonymous said...

Steve, I don't recall the proper order of the Vonnegut term. I thought I was doing well enough to get all the syllables!

And is the "Madderhorn" populated by a particular species of alpine hare?

john

Steve Cotton said...

Jennifer -- My photography rule is the same in Mexico as it was in Oregon: strangers should not be the centerpiece of any photograph. I have watched tourists taking photographs of funerals in Mexico -- when they would never stand outside a funeral home in Rapid City snapping photographs of a weeping family. Mexico seems to cause us to forget some basic manners.

John -- But you managed to increase all of our vocabularies in the process. And I thought you would enjoy the "Madderhorn" forced pun.

Felipe said...

This woman is typical of many (probably most) Gringos and Canucks who come to Mexico.

In their dark heart of hearts, they see Mexicans as children. This explains their capacity to overlook and forgive almost anything, their blabber about the "sweet, friendly people." Juanita is soooo precious! Etc. Etc.

When, in reality, we Mexicans are not children. We are ragingly hormonal adolescents. Perpetually.

And we are rarely cutesy.

Anonymous said...

She probably ended up in San Miguel and is living happily ever after!
Similar story - woman in a movie theater in Cancun...said 'I just hate it when you speak to them and they don't understand you. So then you speak louder and they still don't understand you."

Laurie said...

I have a hard time with taking pictures of people. I always ask first. People are not objects. I know I need to take more pics in Honduras, but sometimes it feels so unnatural. Good post.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you should have suggested to the Canadian that she run ahead a couple dozen yards so as to be able to capture the Mexican woman approaching. If nothing else, watching her reaction to this rather symmetrical suggestion would have been funny.

Ah, if only you could find her again and recruit a cooperative Mexican friend. Then you could get the Mexican to ask her (in Spanish of course) if she could pose for him in an office, surrounded by papers, cold coffee, a few half-eaten doughnuts, and a computer showing the blue screen of death.

"So picturesque!" he could intone as he snapped pictures of her.

Yeah, we're a picturesque bunch we Gringos.

Saludos desde el norte,

Kim G
Boston, MA
Where, working right next to Faneuil Hall, we often wonder how many times we show up in the background of tourist photos. And despite being obviously employed in some local office tower, we've never, ever been surreptitiously snapped or asked to pose. Pity.

Steve Cotton said...

Kim -- If I ever get back to Boston, I promise to photograph you in your very quaint banking environment. Of course, I may ask you to don a green eye-shade and some Dan Cratchit gloves -- just for effect, mind you. And, of course, I would want you to say something in Bostonese for my video project that I am turning into a script that I am giving to a studio executive who knows my barber who eats at the same place I sell coffee.

Steve Cotton said...

Felipe -- Perhaps the infantilization of the Boomer generation is a supporting factor.

Anonymous -- American and Canadian behavior in Mexico is always a mine of stories.

Laurie -- I will never be able to do it. I despise having my photograph taken. Hmmm. We may have uncovered something here.