June 7th upon reflection after crossing the border.
I drive in on the winds of a huge sandstorm that will eventually close the road from Demming to the Border.I'm just ahead of it. I am back In MEXICO!! I stop at the little shrine so happy to be back. I light a candle. Please show me what I must see. Show me what I need to reflect in my pictures. Help me make a difference in this world. As I blow down the road I notice all the lakes are dry beds; in Ascencion' the road is oddly blocked; I roll to a stop....trucks block every part of the way...I sense something in the air; hmmm; better get my camera and go find out. Que paso?? I ask; A man tells me it's a "manifestacion,"
A protest? I ask. Why? because the goverment has turned off all the power to the entire community. All the farmers are gathered leaning on their trucks; I am a photographer. May I make photos? Si como no. Yes but of course...I feel my hands almost shake; I feel my heartbeat stronger; I think of Susan Meisalas, the wars in Central America; the people, the people, the poorest of the poor protesting; Manifesting change. A truck bed of field workers is stopped; their faces brown,hidden in tshirts used to protect their faces from the wind; whole families....little ones look at me; I look back....the hoes on the raw wood truck bed...hmmm...soon it disipates and later I would hear esculate...then disappear into the other bad news of the frontera that overtakes the frontpage,but I don't know this yet....I wave goodbye, wish them luck; we exchange goodbyes...this is a different entry...the winds of change blowing me back...into something beyond my experience of knowing...I have only the photographs I've seen of others who dared to be courageous enough to show the truth...what is my truth to tell? I think of St Jude and Our Lady at the shrine; Show me what I must see...then not far down the road the fields; green.brown. the dots of colorful human beings bent down low harvesting. I make an aburpt stop; I'm compelled to ask; I hate shooting from the hip...I am directed to the foreman...may I make pictures here? The smiling face a beautiful girl, her little brother or sister just barely hanging out of her reboso follows me....we keep smiling at one another. I am in an onion field as big as my eyes can see. Picked by hand the people move down the line; they are shy and curious just like me...I love green onions and the smell intoxicates me; I watch the little hands,dark brown skin meeting dark brown earth. I think about Alfredo Vea Jr.'s book SILVER CLOUD CAFE about the asparagus pickers; how the plants bend in hands that know how to harvest them...whole families; little ones, husbands,wives;
they've come north too...who isn't an immigrant on this earth??? What do they know of plants I do not know, or people looking for the sweet deal at SAM's Club can't even imagine why the price is right....look at the labels on your food the next time you go shopping and imagine these faces....I give one of the mothers of the girls my Guadalupe bracelet; it's a small gesture to make up for all that she'll never know about the racism of my country and the efforts of those who work for humanitarian rights....one small gesture in a huge field crossing languages, cultures, dreams; hands protecting our eyes from the wind.
I bend down low to feel the dry dark earth...I only pick a few in comparison; nada...but I see how the dirt clumps, and gently with enough motion you shake most of it off and rubberband the bunch. next one, and another...and forever...Show me what I must see and do...I feel the land, the salt of tears in the wind as I begin to feel something bigger than me take form. Please give me courage to see and do; to make it possible so I may continue. The onion continues to peel. The wind continues to blow.
Help me do what I must do. Bienvenidos a Mexico.
Portraits from Walker Evans; Let Us Now Praise Famous Men:
The Farm Security Administration
Morning sun streaming into the open window. The air is different, warmer, balmier. I am packed for the most part. The Mariachi Mobile looks like the CasbaLounge with all the pillows packed high in the back. There's an extra create of books, and shuffled paperwork. I am bringing the classics my dad shared with me when I was still a teenager living with him. Who would have know then these men who wrote these books would become my spiritual grandfathers?? Nikos Kazantzakis,Greek writer of The Last Temptation of Christ, Buddha,Zorba the Greek, Serpent and Lily. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, the classic collaboration between photographer Walker Evans and writer, James Agee. Perhaps if there would be anything to aspire to accomplish with a body of work this is definitely one of the highest bars to aspire towards. Remembering it this morning in the early light, the birds singing,the train down the block, I recall the voice of my father, reading and re-reading to me different passages through out my life, implanting in me the love for the simple grace of hard working people. The love Agee and Evans shared for their subjects, encapsulate a feeling of the deepest empathy,the compulsion to see, to record, to comment...phrases come to mind like this in the midst of my new found work in Mexico. There is struggle, there is grace. There are no easy answers. There is the border problem and above all there is a humanity. I found a note my dad had written me tucked in-between the pages; "...Stay in your boat, make good pictures,keep doing your work..." he wrote me and sent it in the book downstream when I was living and working at the bottom of Grand Canyon as a cook for science, making portraits of my fellow boatmen and passengers....I reflect on these men who have helped shape my life, my conscience and heart. They ride on my shoulder and within me, whispering at times, shouting at others, showing me the path. I feel them encouraging me ever onward. I find it interesting how books appear when you need to be opened,reminded of something, the words become alive again, as if comprehended for the first time. They appear when needed.
I am packing. My father, my dad, my colleague,my friend brings out a huge bouquet of macaw feathers of the deepest reds, royal and turquoise blues shimmer with golden yellow, and black. They look as if they have been dipped into irridescent paints.
He tells me he was inspired to find the perfect feather for me to photograph. There are now at least a hundred feathers. He lays them out on the table and tells me to take as many as I need and to make him a photograph....I try not to select all the most beautiful ones; he encourages me to take more....I lay them out and imagine the ancient cultures carrying these plumes across the desert region miles on end. From the Mesas and Valleys and back again. Walking with plumes of fire. The red blood of the sun. The head dresses of embodied Spirits moving in unison, feet dancing on the earth praying for rain. In June my friend who has invited me to the Katchina dances over the years, his family is hosting the Parrot Dance after five years. I hope to return in time to witness again and bring within myself the ancient songs and prayers that still connect us to this world. I am migrating, returning and leaving and returning again.
Ancient voices,songs, the voice of the poets and philosphers, my father, those faces of sharecroppers, the faces of my pueblo, the land in it's springing, images in black and white, color, the past, present, interweaving, all these stories in between the ages. What is my duty in the course of a lifetime?? again I hear my father's words reading to me; "To see, to record, to comment...."
The real meaning of enlightenment is to gaze with undimmed eyes on all darkness. Nikos Kazantzakis