The magazine of the photo-essay
November 2018 back issue
Mexico  Between Life and Death
“A free, really high quality photo-essay magazine.  Fabulous!” Stephen Fry. British actor, writer and film maker
by Harvey Stein
As a teenager, I imagined Mexico to be a distant, sun-struck country where people are poor but with large, happy families and a carefree, non- competitive way of living. A place of mixed races and heritages, of quasi- catholic/indigenous religions, and of ambiguous, secret rituals filled with much joy and pain. A country filled with a machismo that embraces death; a land of dancing skeletons, laughing ghosts and miracles. It was a vision of a country that I knew I could be comfortable in. Finally I went to Mexico and have made 14 trips there beween 1993 and 2010. I have never been disappointed; it’s a vibrant, friendly, emotionally
available, and sometimes raw land where a stranger is looked upon with curiosity and warmth. I go as a wanderer, photographing in a country often strange to me.  I hear words not known, see things I don’t understand, view acts of kindness and violence, smell new odors and taste new foods; I walk down small, unfamiliar cobblestone streets.  I react and photograph intuitively.  When in Mexico, I am dizzy with new experiences and free to go anywhere and to do anything.  The feeling is of endless possibilities. My limitations are my only restraint. I try to pierce the ever-present mysteries of this multifaceted land to come to some understanding of life and death through Mexico’s special alliance with these subjects. and at the same time to reveal my fascination with Mexico’s culture, people and endless incongruities. Especially captivating is to photograph at night, when the shroud of darkness enhances the mystery and ambiguity of lives lived. I have photographed primarily in small towns and villages and mostly during festivals (Day of the Dead, Easter, Independence Day) that highlight the country's unique relationship to death, myth, ritual and religion. Mexico is where the real merges with the imaginary, the living with the dead and the half-remembered with the once sensed. It is a country of paradox, beautiful and serene, but with a palpable air of poverty and struggle. Many people of Mexico have little, yet express their generosity by offering an outsider what little they have. The images show fragments of what Mexico is, a country of incredible contrasts and contradictions. Mexico is about piercing light and deep shadow, of stillness and quick explosiveness, of massive tradition and creeping progress, of great religious belief but with corruption as a way of life. It is a land of pulsating life, a country so close to the United States yet so far away, a country with more than 50% of its population under 20 years old but where old age is revered. These photographs provide an illusion rather than a representation of reality. They portray the instant of recognition, embodied in a fraction of a second; the ordinary is made transcendent. The images reside in a surreal world halfway between reality and fantasy and explore the constant mysteries of life and death that seem to surround the traveler in Mexico. Mexicans often view death as a natural part of life, an attitude derived from the Aztecs, Toltecs, and the Mayans. For the people of ancient Mexico, death was not an end, but merely a stage in a continuous cycle. Death meant to be reborn. Mexicans still consider death as a step beyond; it is a change, a transformation; the soul travels to lead another life, another experience. Many of the photographs explore Mexico's vigorous attachment to life, and to a reluctant acceptance of the presence of death. Harvey Stein New York City January 2018      
Two Couples Dancing the Danzon, Mexico City, 2000.
Woman Outside Window, San Miguel de Allende, 1995.
Boy at Bottom of Stairs, Guanajuato, 1993.
Two Men Wearing Sombreros, Atotonilco, 1997.
Man in President Fox Mask and Sombrero, Etla, 2001.
Man and Long Shadow from Above, Taxco, 2009.
Woman and Child on Bus, Veracruz, 2007.
Black Dog Walking, San Miguel de Allende, 1993.
Woman with Hand on Child’s Shoulder, Taxco, 2005.
Holding Jesus, Taxco, 2003.
Two Women with Small Child, Mineral de Pozos, 1997.
Man with Large Carton on His Back, San Miguel de Allende, 1995.
Man Holding Machete, Mineral de Pozos, 1995.
Two Women Passing Each Other, San Miguel de Allende, 1993.
Transparent Mexican Flag, San Miguel de Allende, 1995.
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