Ashley, Oaxaca, Mexico
This portrait dates from March last year when I was fortunate enough to attend a workshop in Mexico with Mary Ellen Mark.
Mary Ellen gave me the assignment that day to go out and find a family or someone I could photograph. The taxi I’d taken with another of the attendees, Ari, dropped me in a kind of semi rural spot on the outskirts of Oaxaca which, to be frank, didn’t look all that promising. The driver said he was going to have lunch and would be back in a couple of hours. Ah, siesta!
So, here I was kind of wandering down this dirt road wondering how I was going to fill in the hot afternoon when a couple of kids walked by. I raised the camera to take a quick shot and the elder of the two, a boy of about 9 or 10, said to come with them to their home and take their photos there (well, I think that’s what he said, as there was a distinct language barrier).
Now this wouldn’t even be a consideration in Australia. No way. But I’d already learned that Mexico is a whole lot less uptight and hysterical about these things, and prefers to think the best of people rather than the worst, so I felt comfortable enough. Besides which, I didn’t have the impression there would be too much else on offer to photograph otherwise.
They just lived a couple of hundred metres away, and (reassuringly) mama and papa were both home. The family is just wonderful. Mama (Mayra) had just prepared lunch so there was delicious home-made tamales and watermelon. There were five children, including the little girl from next door, who were all really quite far from camera shy and, collectively, in possession of a totally infectious sense of fun and laughter.
Needless to say I spent the most wonderful couple of hours that day, despite the absence of a common language, and as a bonus got lots of nice pictures. This one is from the second day I went out there (with Mary Ellen’s encouragement I went back three times, both to take pictures and to give them copies of the pictures I’d taken the previous time). That second time I also asked Leslie along, another of the workshop participants who was at a bit of a loose end with no plans for the day, and it was even more fun with two of us crazy gringos (or whatever) snapping away.
Ashley, the youngest of the children, plonked herself in a shopping trolley in the single room all the children shared and I got this shot, which I like a lot. It is interesting to compare it with Leslie’s shots which are colour and show the red of the top Ashley was wearing. I know Leslie went back to them earlier this year, and Mary Ellen rang Leslie from this summer’s workshop in the past month or so to ask for their address so that another photographer could go. So the family home has become a favourite destination for Mary Ellen’s students!
It is rare, yet truly satisfying when things work out well from a start of seemingly not much potential. In this particular case, the experience has furnished me with one of my most intense lessons yet in reaffirming to me what is so great about photography.