September 09, 2005

Sierra Norte

Follow-up to The Pachuco from The Midnight Heart

On Wednesday, we caught a bus heading out of Oaxaca to the Sierra Norte. It was cold and wet, but very beautiful. You have to have a guide up there, because the forests are fierce and you can easily lose your way. The community up there rent out cabins and offer their services as guides for some extra cash. The good thing is that tourism is not the dominant industry up there, so the locals were very friendly and happy to talk.

When I was in Mexico in 2004, I passed through the Sierra Madre stopping at a place called Creel. The locals were not very friendly and who could blame them. The tourists generally went up there to stare at the Tarahumara indigenous peoples. The only way to make money was through tourism. I think that this has happened in some parts of Wales to a lesser extent, but wherever it occurs I think it is to the detriment of the place.

I never take photographs of the indigenous peoples. I have seen tourists taking photographs of the indigenous people and they are very uncomfortable. In some ways, by doing this, tourists are taking away their pride. In order to take photographs of people in any situation, you need to build a relationship of trust as Gertrude Trudy Blom did in San Cristobal with the Mayans.

I generally make it a rule never to take photographs of people unless they ask me to.For example our guide in the Sierra Norte, Eustorgio Martinez, was keen to have his photo taken and I have promised to send him prints once they have been developed. They will then be able to use such photos in their promotional literature about the place and the guides thatthey offer. It's nice to give something back.

The Sierra Norte reminded me of a small town in Belize that we visited called Bermudian Landing. The town was a monkey sanctuary – howler monkeys to be precise. The townspeople ensured that the monkeys were not disturbed in a community run project. Nature lovers would then go to the town to wtach the monkeys in the wild and the community leaders farmed out the tourists fairly to stay with different members of the community. However, as in the Sierra Norte, this was not the total of Bermudian Landing's industry.

- 3 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Jude

    Yes ownership of your own image is interesting. I understand your discomfort at tourist photographs as if they had a right to capture on film all their experiences – a kind of lazy attempt to distil experience. The image of the person is being stolen. Your uncle Peter would not agree but his photographs would no be random but an interpretation. Nonetheless I wonder what he would think.

    13 Sep 2005, 23:33

  2. It's a difficult one. I think though that it comes down to trust. I don't think that Peter would take photographs of people who didn't trust or know him or who were obviously uncomfortable?

    14 Sep 2005, 17:26

  3. Gertrude Trudy Blom took hundreds of photographs of the Mayans but she built up a relationship of trust with them. She helped them by putting them up in her own house when they needed to go into town etc. I am going to her house next week, which is now a museum and also contains one of teh best libraries on Mexican culture and its indigenous peoples in the world. It exhibits some of her photographs and you can also stay there. It is free to use the library and I think is generally a wonderful place.Gertrude Trudy Blom was in a concentration camp during the Second World War and then afterwards she came to Central America looking for a new life. The maltreatment of the indigenous peoples did not sit well with her.

    14 Sep 2005, 17:31

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“Zona de plagas donde la dormida come / lentamente / su corazón de medianoche” – Alejandra Pizarnik

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