a l u m n i profile
The Essence of an Image
“Crossing the Rio Mequitsata, ca 1971” I was headed on horseback to the Sierra Huichol with my loyal Nikon ready. The sun was already well beyond the mountains when I asked these bashful bathing girls if I could take a photograph of them. In the far background you can see one of their little friends looking at this strange scene taking place in the sandy waters of the river.
efore anything else, I wish to tell everyone at Focus how much I appreciate the opportunity to work with you. I have done many interviews on both sides of the Rio Grande or the Rio Bravo (both names are beautiful), but this is the first time I’ve been invited by Mexico City to share some thoughts about what I do. It is an honor, mainly because Mexico has given me such a rare opportunity. For this, I say thank you.
John Christian (’58) has had a stellar photographic career, inspired by people on both sides of the border. Here are some of his memories.
“Xucama & Alejandro, Semana Santa, ca. 1970.”
the photographs they had posted on the sides of their large and cumbersome cameras behind glass so that folks could see the kind of work they did. I always thought, “My goodness, all those nice photographs of all these young couples, families and of all those people who love each other and these photographers capture all of this. It’s like the history of Mexico. It is so beautiful, something very magical.” Finding the way. It was years later when I entered the book business in Texas that I discovered the work of the American photographer Edward Weston. It was one of those defining moments; his images of Mexico sparked something inside of me. This man’s work also led me to the work of other photographers like Tina Modotti and Manuel Álvarez Bravo (who I later met in Coyoacan). Weston and Modotti were like the Veracruz harbor lighthouse. For me, it meant that I had found a way, via the camera, to deal with the past and to return to Mexico and document some of the many places I had known and experienced in my childhood. It gave me a way to deal with certain themes on a psychological, spiritual, therapeutic and aesthetic level.
Beginnings. I was born in Sherman, Texas, but was taken in the arms of my mother, a registered nurse, one year later in a noisy Braniff DC-3 to Mexico City where I was raised. My father, a mining engineer from Leadville, Colorado, and mother had met in the town of Guanajuato where she had family who had worked in the mining business for a long time. My father’s first job was with National Railroad of Mexico and later he helped build the first modern highway from Nuevo Laredo to Mexico City. First camera. One Christmas morning in Mexico City, my parents gave me a Kodak Twin Lens Duaflex camera, which became my companion. My first photographs were of a 16 de septiembre marching parade in Cuernavaca.
Austin days. In the 1960s, Austin, Texas was a fervent pueblo with all sorts of talented souls — photographers, artists, weavers, writers, musicians, anthropologists, linguists, biologists and others who helped me understand that perhaps documentary work might in some instances go further beyond a camera and a lens. In the spirit of photography I established the first gallery dedicated to photography in Austin: the West Avenue Gallery. I had been inspired by the German-American photographer,
Early stirrings. A book called Picturesque Mexico, by the German photographer Hugo Brehme, had a tremendous influence on the way I began to see things. I still have that book. There were also all those itinerant photographers who were everywhere in Mexico. I looked at 44
Focus Spring 2011: The Green Issue