Well, I just got back from the beautiful colonial town of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. I’d never heard of San Miguel until a few months ago when my wife, Jen, signed up for a photography workshop there. Unfortunately, the workshop canceled so she invited me to come along since her travel arrangements were non-refundable. So off we went on our own photo safari.
With each trip or personal shoot that I undertake, there’s usually a theme that emerges. In past Mexico trips, I did a lot of street photography of the locals. I didn’t have a plan for this trip; I figured that something would come to me. And it did. Within minutes of arriving, I was struck by the long afternoon shadows on the outside of our hotel, the Casa de Sierra Nevada. When we were shown to our room, I saw this shadow on our fireplace and I knew that I had my focus.
As we walked about the old town, I looked for shadows and lines that could tell a story.
Before long, I began to move away from identifiable architecture and focus on more abstract details.
But any photographic retelling of San Miguel wouldn’t be complete without color. I love the bold terra cottas and punchy yellows of the old buildings.
In San Miguel, each building is built adjoining to each other. There’s no physical separation between the two on the outside. The stucco is even blended from one building to the other so the connection is smooth without so much as a crack separating the two. But each edifice does stand out by virtue of its vibrant ochre, pink or green paint color. Where the colors meet up reminded me of abstract paintings so I began I seeking out interesting connections of color.
As I got in close for shots, I got a lot queer looks from passersby. To their eye, there wasn’t anything of interest going on. For the most part, I stayed away from the pretty doors and overall architectural shots that attract most tourist photographers.
There’s a lot of gringos in San Miguel, over ten percent of the population by some accounts. A lot of Americans have purchased homes and retired there. Not only is the cost of living cheap, the setting beautiful, and the weather terrific, there’s a thriving and friendly expat community that takes the edge off of living in a foreign country.
Even with all the Americans and tourists, the photo students that showed up on our final day there stood out. Most tourists have small cameras, but these guys had the big zoom lenses and the backpacks filled with gear that established them as big time. Jen and I chuckled as we watched them cluelessly snap away. I even ran into a group of them after dinner and shared with them some advice and answered their questions. (I had a few margaritas that night and now I can’t remember what it was that I said. I’m sure it was witty, profound and relevant!)
As I walked down the street on my final evening there, my eyes were attuned to the shadows, lines and colors that I wanted for my photographs. I thought about how I was seeing something that was different from what others may see. We all look at the same things, but what we see in in that view is so different. Anyone can buy the equipment, but nobody can see the things that I see, for better or worse.