I’ve now been in Oaxaca, Mexico for almost 4 days and things are starting to come together. Today I visited the town of Mitla, a small town with a small, active market and some of the most important archeological ruins in the area, a pre-columbian settlement. As I’m not a big fan of “ruins”, I wanted to celebrate the living as opposed to the dead so, while others in my group checked out the inner tombs, I wanted to see what else I could photograph.
Off in a distant corner, under some trees, were three elderly men working on the landscape. I decided to try a new approach. I wondered over to where they were working, gave a nod to the head, didn’t touch my camera and sat down under a nearby tree and just watched. I made eye contact with Luis and, pointing to the sun, wiped my brow as a sign that I was hot and taking it easy under the tree. I didn’t touch my camera. He wandered over, hunched completely at the waste from decades of removing weeds with a 15″ machete, and we talked, he in Spanish, me in English. Though we had no common language, we somehow connected on the weather, the day and, most importantly, respect. It was then, an only then, that I dared raise my camera and with a nod, asked for a few photos. He obliged. After a few moments, he went back to work and I continued to photograph him and his partner as they spent almost 30 minutes cleaning up the area around one small tree with primitive tools. They forgot I was there and continued their work while I snapped away. There was a human connection of mutual respect and it was very cool. After 20-30 minutes, I shook their hands, told them, in my best Spanish, thank you and off I went.
This was a complete 180 from my usual, sometimes assaultive, approach to “street” photography. It happened not once but twice. I discovered a small room where a man was making clay piñatas for the Day of the Dead. I didn’t touch my camera, asked what he was doing and he invited me in, showing me his process and his creations, posed for a photo and then forgot I was there while he continued his craft. I was able to stay and shoot him while he worked.
This may be my MO from now own. I’ve been looking for more heart in my images and today, I got it because I engaged, slowed down and showed respect. I observed and took part in the big picture. It was extremely satisfying and, I think, I became a better photographer because of it.