The Getty Conservation Institute is, they tell us, part of the J. Paul Getty Trust --- the monster that runs that museum that will pay $200,000,000 for Van Gogh's other ear --- and only slightly less for a very plump, rosy Renoir "Lady of the Bidet."
Fortunately, their purview extends beyond buying extravagant paintings and constructing ugly museums where no-one can get up to see the paintings without a reservation, a pass, and an enabling order. One of their smaller projects --- only $10,000,000 or so --- is to go into places like Los Angeles, Capetown, and Mexico City, find a dozen or so deserving kids, hand them cameras, give them a bit of instruction on how to use the camera, then turn them loose. "Take pictures," they say. "Take pictures of things you know." And they do, and from this, Getty sets up an exhibit --- locally --- then makes a nice book, with words and pictures, which goes out to the world.
It's a wise use of capital. For one thing, most of these kids in Mexico City aren't going to be taking pictures of scenic squares like you and I would --- they want pictures of things they know: the local bar, their rowdy friends, Gramps. In addition, not only will they be learning something from the process, they'll teach us something about their city. Further, they, as all photographers must, become part of what they are capturing with their great fish-eye. As one of them says in one of the essays that come along with these photographs, "A landmark is something that you never thought of until you realize that it's important."
This is Luis Ignacio, a reformed drug addict (at sixteen), the one that took the picture of the head of Juárez [see above]. It's in his colonia of Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, over near the airport, and he says,
Cuando veo la cabeza de Juárez, sé que estoy a un paso de mi casa. Lleva bastante tiempo aquí. Está bastante decuidada, no obstante que a un lado está la jefatura de la policía judicial. No le ponen la atención ni el cuidado necesarios.
["When I see Juárez's head, I know that I'm very near my house. It's been there a long time. It's in pretty bad shape, even though it's next door to the headquarters of the judicial police. They don't pay any attention to it --- or give it the care it needs."]
What you have here is not only a fine photograph of Juárez, taken from below, and an honest description, through the words, from one who knows, of the fact that the police can't and won't pay attention to the man who is one of the great liberating heroes of Mexico.
Ten kids with ten cameras, strolling everywhere, taking pictures of their families, and the local drunks, and the local iglesia, and the dogs, and the gangs, and the graffiti-filled walls, and the street clowns --- las chupacabras --- and their sisters during the day of the Candelaria.
For those of us who love Mexico, especially Mexico City with its appalling chaos and noise and messy traffic, this is our book. Wonderful graphics. Excellent writing. Sensible editing. And fine words, words of burgeoning young artists who never knew they were artists until the Getty people came along and showed them how to do it:
Saco fotos por si algún día se derrumba todo. Así, un hijo o alguien de mi familia podrá ver lo que me gustaba. ["I take photos in case everything falls down someday. That way, my child or someone in my family will be able to see what I used to like."]
Wise words from one who lives in earthquake territory. Another says:
Éste es mi bisabuelito. Yo me siento a platicar horas y horas con él, y me cuenta sobre la invención de la luz, de cuando pusieron luz en su casa y de cuando vio el primer coche. Nació en el siglo pasado, tiene 98 años. Él es la historia misma, no es parte de la historia, sino que él es la historia.["This is my great-grandfather. I sit and talk to him for hours and hours. He tells me about the invention of light, and when they put electricity in his house, and when he saw his first car. He was born in the last century, he is 98 years old. He is history itself --- he's not part of history, but he is history."]
--- Ignacio Schwartz