About amyjunesmells

Sophomore Fine Art Photography major at the Corcoran College of Art and Design. Currently existing in Washington, DC.

God’s Country (Series)

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Kicking up dust as I trudge through the streets of this centuries-old city, daily I am contemplating my identity here as an outsider, a tourist, an agnostic, a Native American, and a photographer.
Through this class we have examined the place of the Mexican in their landscape, especially as related to the struggle for identity as its ownership has changed hands.
As I have roamed around, the theme that I have recognized time and time again is the relationship between the landscape and spirituality. In modern-day San Miguel, there are remnants of the polytheistic religions of the pre-colonial days, as well as rampant representations of the Catholicism stuck straight into Mexican culture even after the Spaniards occupation had ended. In this selection of images, I have attempted to convey that in my stay in here, I have looked both broadly and narrowly. These recurring images led me to explore the interaction between what is now, what has been left, and what will always be part of Mexican identity.

Dia le los Locos

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Yesterday’s parade gave me an entirely new perspective about shooting “on assignment.” The sun was high, about mid-day, when the droves of ROYGBV human-creature hybrids flooded the streets of San Miguel. Armed with a too-heavy bag, no water, and no idea what I was in for, a friend and I staked a spot behind the ropes near the beginning of the parade. Once the first group came rolling past, we realized we were only in the way, sticking out like sore gringa thumbs. As the costumed participants hurled candies from backpacks we ducked under the ropes and began to follow the parade. This quickly led us to the realization that all of San Miguel was lining these streets, and once we had squeezed ourselves out of the standing crowd, there was no way for us to get back in, safely behind the roped lines.
So along the route we went, dancing with strangers, and caught in the chaos, I gave up my viewfinder. I figured no matter where I shot or how carefully I tried to compose, there would be at least a dozen people in each frame and I had little to no control over what would happen between deciding to click the shutter and actually getting the photo.
So, in the midst of a dehydrated claustrophobic freak out, and photographing people which is generally what I aim not to do, it is safe to say that I was thrown 100% out of my comfort zone. My “photographic box,” as it was deemed in critique on Saturday, was shattered and though I am not completely happy with the photos, I am happy to have had the experience.

God’s Country

Cuidad de Mexico, MX, Summer 2011

Since arriving in Mexico 5 days ago, I have had an uneasy feeling in my stomach. I know it’s not the street tortas, or the tap water I’ve used to brush my teeth. “El Chupacabra” as it’s been affectionately termed by our troop of gringas, has yet to get me – knock on wood. I am acclimating quickly to the late sunsets, the high, broiling daytime sun, the food that is never without a corn product, and picking up more and more Spanish by the day. Phrases like “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Spanish” are frequent and often followed by red cheeks marking my embarrassment at not being able to communicate. I am often brightly adorned in what could be mistaken for traditional local garb (though they are merely bougie imitations bought in the States with excessive amounts of US currency. Side note: The more I realize the value of the peso to an American versus its value to a Mexican, the worse I feel about my sometimes frivolous spending habits). As my skin digs itself into deeper shades while I walk alone along highways past San Miguel, or hop from rooftop to rooftop along the side of town because someone carelessly left their gate open, I am frequently spoken to in long strings of perfect, fast-paced Mexican Spanish. I am doing my best to understand; not exactly assimilate but to absorb, and by the sound of those recipients of my crude attempts at Spanish – it’s working. As I climb the ridges of the city, I look around and can see only blue sky peppered with the whitest clouds this side of the Mississippi (there are still some things I can’t shake). The beauty is vast and open, the heat dry, and the thing which has hit me hardest as I’ve come to understand it is why this land is so tightly woven with its religion.

Our group traversed the vertical streets of the city today to arrive at the Museum of Masks, located within a charming bed and breakfast, tucked behind two slender nondescript doors. As we wandered the different gallery rooms and shelled out our pesos for the novelty of having Mexican folk art to take home with us, we heard drums beating from down the road. Heidi, one of the owners, came tearing through the kitchen to announce there was a parade (to celebrate lord knows what) careening down the road, and as we begged for a few more moments with the masks she warns that they will not wait for us.
So we race through the labyrinth of a home/museum to their rooftop with a perfect view of each passer-by as we would from a bird’s eye. The first and last few groups were extremely contemporary in both music and style choices, however, through the middle came a strange wave of history. Down the bumpy cobblestones came a rickety rusted blue pick-up truck, veiled in white sheets and carrying the precious cargo of a man dressed as Jesus, with stigmata wounds caking under the relentless rays of early afternoon. No music came with this truck, and the actor was as pale and emaciated as any depiction of Christ I’ve ever seen. The way he, and the procession, so obviously believed painfully in what they were doing was earth shaking for me. Having grown up in a home with no religious affiliation, only ever having been to sermons or mass when I happened to be with a friend’s family on a Sunday morning, the feeling in the faces of these parade participants was beautiful. They know not only who they believe themselves to be, but also who they believe God to be. They are Mexicans, and god has made their country what it is. Their faith is unshakable and it runs through the cobblestone streets as thick as the smog in Mexico City.

I stood on the balcony with tears in my eyes, peering down and realizing myself to be only a spectator at best. I was moved to further study with my limited time here in San Miguel the divine spirit that floats through these summer breezes.  As Octavio Paz delves into in The Labyrinth of Solitude, religion is what has identified the Mexican in pre-hispanic, colonial, and contemporary times. An explanation for the good bad and ugly, it has afforded the culture great art, vicious wars, and a hope for a national identity. The Virgin Guadeloupe and La Malinche, simple symbols offering an answer in a system twisted by government corruption and drugs. There is a cross on just about every corner in this town, and I aim to discover just what that means.