A love affair with the contrasts and contradictions of Mexico – in pictures

During fourteen trips between 1993 and 2010, Harvey Stein photographed in Mexico, primarily in small towns and villages and mostly during festivals (Day of the Dead, Easter, Independence Day) that highlight the country’s unique relationship to death, myth, ritual and religion. This book is the definitive expression of Stein’s intimate relationship with the people and culture of Mexico.

The images show fragments of what Mexico is, a country of incredible contrasts and contradictions. Mexico is about piercing light and deep shadow, of stillness and quick explosiveness, of massive tradition and creeping progress, of great religious belief but with corruption as a way of life. It is a land of ritual and legend, of vibrant life and dancing skeletons, a country next to the United States yet so far away, and with over 50 percent of its population under 20 years old but where old age is revered. In these masterful photographs, Mexico – Between Life and Death, Stein explores these unsettling disparities.

Website Harvey Stein

‘I go as a wanderer, photographing in a country often strange to me. I hear words not known, see things I don’t understand, view acts of kindness and violence, smell new odours and taste new foods; I walk down small, unfamiliar cobblestone streets. I react and photograph intuitively.’

‘When in Mexico, I am dizzy with new experiences and free to go anywhere and to do anything. The feeling is of endless possibilities. My limitations are my only restraint.’

Renowned American photographer Harvey Stein’s fascination with Mexico began when he was a teenager. Compared to the mundane surroundings of his youth in Pittsburgh, Mexico seemed a mysterious and ambiguous place that was nearby, yet so far away.

During 14 trips between 1993 and 2010, Stein photographed primarily small towns and villages and mostly during festivals (Day of the Dead, Easter, Independence Day) that highlight the country’s unique relationship with death, myth, ritual and religion. This book is the definitive expression of Stein’s intimate relationship with the people and culture of Mexico.

Stein’s black and white photographs, with rich blacks and strong contrasts, are moody, gritty, and evocative in an attempt to capture life lived raw, open and on the edge. He depicts symbols of death (skeletons, skulls, guns, crosses and cemeteries) that heighten the urgency of existence. Stein purposely seeks out traditional rather than modern environments to photograph.

He explains: ‘the images reflect my personal, passionate and intimate feelings about Mexico. So if the images are dark, intense, not all so lovely, so be it. It is only one person’s vision. As Eugene Smith, probably the greatest photojournalist of the 20th century, once said of photographing Pittsburgh, “it’s only a rumour of the place”.’

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