PHOTO JOURNAL // Molly Steele Photographs Mexico City

January 21st, 2021 // Photographer: Molly Steele // Photos

Man pushes carnations at a flower market, Mexico City, 2018..

What moments were you trying to capture?

Mexico City is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. I found myself drawn to the quiet visions and moments there, just as when I’m home in Los Angeles. For me, it’s imperative that I seek out and inhabit these spaces as a respite from, but also within the metropolis.

Do you have a good story from taking any of these pictures?

My trip was brief and centered around learning about the cultural celebrations associated with Dia de los Muertos, during which people honor the dead. That experience and education in general was impactful to me, because here in America we have such sterile and different ways of handling loss and grief. My biggest take away was being able to differently hold space for those I’ve lost and reconsidering how I’ll move forward with what I witnessed there.

Are you looking for anything specific when taking photos?

When I flew to Mexico City, I didn’t have anything specific in mind to photograph. I shot so quickly for 2 days that when I dropped my film off at the lab I felt as though I was in for a surprise. A clear theme in the 9-10 rolls was the men in Mexico that caught my eye. There was so much tenderness everywhere I looked, aided by the fact that the city was filled with flowers for Dia de los Muertos. Additionally, I was drawn to the chaotic texture of the city.

A few years ago, filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin said to me that in his work, he chooses to use a lot of texture, because your senses could not dull to it and the stimulation keeps your brain always active. This made me think about the consistency around me, and across the globe. It’s the finish, the touch, the feel that is a true collaboration of elements. Something softened, homogenized, monotonous reduces the texture and nulls the brain. It’s combinations that give rise to possibility. A combination of effort and tactics, of minutiae, of people, of places, of opportunities and perspectives. In this I see texture as decentralized, an irreducible grain in it’s complexity. The collection of photos from time in Mexico City demonstrate some of the texture, aided by the film they were shot with.

What makes the city you’re shooting so beautiful?

Mexico City is a place with a broad and dynamic scope of the suffix “-scape”. Soundscape, landscape, cityscape. Its colours, history, and culture...being there engaged all of my senses— all of the time. I was hearing, smelling, seeing colours, shapes, feeling the city on my skin. The social fabric we create, the weaving of backgrounds and blessings, disparities and paths...they all add to the textural makeup of a place.

Why did you choose to travel there?

I was actually there on a sponsored artist trip with Tequila Casadores, who flew several of us there to create work. It was helpful to me to have their facilitation and access to cultural resources.

Any complications happen on the trip?

The biggest complication for me was that I speak elementary Spanish, but am more comfortable speaking French, which I learned earlier on. There were many occasions in which I reacted to people in French, or struggled to access the right language in real-time conversations. The only other complication aside from that was not being able to stay longer.

What’s the best memory you have with your camera?

At the beginning of 2019 there was a nationwide teacher’s strike in the US. It lasted several days here in LA, most of which were accompanied by relentless winter rain. My experiences shooting that week felt electric and really made me appreciate the durability of my camera as I was exposed fully to the elements, drenched in rain. It’s a part of the Nikon F-series which are famously resilient. I rarely attend protests with others, because I like to snake through the thickest pockets of the crowd (I’m petite) and get into a zone that pushes through discomfort. Shooting that week by and large felt like harmonizing with my camera in a partnership I’d not previously experienced despite all the years of working with it.

Do you remember how you got your first camera?

Not so much of a magical story, but on my way to a retail job in 2007 I passed by a yard sale on Hollywood Blvd. and someone was selling an old Agfa 35mm. It really was not a strong camera for me, but was my first. After years of developing an interest in photography, a friend of mine surprised with me a Nikon F3 with a note that implied he knew it was the right camera for me and that important work would come from it over the years. It’s what I’ve stuck with ever since.