Russell Monk’s photographic series of Neighbours, friends and locals

By Russell Monk

Editors’ note: For this end of year issue we have the pleasure of reprinting some of the outstanding photos of local sanmiguelenses by international photographer Russell Monk. These people are ‘neighbours, friends and locals’ and part of our community, or rather we are part of theirs.

The full gallery can be seen at ‘Casa Portraits’ or Russell’s facebook page.

Monk’s photographs were featured in December in the New York Times

The portraits in the upcoming web gallery are from a series of photographs I have been making over the last couple of years, in a ‘daylight’ studio in the courtyard of my house…My subjects are my neighbours, friends, ‘locals’ and random people who I meet in my day-to-day life as I wander about, or people who just happen to knock unexpectedly at my front door.

Paz Quinceñera

Paz was about to turn 15. The “Quinceanera” is the traditional rite of passage, in most Latin American countries, from being a girl into becoming a young woman. This particular afternoon my garden was suddenly full of Paz’s family and a few friends I asked Isabelle (Paz’s mum) if I could photograph her with the adornos. The conversation turned to Paz and her upcoming “Fifteenth”. An idea came to me that seemed to make sense. But not to Paz, who was a little mortified when I suggested my idea. But, she bowed to peer and family pressure and some good natured egging on.


Izabelle loves nopales (prickly pear cactus). I once saw her coming down from the cerro above us with a few of them in her hands. I thought it was cool that she went off and got her food of the land. ‘No way’ she said as I was photographing her tengo miedo (I’m sacred). Of what? Viboras (snakes), they hang out at the base of the cactus.

Isabelle asked what I would be doing with all the nopal, as they were preparing some carnes molidas (spicy ground beef) and it would make a good side dish.

Half hour later I was in their kitchen eating both meat and nopales.


Deelan lives next door and is not yet two. If there is an hombre who gets more “action” on my street (or in the whole colonia even) I would like to meet him. “Deelan, Deelan, Deelan…” is a constant refrain from invariably two or three besotted little girls pushing, pulling, carrying him.

When he and his mum sit out on the sidewalk he has a constant stream of admirers passing by. “Chino, Chino…” they call out, due to his curly jet black hair.

Having said all that I have dreaded taking his photograph but have tried many times. He “knows” and does about everything to make it difficult.

I don’t know if this one succeeds, maybe not? Or, maybe?

Gordo newspapers

Bernabe Gonzalez Spiva and his array of newspapers has been a San Miguel fixture for nearly thirty years. When he sings out the names of the Mexican papers, Prensa, Heraldo, Jornada, Excelsior, Universal in his basso profundo voice, he is the “Pavarotti” of the San Miguel paper world!

Nico & Gonzalo

Nico and Gonzalo have been buddies since they started driving Los Urbanos (city buses). I got some of the low down on driving a bus. I When Nico is trabajando I rarely, if ever, see him. He, and Gonzalo, start at 5am and finish the day between 9 and 10pm. They have no real structured breaks for lunch either. That’s a 15-16 hour work day, 6 days a week. Take home pay is 2,500 pesos a week.


Dolores’ family was the first to live here in Colonia of Montes de Loreto. Dolores has a little stand at the end of my street where she sells treats and snacks every evening. Her husband who is older than her and can’t work anymore. Her four kids all live in California. The last time she saw them was nine years ago when she snuck across the border with some fake credentials.

Rafael ironworker pope

Rafael works for the local herrero (ironworker). It’s a bit “Mad Maxish”, dudes with blowtorches, bits of metal everywhere, half made candlesticks and chandeliers, many of them rusting and hanging from the steel girders or off the brick walls. And the sound of grinders competes with a loud stereo.

Hombre de Ajo:

‘Garlic’ man wanders the streets wrapped in long strings of garlic. He actually lives in a town a couple of hours away and comes here a few days a week to ply his trade.


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