Russell Monk in Galería 6
By Edward Swift
Russell Monk’s Casa Photos opens at Galería 6 in Mineral de Pozos. Monk’s series of Mexican portraits, presented here for the first time in Mexico, suggests a narrative that does not necessarily have anything to do with the person photographed. André Breton once said that Mexico is the most surrealistic country in the world. It probably still is, and I suppose a lot of people would call these photographs surreal, but I would not. The word surrealism is so over used and misunderstood it’s dangerous and thus not entirely accurate to apply it to a document as serious as Casa Photos. In this series the photographer has focused his camera not only on San Miguel but more specifically on the colonia where he resides, Montes de Loreto. In doing so he has created a group of portraits that reflect a specific place and people as well as the enduring spirit of Mexico.
Russell Monk’s Casa Photos
Sat, Jan 12, 1-5pm
Jardin Principal 6
Mineral de Pozos
Until Feb 24
Gallery hours: Tue-Sun, 11am-5pm
For many of the photographs he has provided props: masks from Vulcan Ferretería on Canal, a pig’s head from a local butcher shop, a tuba to be worn like a hat, a guitar with the back cut away to reveal a person’s face in the sound hole. In front of the camera all of the subjects appear at ease, not only with the props, all familiar objects albeit used in unique settings, but also at ease with the photographer. They may think he’s crazy but they like him, and more importantly they clearly trust him.
Some of the images from this series were featured recently in a major article by David González in The New York Times in which Monk, speaking of his experience of working in San Miguel, was quoted as saying, “ There is something about the light. Mexico is a pretty surreal place, and has this macabre sense of self in a way that America and England don’t.”
If you visit Russell Monk Facebook you will find the artist’s running commentary on many of the photographs: thoughts about the shoot, events that may have led up to it, or what exactly inspired many of the scenarios or the use of certain props. No choices were easily made. Matching the model to the prop often took time and a lot of thought. Most of the portraits were taken in the photographer’s patio and all shot with natural light.
Russell Monk grew up in London. His family relocated to Toronto, and he has lived in Mexico off and on for 10 years. He has traveled the world widely, photographing political campaigns and humanitarian crises; he covered the Rwanda crisis for Canada’s national newspaper The Glove & Mail. He has also photographed for NGO’s and numerous charities including Greenpeace (for which he spent a month in the Amazon.) The photographer says he was “drawn here by the strong faces, the landscapes and the patient endurance of the country people.”
In my opinion this series reflects a heightened and poetic reality, highly theatrical, capturing the particular spirit of a people and a place. Each subject in these portraits agreed to take part in the photographer’s vision, but they brought something of themselves to the project as well and in doing so many of them may have revealed more of their interior lives than one might realize on first glance. These photos are not to be taken in at a glance. They are to be looked at, studied, pondered. And when all is said and done this series is a journey into the head of Russell Monk as he takes an appreciative look at the people with whom he has daily interaction, the majority of them his neighbors.