What the Camera Really Likes

I first saw her in the central plaza of Valladolid, across from the Catedral de San Gervasio. She was sitting with what I assumed was her boyfriend or husband. They were waiting to watch the opening dances of the Noche de Vaquería. The sign behind the bandstand in the street read “En Honor al Santísimo Sacramento”. I guess noches de vaquería occur frequently in the Yucatán. They happen on the weekend with dances, speeches and other festive fair. I just happen to be in town for this one. Evidently Valladolid had recently been named another Pueblo Mágico by Mexico’s Secretaría de Turismo. They were now celebrating this honor. It proves well the advice I would give anyone traveling through the Yucatán, or probably any part of Mexico. If you are going to stay in one of these wonderful colonial towns for a day or two, arrange to be there on the weekend. That is when they block the central plaza off to traffic and throw a fiesta full of traditional dancing, live music and street vendors selling crafts and food. After the traditional dances and speeches you have an opportunity to join the all inclusive dance to the Caribbean influenced music of this part of Mexico.

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Fireworks in front of the Cathedral of San Gervasio, Valladolid, Mexico.

I stood up on the plaza wall leaning against the wrought iron fence and watched a fireworks display in front of the cathedral. More stuff was fizzing, smoking and sparking close to ground level than there were rockets shooting into the air. The couple sat below me. Now I’m not an ogler of women, especially those accompanying a partner. But this one had an attractiveness that was impossible for me to resist. They were both dressed in a very chic, bohemian style. It looked especially fine on her. She wore a leopard skin scarf in her plentiful curly hair. I doubted they were from Valladolid. I heard a bit of their conversation in a foreign language. Most definitely not Spanish. Perhaps Portuguese. Maybe they were Europeans or Brazilians. They were taking in the festivities with the same sense of wonder as I was. After a while I moved on and chalked it up as like the sighting of a rare beautiful bird. There were plenty of other beautiful birds to see that night as I circled the plaza snapping shots of the festivities. As it was, I spied her a few more times that night and enjoyed the few extended glances I took.

The next night as the festivities continued I saw her alone with a bicycle. I am not the bravest photographer when it comes to taking photos of strangers. You want to be careful not to seem like a voyeur. Probably it’s best to get permission from your subject. But then you are not getting them in the innocent light of unguarded activity. On this trip I had taken loads of photos of ancient ruins and crumbling quaint Mexican buildings. Cathedrals and conventos and under ground cenotes with a sole ray of sunlight reflecting off the cavern waters. It’s all magnificent subject material, but I’m really attracted to snapping photos of people. Especially strangers going about their life in an exotic place I’ve never been to before.

Earlier that afternoon I had discovered a means of bolstering my confidence for this activity. In fact it helped me loosen up my shutter finger for all kinds of subjects. It’s called tequila and/or mezcal. With a couple of shots of this confidence bolstering medicine you begin to encounter a treasure trove of scenes worthy of a photograph. I returned to the plaza cantinas a couple more times in the late afternoon and early evening to maintain my confidence level. All at a measured pace of course. Even with the steady cam feature on my digital camera I had to manage holding the camera still enough under the influence. I feel it went fairly well. Even after the tequila tasting episode at Maruja Café under the neon “Viva México” sign.

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I had just finished a plentiful serving of some locally made helado from a street vendor. A highly recommended treat. A different flavor of ice cream than I’ve ever had before. The parque in the center of the plaza had thinned out a bit. There she was walking her bicycle casually over the plaza’s stone tiles. And thus I grabbed a few shots as she searched through her bag.

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Now this might sound like a bit of an unhealthy fixation. Maybe potentially burgeoning stalker behavior. But I feel it’s really all quite innocent. A new exciting challenge for me in the world of travel photography. And of course I’m sure it is not new to many. I suppose this idea was first planted in my head when I was just a little kid. My parents took my two brothers and I to the British Isles when I was 7 years old. This was 1975 and my parents were fairly sophisticated amateur photographers. They had SLR cameras and various lenses of the time. A weighty load around your shoulder or neck in those days. My dad took plenty of photographs of castles, cathedrals and rural country sides. But it seemed for a couple of days in London my dad was on a mission to capture a few good shots of London women. I confess he has a better eye for this kind of composition. But I’m just a beginner. And of course I learned from him that girls with bikes are good subjects.

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London 1975

 

She could only have worn those shoes in 1970s London.

She could have only worn those shoes in 1970s London.

 

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A shot of the photographer of the London photos.

 

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In Mexico I got photographs of women taking photographs,…

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…climbing pyramids….

 Dancing in Valladolid, Mexico.

…and even dancing.

It looks like she’s doing the white man’s overbite.

 

 

This one from those London days tells a funny story. He sure isn’t looking at his smartphone. And well, it’s 1970s London so they are in fact waiting to use a phone in a booth. Ahh…the good old days when you didn’t have electronic devices to divert you from what is really important.

 

And then there’s the classic behind photo. Those can be tricky and seem a bit more voyeuristic if you don’t get it right. It is obvious that the focus of the photographer and anyone else looking at the photo can only be one thing. But when it is done right, it is lovely.

What a beautiful pair of bell bottoms.

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