Among the first images I captured after purchasing my digital camera were made on a trip to the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. I was drawn mainly by the Mayan ruins there, having had a particular interest in things Maya since a college anthropology class. Though terrific in some ways, photographically the trip was not a success. Although I wrote last week of re-visiting and revising old images, there’s no point if the original lacks merit. I did not know my new equipment well, I didn’t understand picture-making very well, and though I knew I wanted to work in black and white, I hadn’t yet developed an eye for it.
I did, at least, realize quickly that I was interested not in the usual tourist shots, but in the interaction of the monuments with their natural environment. Left to themselves, even major structures would be overrun by vegetation in a mere century or so. It requires extensive restoration for the monuments to stand free and clear in the way we are used to seeing them in pictures.
Unfortunately, I was not at all effective in expressing this concept. Probably my most interesting shot is the one above of the Castillo at Chichen-Itza. I love that the tree and the pyramid are inversions of each other. However, I can’t quite decide whether or not I like the fact that they are tonally and texturally too similar to separate clearly. In the end, I think I enjoy the way they partially merge, but become distinct in their different realms.
Given my theme, plus my inclination to avoid crowds, I was most interested in smaller, less restored sites. Yet despite some good material, my results were poor. The second image, of a ruined pyramid at Muyil, suffers when converted to monochrome. As seen below, it becomes hard to distinguish the green foliage from the rocks, to the detriment of my purpose. While not an exciting shot in color either, this makes it clear I was not yet in the habit of thinking and seeing in black and white, which is definitely a learned skill.
In fact, most people’s favorite image from that trip owes its success almost entirely to its color. The cobbled-together shack at the edge of the beach at Tulum is built almost entirely of re-used scraps. As the plate in front of the dog suggests, it had a regular occupant.
My photos from that trip were within the first few percent of those I’ve made since taking up photography again. It’s too bad I started with by far the hardest location to return to. If I get the chance, I hope to return with some images having only the kind of separation issues I talked about last week.