Oaxaca seems to invite and inspire creativity. Thus, for twenty years distinguished photographer, Mary Ellen Mark, who “considered Oaxaca her second home,” brought students here and conducted workshops at the Centro Fotográfico Manuel Álvarez Bravo. Now, seven photographers, Björn Árnason, Lori Barra, Ina Bernstein, James Carbone, Chae Kihn, Tim Porter, and Jody Watkins, are honoring their late mentor with an exhibition, Nuestra Oaxaca, at the Centro Fotográfico.
The exhibition opened on January 20, 2017, but it was the coming together by the seven and their very personal remarks during the artist reception and panel discussion on February 25 that revealed the impact Mary Ellen Mark had on their lives and work. She was “a dedicated and demanding teacher” who pushed them to know themselves in order to authentically see and capture the people and places on the other side of the lens. They also offered glimpses into Mark’s playful side and wit, along with how meaningful her friendship was to each of them and their profound sense of loss at her passing in 2015. I wasn’t the only one who blinked away tears.
In the words of Tim Porter, spoken at the opening of the exhibition on January 20, 2017:
We seven photographers are all different. Some of us are professionals who work for newspapers or do commercial work. Some of us are amateurs who simply love photography. Some of work in a documentary or journalistic style. Some of us make more interpretative images. We live in New York, in Los Angeles, in Iceland and in San Francisco. Some of us have been coming to Oaxaca for decades. Some of us for only a few years.
What we all share is Mary Ellen. She brought us together. Through her we became friends. Because of her we became better photographers. With her in mind, we come back – to pursue the work we started here, to become the photographers she believed we could be, to honor her passion and, perhaps, to find hope and inspiration in it.
If you are currently in Oaxaca or plan to be before the exhibition closes on April 7, 2017, I highly recommend paying it a visit; the images from each of the seven photographers will reveal Oaxaca in a new and thought-provoking light. In addition, you can also see the work of their mentor, Mary Ellen Mark, that is part of the Colección Toledo/INBA.