A Mixe Flower by Christian Rodriguez
“I am interested in exploring the feminine world not only visually, but also by looking at how cultural practices influence the way women relate to their environment, usually due to inequality” Meet PHmuseum 2015 Grant 3rd Prize winner Christian Rodriguez.
From the series A Mixe Flower by © Christian Rodriguez
Congratulations on receiving the
PHmuseum 2015 Grant 3rd Prize. What are your thoughts about this
I am very grateful to the jury for this recognition. However, the important thing for me is to give the story of Gloria the greatest possible visibility. An award of this nature helps the work to have much more visibility, as this is a forgotten issue in Latin America that needs special attention.
Tell us more about Gloria’s story…
Gloria lives in the Istmo of Tehuantepec, on the northern side of the state of Oaxaca. Unfortunately this story is no exception, quite the contrary, in this region and in many areas of Mexico. By working with the NGO Nääxwiin, I could have access to this information and have direct contact with the situation. Sharing day-by-day life with people working constantly with these realities was a great learning experience. Nääxwiin starts in the Mixe communities, helping women to fight for gender equality. It is important to support these women that have a direct impact on the community.
It is common for teenage mothers between 10 and 14 years to be victims of incest and rape. Gloria has been systematically raped by her father. He has also sexually abused two of her sisters, of 8 and 16 years old. Her baby is almost a year old. She spends an average of 12 hours a day making “totopos”, of which she earns USD60 per month to feed her family composed of her mother and 10 siblings.
Usually in small communities such as this, when these kind of situations occur, people try to repair the honor and the damage caused to the family but it is hardly ever considered psychological support for the child.
I am talking of a particular story to speak of a general situation. These realities are cyclic: violence, poverty and the repetition of traditional roles make it very difficult to break these circles. It is essential to work on gender equality and especially on giving these girls the same opportunities that boys have. We need to work in order to give these girls the opportunity to complete basic education and have a life project.
You chose a very special narrative and unique aesthetics. To what do you ascribe these decisions?
Firstly, the decision to travel to Mexico was motivated by one of my best friends, Veronica Gutierrez who is Mexican and transmitted to me a great love for this country long before I met it.
I did not want to add more drama to a story that has it already. That is why I wanted to work from another perspective. I remember before traveling to Oaxaca I met Cristina de Middel: we had coffee and after 10 minutes I thought a lot about how to do it. She motivated me just before I traveled.
I looked for inspiration in the Mexican muralists, paintings, and cultural traditions. In particular I found many visual metaphors in Frida Kahlo’s paintings: the colors and her world. Frida took many elements from the Oaxacan culture – her dresses; the Huipil; nature, flowers, and food; and the pre-Hispanic traditions that speak to us of centuries of wisdom.
I spend much of the time of my personal projects dedicated to the research and study of the topic I’m working on. For me, it is essential to have a knowledge of the terrain, consult texts written by sociologists, anthropologists, and local artists, among others. For this project I spent several weeks in Mexico studying the issue before taking any photographs. I live in the North but I’m from the South. I constantly look to the south and all or most of my references come from there. My north is the South.
A Mixe Flower is part of a much larger project on teen pregnancy in Latin America that you have been developing for some time ago. What first led you to investigate this issue and what have you’ve encountered along the way?
All the projects I develop are linked, in one way or another, to my personal life or family . I am the son of a teenage mother; my mother had me when she was 17 years old and she was a single mom, a pattern that constantly repeats in the issue of teenage pregnancy. One of my sisters was a mother at the age of 16; clearly this reality has always been very close to my life, so that is why I decided to work on this topic.
This journey I started a few years ago has helped me to look inside, to know who I am and to look for stories that are close to my origins. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Latin America is the only region in the world where the number of teenage pregnancy is still increasing. It is not just poverty, education and information. In all cases it has to do with the absence of a proper life project; one that offers hope and encouragement to continue studying. A gap is generated in gender equity, where girls don’t have the same opportunities. We have to work on empowering girls from a very early age, in the achievement of real equality in decision-making. Once this starts happening we will also have equity in life projects. The day when life projects for boys and girls become quite the similar is the day teen pregnancy will decrease.
Your body of work generally focuses on concepts related to women, their identity, and environments. What attracts you to these female universes?
The decision to work with gender related issues happened while doing the Master of EFTI in Madrid. It was a moment of great experimentation and learning. My tutors helped me dig into the sea of personal experiences. As the son of a teenage single mother, raised by my grandmother, and the fact that I did not meet my biological father until the age of 33, my world has always been focused on women. I have been very lucky to be surrounded by wonderful women who have influenced me and inspired me to work on these issues.
I am interested in exploring the feminine world not only visually, but also by looking at how cultural practices influence the way women relate to their environment, usually due to inequality; how some canons are still imposed nowadays by distant or ancient cultures; and how this affects relationships with the opposite sex. I want to show an everyday, contemporary vision of women and their environment.
PMH’s award is a good incentive to keep on working with your projects. Tell us, what are your future plans?
I’m looking for organizations or economic support to allow me to carry out this project in other Latin American countries. I want to visit Central American countries; the ones that have the highest rates of teen pregnancy.
Also, we have started working on the new edition of SAN JOSE FOTO, an international photography festival held in San Jose, Uruguay. The aim of this festival is to give visibility to contemporary Latin American photography, but also to the rest of the world. We want to make a particular emphasis on emerging photographers who need to give visibility to their projects. I want to encourage both Uruguay’s and my continent’s photography, and help new generations to have more opportunities to develop their projects.
Christian Rodriguez (1980) was born in Montevideo, Uruguay. He joined the newspaper El Observador in 2006 and he has also worked with news agencies such as AFP, AP and Reuters. In 2009, after he won the grant “Roberto Villagraz,” he moved to Madrid, Spain to study an MA in Documentary Photography at EFTI, winning the “Premio Futuro” for best student of his generation (2009). In 2011 he was nominated for the Joop Swart Masterclass. He has been published in such international media as The New York Times, El Mundo, and ABC, among others and his work has been exhibited worldwide. His work has evolved towards documentary photography, focusing his gaze on the lives of women, looking closely at everyday stories of the characters. His interest is in showing the modern, everyday woman and their environment. This year Christian received the PMH 2015 Grant 3rd Prize for his photographic series A Mixe Flower, which explores the life of Gloria, a young Mexican girl who became a mother at the age of 12. Here he shares his thoughts on the the issue of teen pregnancy, a theme that has become the core component of his current photographic projects, and his plans for the future.