had just been surrounded by 15 police cars. Their red and blue lights
flashed, blinking all over the landscape at 1:30 in the morning.
Surrounding my car, there were no less than 80 policemen, some of
them boasting heavy duty machineguns that made the “Terminator”
look like, well, just a governor of California. I must say that,
if it had not been quite so real, this scenario looked pretty much
like something out of a bad movie. What I am about to tell must
be one of the most colorful stories told in a long time, combining
the crossroads from analog to digital photography, sex, accidents
and a lot of unforeseen twists and turns, that will prove to be
quite worthy of an end of year finale.
Pedro Meyer © 2003
was comissioned by one of our main museums in Mexico City to produce
a body of work for a permanent exhibition to be shown during the
forthcoming five years. I would photograph the activities that take
place in the city from 8pm to 6am. The inducement to cover those
hours proved two fold for me. Not only did I find what went on during
those hours very challenging, but I also knew that taking pcitures
under poor lighting conditions and with digital technology would
certainly be an interesting experience. Compared to what could be
shot on conventional film, capturing images in weak lighting is
quite something else. I have found that my digital cameras are much
more responsive to low light than the counterpart cameras using
film. And now, having a new Nikon lens, supported by a vibration
reduction motor, I would be able to add 3 f stops. The new technology
would offer amazing results.
Meyer © 2003
I would have to confront one major problem. Going around the city
during those hours of the night and in the rough neighborhoods I
was to visit was not precisely what anyone would consider a safe
situation, either for myself or for the photographic equipment I
was to take along. I had absolutely no desire to be mugged or of
being separated from my digital cameras. For this very same reason,
I asked the museum director if the Police Department of the city
would be able to provide two undercover agents that could offer
me assistance and protection during the week I would be taking the
photographs. The Police Department showed great understanding and
straight away offered to help me out because the project seemed
quite interesting. I was thrilled.
The project would begin the forthcoming week, all the pieces falling
into place very neatly. Yet, for all the precautions I had taken,
I was unequipped to deal with an unforeseen turn of events.
Just before the project got underway, I suffered a major accident
right in my own studio. As I was setting up some sound equipment
on the rear side of a G5 Mac that had just arrived, my foot got
caught between some wires as I was leaving the back-side of the
desk. I fell down, with a broken Achilles’ heel which now
would have to be operated on. The ripped tendon would have to be
stitched back together again. My foot was placed in a cast so I
would not be able to move it or to even step on it. I was constrained
to a wheel chair for the forthcoming three months. This scenario
did not seem promising at all for the type of photography I had
after feeling sorry for myself during a couple of days, I decided
I would not let this accident derail me from this project. And so,
I started to view the problem from a different perspective. I knew
now that the images would necessarily have to be different from
those I would have been able to shoot under normal conditions. I
did not quite know what this meant, although I could imagine some
of the probable images. I would have to rethink the angle and height
from which I would be photographing now, under these new circumstances.
I could easily imagine that the dynamics of what could happen in
any place I would visit, would also have to change due to the fact
of my arrival in a wheelchair, surrounded by a whole entourage of
people. Instead of being the unobserved photographer, I now had
to accept that I would be the focus of attention anywhere I went.
Thus, I would have to re-plan everything. Naturally, this transformed
the ideas I initially had in mind.
by Enrique Villaseñor © 2003.
into account that my activities would require new strategies, I
invited various friends to join me in the realization of the project.
To begin with, I asked one of my colleagues to take pictures of
me during the process of photographing from a wheelchair. I asked
yet another colleague to make sound recordings of the places we
were to visit shortly. Thus, we would later be able to create audio-visual
material of this experience.
Other friends came along just for the fun of it and also to suggest
places we could visit and in which I would be able to take photographs.
All in all, sometimes our entourage consisted of up to seven people.
As I could no longer drive for obvious reasons, I had a chauffer
to drive my car who would also lend a hand pushing my wheelchair.
Besides my own automobile, our entourage consisted of another car,
an unmarked police vehicle driven by one of the two cops assigned
to protect both me and my equipment. The other policeman came along
with me in my car. Thus, we rode in a two-vehicle convoy.
Obviously, owing to the wheelchair and the amount of people surrounding
me, every time we entered to a place people would start asking who
I was. It wasn’t hard for anybody to understand I had people
‘protecting’ me. I suppose I must have seemed kind of
enigmatic for most people: There I was, sitting on a wheelchair,
several cameras hanging from my neck. My friends offered different
explanations to the locals once they struck up a conversation with
by Enrique Villaseñor © 2003.
to each particular situation, they would say I was either a famous
movie director looking for sets for his next movie, a politician
who was enjoying a voyeuristic experience having a night out in
town, or a T.V. journalist filming a story for one of the television
networks. Paradoxically, the one and only thing I was never accused
or suspected of being was a straight and simple photographer: a
fact which tells us something interesting about our profession and
about how dull we are perceived to be.
The first night out, we “tested the waters”, driving
around to see what sort of situations I, as a photographer, would
be interested in capturing. And, as soon as I would see something
that would make sense to me, I would ask the driver to stop the
car and have the wheelchair brought to me so I could get out and
start taking pictures. It soon became clear to me that I was trying
to emulate, in a very dysfunctional manner, that which I would have
ordinarily done under normal conditions: getting out of the car
and walking up to a situation that would have caught my eye. Only
now, all that was involved in taking a picture seemed so cumbersome
that I had to rethink everything altogether.
I discovered I had to come up with several new strategies of how
to work more efficiently. One of these new plans was that, instead
of getting out of the car myself, in the future I would allow someone
in my crew to explore the possibility of my being allowed to take
pictures. As it turned out, at the first place I got out of the
car I was forced to confront an entire team of threatening-looking
kids who were bent on not letting me take any pictures at all, notwithstanding
my vulnerability at being constrained to a wheelchair.
understanding the situation, the cops who accompanied me spoke to
some of the menacing young men confronting us. And in less time
that it takes to write this, these threatening young men changed
their attitude and started to lift my wheelchair, making sure I
would be raised on to a rather high sidewalk and, thus, be able
to move towards the particular store I wanted to photograph. Everything
had changed suddenly, as if struck by a magic wand. I had no exact
idea of what had happened and neither did I have a clue as to why
on earth someone would object to my taking pictures there.
of the cops later explained to me that the owners of this particular
store, which sold Christmas ornaments wholesale, working night and
day catering to other vendors who, in turn, would sell their smuggled
chinese wares all over the city, did not look upon my photographic
endeavour as a cultural manifestation of sorts, but rather as an
intelligence gathering of evidence against them. In one of those
strange twists and turns that would continue to happen during the
whole week, it would be the cops themselves, the ones accompanying
and protecting me, who would make all these different people feel
they had nothing to worry about my picture taking. I am sure the
irony is not lost: it would be the cops who would put their fears
to rest, instead of making them dread the consequences concerning
any evidence of their smuggled merchandise.
I discovered another strategy that seemed to make sense under the
circumstances: it consisted of taking pictures from within the car
itself, rather than getting out. The people in my entourage and
myself discussed a new issue that actually modified who would be
the designated driver of my car. My driver was no longer in charge
of the vehicle during our nightly excursions. One of the two assigned
policemen had offered to become my driver, for he had been trained
in surveillance techniques and knew quite well how to drive the
car in such a way that would enable me to take pictures.
by Enrique Villaseñor © 2003.
scenes we encountered cruising from the car would of course be very
diverse, from prostitues lighting up a small bonfire in order to
warm up their behind in the bitter cold nights of Mexico City, to
soldiers being arrested for urinating on the sidewalk, or people
collecting discarded materials to make a living. In some ways, all
representing very basic human needs.
Meyer © 2003
nightly escapades went on daily. We were politely turned down in
many nightclubs, table dance places as well as transvestite clubs.
The main reasons we were always given actually made sense.The managers
wanted to protect their clients. They felt concerned that my pictures
could compromise them, as they didn't know if the pictures would
be eventually published, even though we had the very best intentions
in mind. The more elegant and upscale the establishment, the less
amenable they were to let me photograph it. However, not everyone
turned us down.
Meyer © 2003
one of the beer-halls we went to, we sensed trouble almost as soon
as we got into the establishment. The undercover cops came up to
me and explained the exit strategy we would follow in case things
got rougher. They told me they would only concentrate in rushing
me out of the place in my wheelchair, leaving the others to fend
for themselves as, surely, they would be able to manage a lot better
on their own. Besides, their assignment consisted in protecting
me and no one else. The whole trouble started when a lovers’
brawl flared up between a transvestite and his/her lover. Some beer
bottles started to fly. The owner of the place was a fellow who,
in spite of being a deafmute, had a keen sense of all that was happening
around him. He had a strict control over his own people. His waiters
knew exactly what he expected from each of them, as I overheard
one of them explaining to our group. As soon as tempers started
to flare, I was pulled out of the direct line of fire by my bodyguards.
This was quite the contrary of what I would have actually wished.
I would have much rather prefered to walk up to the scene and taken
shots of the whole ordeal. But, then, I was not much in a position
(no pun intended) to decide differently. The men who had orders
to protect me did not mess about with any other options. They just
did what they had to.
Meyer © 2003
Later on, one of my friends told me that, as we were leaving the
place, he observed that the people across the table from us seemed
quite uncomfortable with us being there, as they were distributing
among themselves under their table, the whole loot they had obviously
taken in during that day: watches of all sorts and odd jewelry.
I must admit I never saw any of that. From my vantage point and
with all the things I had to deal with, noticing such fine details
surely had escaped me, not only at that moment but at other moments
as well. Sitting on a wheelchair was evidently taking its toll on
my photographic radar screen.
Meyer © 2003
Taking pictures from the car started to work out quite nicely. The
policeman who drove my automobile actually did have a sense of what
I required as a photographer. This included the angle of vision,
the speed in relation to subject matter, and last, but not least,
the issues concerning my personal security. This theme would become
crucial in our next to last day of shooting.
of the nights among the sites we visited we went to a gay club.
There we met a good number of friends who had gone partying that
night since the next day was a holiday. No sooner had I settled
down there and ordered a drink, I was run over by this beautiful
young girl (who I later would find out is an actress) and when I
mean run over, it's literal. Although I had never met her, she sat
on my lap on the wheel chair as if we were old friends and began
to crawl all over me.
by Enrique Villaseñor© 2003
She then told me in no uncertain terms to place my hand on her breast.
My friend Rogelio in the right hand corner expresses very well the
surprise I guess we all felt. In fact the photograph is an excellent
example of how pictures are such inefficient tools with which to
convey "the truth" so many photographers search for so
desperately. For instance, the image does not explain anything of
what really went on. For instance, the fact that her date or boyfriend
was standing to a side telling her, "come on...let's go",
and she was probably trying to make him jealous, is not seen here
at all. As so often happens, what lies out side the frame of the
image, is often as important as what is within the frame itself.
then this bit about the jealousy is also an assumption I have no
idea how truthful it actually is, because another possibility would
be that she was just attracted to a certain limelight, in seeing
me arrive (she apparently knew who I was) with my crew of people,
and with the flash of pictures snapping she might have been prompted
to become part of the "show" herself (after all she is
an actress). The truth is that nothing of this was more real than
a film scene. A fiction that people believe in because it's supported
by an image, a photograph which I don't even know who it was taken
by, it simply appeared on my camera... someone must have picked
up my camera and simply snapped the moment. So not only is the veracity
of the content in the image quite suspect but the author is unknown
as well. However if you want to imagine that I am a ladies man,
go ahead! Just remember, the evidence is only a photograph.
After this fleeting encounter, a young artist sat next to me and
began to tell me about his career. A very nice young man who spoke
to me with great pride about a tattoo he got not too long ago and
all the money he saved in order to afford having such a great piece
of art etched into him. He offered to take his pants down to show
it to me as soon as he realized that I would not be offended by
him doing so.
Pedro Meyer © 2003
The conversation was interrupted by another young lady who introduced
herself as a student of mine.
Pedro Meyer © 2003
asked me if I wanted to photograph in the club, she would be glad
to wheel me around the place. And she did, she pushed me around
the aisles as if I was a kid sitting in one of those supermarket
carts, to finally bring me onto the dance floor were she left me
sitting at a table where she had the waiter bring me a pitcher full
of beer. Before this, she took my wheel chair and drove me straight
into the men's restroom, or at least she tried to, thinking that
I would get some great images there. The wheel chair gut stuck in
the entrance, as the door was too narrow. My self-appointed guide,
was just explaining to anyone who wanted to listen why she was pushing
me into the mens toilet, that I was a voyeur and that they should
not worry. Not that there was anything to see, so I went along (what
else could I do?) with the parody.
was quite taken a back that everyone was so incredibly polite and
friendly, there was no aggression in the air. I told one of my friends,
I had been to kid parties where there is more tension and aggression
than there was to be perceived that night in this club. Here was
another one of those myths about "those places" people
are scared of going to.
Pedro Meyer © 2003
Street prostitution was one of the main topics I wanted to photograph,
as it is a thriving activity in Mexico City. We headed towards several
areas where you can find some of the more fanciful ladies of the
night. I was hoping to catch glimmering images from the window of
my car. There we were, driving along in our two-car convoy, just
as we had on previous days. The people in the second car were coming
along just for the run ride, as we were planning to go someplace
Meyer © 2003
was taking pictures when, all of a sudden and out of nowhere, five
characters started to pound on the window of my car, demanding me
to turn my camera over to them. I just waved them off, while the
cop driving my car suggested we should better move on and get out
of there. It wasn’t worth the hassle to confront them directly.
So, the driver veered to the left with great expertise, speeding
away into the traffic. We thought we had been able to evade the
confrontation when, all of a sudden, two blocks further we were
cut off by two cars. Out of these cars descended the same thugs
that had threatened me earlier. They rushed towards us with the
clear intention, written all over their faces, of breaking into
the car and grabbing my photographic equipment. They began stomping
and kicking the side door of the car. At this point, the cop driving
my car flung his door wide open, pulled out his gun and pointed
it clearly in the direction of the thugs while, very calmly, he
began telling them to get the hell out of there. Meanwhile, the
cop in the other car had by now made a special manoeuver. He had
come out of his car and was pointing his gun at these same characters
from the other side.
Meyer © 2003
Seeing themselves cornered, the thugs withdrew. All the members
of my entourage, still sitting inside the two cars and watching
the events from within, sighed with relief on seeing that nothing
worse had happened. It all could have easily turned into a shooting
gallery, worthy of a B movie. The cops got into the cars once the
thugs had left. We drove off, hoping this would be the end of it.
But this was not to be.
As it was, we were intercepted again a few blocks further on, only
this time by patrol cars. At first there was one, then another and
another, and soon we were surrounded by fifteen units. It seemed
strange to be stopped by the police, especially when the driver
of my car was precisely a policeman on duty. So if anything, I felt
intrigued as to what the next episode would hold in store for us.
The night seemed to be filled with the pulsating lights projected
by each of the turrets of all the police cars, with their red and
blue lights streaming and bathing everything along their path.
Reinforcements started to come in from all directions. It seemed
as if they were preparing for an invasion. They bore machineguns
of every caliber you can imagine. They also had what seemed to be
missile launchers, grenade launchers and tear gas launchers. However,
I did not see anyone with sniffer dogs trained for detecting drugs
Meyer © 2003
all decided to remain calm within the safety of our vehicles. All
of a sudden, the commander of all these police agents peered into
our driver’s window. He demanded our driver to identify himself
and was taken aback when he discovered that now he had on his hands
a far bigger headache than he had bargained for: the people he was
pursuing were policemen themselves. Each of the policemen started
to make calls on their cell phones to their respective higher-ups,
asking what they should do and how they should deal with this particular
situation. Each of the patrol car units were ordered to cool down
and to de-scalate the whole thing.
The main problem was that the “Chief” was obviously
protecting the prostitution Mafia. Thus, he could not so easily
tell them to get lost and forget about the whole thing since by
that moment they (the pimps -the five guys and two women-) had already
arrived to the place and began to yell at us with false accusations.
So, he discreetly whispered into our car: “At the very least,
these people want you to hand over the roll of film you took.”
On hearing this, I explained, “I am sorry, there are no rolls
of film in these cameras. These are digital cameras.” I must
admit that with great astuteness and candor, the police Chief responded:
“Well, then, I will send one of my men to buy a roll of film
someplace. I will then hand it to you, so you can pretend you are
taking the roll of film out of your camera. Maybe we will be able
to end this whole matter once I hand the roll of film over to them.
All right?” I said: “that’s fine with me”...
While waiting in our cars, I observed the arrival of still more
police units. Only this time, they were reinforcements sent by the
department to which our two undercover policemen belonged. They
acknowledeged each other ever so discreetly, as no one was supposed
to know they were actually allies. I began to learn about such matters
as my companion in the car started revealing all these layers of
information about which I had no clue of who they were. He went
on to tell me what they were planning to do: They would disarm the
cop in the other vehicle and then bring his gun over to my car.
The other cop’s gun was handed over through the window, to
the undercover policeman driving my automobile. He slid it down
the side of his back while leaning backwards and handed the gun
to me so I could hide it in my camera bag. I placed it at the bottom
of my equipment, underneath all the cameras and lenses. Then the
policeman who was driving my car took his own gun out of its holster
and handed it over to me as well. I now had two guns, in addition
to my own cameras and lenses. I only feared what would happen if
one of these two guns went off unexpectedly while laying on my lap.
I could only wonder if the shot would blow off my balls or my stomach.
The vanishing evidence acts, were going on all over the place, the
newly arrived roll of film which was all blank, replaced the actual
digital images on the memory discs. The hidden guns were now replaced
with fictional stories in which no guns ever existed. I had become
a government official whose bodyguards were abusing their powers
according to our accusers. The pimps in turn never even came close
to bothering us in our car. The cops who came to help making the
guns disappear were in turn acting out their part appearing not
to know the cops in my car. The cops who were protecting the prostitutes
were allegedling just doing their duty in responding to charges
brought by some innocent civilians. Not a single person ever told
the truth about anything. By now, even I was lying, saying I did
not know anything about any guns.
As I sat there, I could not help thinking of all those stupid debates
around the “truth” surrounding photography. I was wondering,
how in the midst of such a sea of lies, anyone could dare to take
a picture and offer it as a representation of “the truth”.
Bush and his make-believe Thanksgiving Turkey in Iraq, also came
to my mind.
Meyer © 2003
Mafia wanted blood, but by now there were no guns to be found anywhere.
Police officers came swarming down upon us and started to inspect
both cars. They checked underneath the seats and also under the
car as I sat there with my camera bag sitting on my lap. I looked
on nonchalantly. The “Chief” all of a sudden eyed my
equipment bag and asked "what's inside?" to which I responded.
“My cameras and all the different lenses. Would you like to
see?” I said while beginning to remove most of the equipment.
He felt satisfied with the quick search.
Pedro Meyer © 2003
I asked one of my two undercover agents to explain why on earth,
if what they were doing was legal, why did they need to hide their
guns. They explained that the most important thing under the circumstances
was not to let the issue escalate further, because it could slowly
develop into a legal and political embarrassment for some senior
officers. So, the more one could do to defuse and erode it all,
the better. No sooner was that said, that all of a sudden we had
T.V. cameras and their lights streaming through the windows of our
two cars. There were also radio reporters and people from the Commission
of Human Rights coming to defends us. After all, with all the bells
and whistles that must have gone off on one of the main thoroughfares
of the city, it was just a matter of time before the press arrived
in full regalia to find out what was going on.
Pedro Meyer © 2003
At this point, I had had enough. It was now way past five in the
morning. So when the press reporters came and the people from the
Human Rights Commission made their appearance, I explained to them
the full story. After all, I had every right to take pictures from
my car, given that I was on a public street and not within any private
property. Also, I was taking photographs for a museum and I had
all the credentials to prove it. Besides, the two policemen protecting
me were on active duty. So, bearing all this in mind, I prompted
the Human Rights people to please ask the women, who were still
yelling at the top of their lungs about their alleged grievances,
if they truly felt they had any complaints pending against me. By
now, they had all realized I wasn’t the high government official
they imagined me to be and from whom they could extort some sort
of benefit. So, with incredible politeness, they waved me off as
they had now discovered I was in fact in a wheel chair, saying they
had nothing against me. I should leave by all means, “but
those two cops and that other guy”, (meaning my personal driver,
who had been sitting in the other car and who had gotten out of
it with his cell phone in hand, and who was now mistakingly being
accused of allegedly holding a gun instead of the cell phone), “they
will all have to be taken to the Police station to stand charges”
I said, “Fine. Get one of my friends to drive the other car
and another one to drive mine (remember, I was unable to drive myself).
Please enable us to depart as soon as possible.” I was actually
thinking that those guns in my camera bag had to leave the place
as soon as possible. And so we drove off.
No sooner had we arrived home, that I received a phone call from
the police station. The woman who had wanted to press charges against
us was willing not to do so if we paid her off $3,000 pesos (approximately
300 USD). She explained that this was the cost of the medical bills
she would have to pay in order to overcome the grief she had had
to endure, as she now had these terrible pains in her chest. I obviously
said yes and therefore the three guys (the two undecover cops and
my driver) were able to leave the police station straight away,
without being booked.
I did not know at that moment -one of the cops explained this to
me later-, was that all this was settled so fast and easily because
the officer in charge of writing the complaint all of a sudden realized
they did not have any guns or cars as evidence. This officer asked
the plaintiffs, “So, if you don’t have the cars, are
you going to tell me then these people arrived by foot?”
Well, without the cars and without the guns as evidence, the situation
seemed quite ludicrous and hilarious. So much that I surmise this
could only have been a premeditated and slow degradation of evidence
of a situation that, to begin with, no one wanted to know anything
about, except for this woman from the prostitution Mafia.
policeman". Pedro Meyer © 2003
me and for the people who accompanied me that fateful evening, the
night had been full of very interesting issues concerning our different
perceptions. In fact, it all had to do with each person’s
assumptions and beliefs. It was a dance of distorted fields of reality
and vanishing evidences.
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