Renowned American photographer Harvey Stein’s fascination with Mexico began in his teens. Perceiving the surroundings of his youth in Pittsburgh as “mundane,” Mexico seemed a mysterious and complex place.
Stein knew that his photography was a vehicle to immerse himself in Mexico — to partake in traditions, meet the people, and express his interest and love of the country. During the fourteen trips he made to Mexico between 1993 and 2010, Stein primarily photographed in small towns and villages. He focused on festivals (Day of the Dead, Easter, Independence Day) to highlight the country’s unique relationship to death, myth, ritual and religion.
The images he made are the subject of a new book, Mexico Between Life and Death, published by Kehrer Verlag. Together, the photographs show fragments of what Mexico is — a country of incredible contrasts and contradictions. “Mexico is about piercing light and deep shadow, of stillness and quick explosiveness, of massive tradition and creeping progress, of great religious belief but with corruption as a way of life,” writes Kehrer Verlag in the press release.
Stein’s black and white photographs are moody and gritty, evoking the quest to capture life lived raw, open and on the edge; he shows symbols of death (skeletons, skulls, guns, crosses, and cemeteries) throughout that heighten the urgency of existence. Stein purposely seeks out traditional rather than modern environments in which to photograph.
Stein explains: “The images reflect my personal, passionate and intimate feelings about Mexico. So if the images are dark, intense, not all so lovely, so be it. It is only one person’s vision.”
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