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Welcome to our galleries page: Lost Worlds of the Yucatan

 

The Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico is famous of course for its Mayan antiquities including some stunningly well preserved pyramids and temples, but there is much more to see in the Yucatan than the Mayan ruins.  The Yucatan has a fascinating history both very old and also more recently.  It also has an incredibly important geological history.  In the Fall of 2003 Robert Hansen (www.roberthansen.com), David's photography teacher and mentor invited David to join him on a trip that went deep into the interior of the Yucatan Peninsular to seek out rarely photographed remnants of the peninsula's colonial history.  By 2003, Bob Hansen had already done sterling work in his exploration of the peninsula and was working to complete his wonderful book (which we recommend to all!) "Yucatan Passages".  David was incredibly impressed with Bob's body of work from the Yucatan and greatly admired Bob's book so he jumped at the chance to join him on this trip.  Along the way, David picked up a few images of his own, so with due deference to Bob the master and his years of wonderful work in the Yucatan, we humbly offer our own glimpse into the lost worlds of the Yucatan.....

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Although the Yucatan is most famous for the magnificent Mayan pyramids and temples, the Mayan civilization was gone by 900 AD, for reasons that are not yet entirely resolved to the complete satisfaction of all those who study them.  Some 600 years later, the Spanish Conquistadors arrived and so began the long and tumultuous Spanish colonial rule.  The Franciscans shortly followed the Conquistadors and a system of missions and churches was soon under construction throughout all Mesoamerica, extending even up along what is now the California coast.  Bob Hansen's book ("Yucatan Passages") pays a beautiful and reverent homage to the stark and often damaged beauty of these structures, many of which remain exactly as they were originally built, but now have a patina of time varnished upon them that creates colors and textures that so moved and inspired Hansen in his photographic essay.  But there was yet one more period of enterprise and wealth for the Yucatan.  In the late 19th and early 20th centuries there was a seemingly endless demand for sisal rope, whether that be for sailing ships or house-hold furnishings.  In response, a process was developed for taking the fiber from an agave-like plant and spinning it in to massive supplies of sisal.  Consequently, great wealth came yet again to the Yucatan with the city of Mérida at its heart, but all through the Yucatan, the colonials built massive plantations with grand haciendas or residential mansions complete with adjacent factories and housing for laborers.  This wealth in turn sparked support commerce built around ranching and agriculture.  Sisal barons also built townhouses in Mérida itself, borrowing hacienda-style features like huge arches, thick stucco walls, solid wood doors, massive ceiling beams and delightful interior patios.  Many facades have Neoclassical details with richly ornamented white stucco friezes above doors and windows.  But alas like so many things, the world developed new technologies and soon the sisal manufacturers found themselves without a market.  Ships with engines instead of sails do not need miles of cordage and synthetic cordage all but displaced the sisal that deteriorates over a relatively short time when exposed to the elements.  It did not take long before most of the haciendas were abandoned and today they sit quiet and neglected, crumbling before the advance of the rain forest and bush.  It was to these old missions and haciendas that Bob took David and it was these subjects that David found so compelling.

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"I'm not sure why it was exactly, but there was something about the faded, crumbling grandeur of these haciendas and once elegant town homes that compelled me even more than the stone edifices left to us by the Maya.  There was something in the eroded patinas and flaking colors that resonated. They were richer and more complex than the plain tableaux of the bare limestone pyramids.  Perhaps it was that the vastness of time that separates us from that ancient world was enough to completely disconnect our world from theirs.  But in the haciendas and the missions, it felt like there were still glimmers of life and somehow we remained connected.  I felt a palpable sense of tragedy about these more modern artifacts, whereas in the pyramids I simply felt an unmoved, one dimensional awe, but entirely disconnected."  D.N.

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"Yucatan was nothing if not surprises.  Bob drove us down all sorts of roads where he felt there might be photographic material.  It seemed like a very intuitive process, almost brail (!), but it worked.  Whether it be a graveyard with headstones unlike anything I had ever seen before, or suddenly at sunset, finding ourselves bribing our way into an entirely closed temple that was in truly remarkable condition, glowing surreal in the sunset light, us running to an overview position while simultaneously racing to gear up in time to capture an entirely unplanned, unscripted moment."  D.N.