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I am a product of the border. My mother was from Juárez, my father from El Paso. I returned last year to follow in the tradition of los ambulantes, the itinerant photographers who work plazas and festivals throughout Mexico. The Mexican people on both sides of the border make great subjects. They just stand before the camera, unposed, as if to say, “Look at me. This is who I am.”
This is something we Americans have largely lost. In fact, we seldom have our picture taken anymore; even at our most sacred ceremonies—the wedding, the bar mitzvah, the graduation—we are videotaped.
When we do stand before the camera, we have learned to wear a mask. The photographer who asks us to smile is really saying, “I can’t bear to see the real you.” Afraid to reveal ourselves, we wear the mask.
When we look at the pictures of our grandparents, in their wedding photo, for example, they are not smiling. They are solemn; they are sincere. They have taken their wedding seriously. The photograph is not only true—it is enduring. Mexicans still act this way before the camera. They do not smile—sin sonrisa. For them, having their picture taken is still an event of great importance.