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Melanie's Picks: Juan Rulfo's Oaxaca

In college, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to enroll in a class with the intriguing title "Literature and Madness". Among many on the books on the required reading list were John Fowles' The French Lieutentant's Woman (which I actually did not finish), Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis, Mario Vargas Llosa's Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits and Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. The final section of the class was heavily weighted with novels in the genre of magical realism. García Márquez's characters stuck with me for years, I even considered naming my child Melquíades. In reading more about the life of García Márquez, I discovered the work of Juan Rulfo and his classic novel Pedro Paramo. Although not hugely popular when published, this classic had influenced the work of many Mexican, South American and international writers and artists (there is an illustrated version by photographer Josephine Sacabo). In addition to being a novelist and later a well-known screenwriter, Rulfo was also a prolific photographer. It is stated that there are 6,000 negatives housed at the Juan Rulfo Foundation and about 350 of these images were taken in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. A few of the images from this region were culled, in varying stages, by Victor Jimenez; Andrew Dempsey, researcher and specialist in British and Mexican photography; Juan Francisco Rulfo, the son of Juan Rulfo; and Francisco Toledo of Centro Fotográfico Manuel Álvarez Bravo to be featured in an exhibition at this center. A few images from this initial selection are now published in a book appropriately titled Juan Rulfo Oaxaca.

from Juan Rulfo Oaxaca

from Juan Rulfo Oaxaca

This small hardcover catalogue has 64 images mostly taken by Rulfo in 1956. Many of the images show the inhabitants of this area digging in the earth or carrying handmade vessels presumably full or soon-to-be-filled with precious water or in ceremonial costuming waiting for the advent of festival or ceremonial events -- the ebbs and flows of everyday life. Other photos feature the local contemporary architecture and that of former inhabitants in the form of Mayan pyramids and Spanish missions surrounded by the barren landscape riddled with cacti and enveloped by mountainous terrain. The images convey Rulfo's passion for the region and the simplicity of the book only mirrors the lifestyle that Rulfo was able to capture. Each plate rests on a single page and floats on the slightly warm creamy paper. The fore edges of the book are dyed in a vibrant red bringing to mind the brightness that is often associated with the clothing and art of Oaxaca. The texts by Dempsey and Jimenez both descriptive of the project and of Rulfo's photographic work and are printed in both Spanish and English.