Mexico: A Century of Nat Geo Photography

This portrait of an eighty-year-old basket weaver in Chihuahua, taken by Robb Kendrick, is one of a the select photographs on display at the Mexican Cultural Institute in D.C. now through October 22nd. You can find more information at the end of this article.
Mexico has permeated the pages of National Geographic; indeed more than 150 feature articles have been written about the country in the last 100 years of the Magazine’s history. To celebrate this relationship, the Mexican Cultural Institute and National Geographic are exhibiting a selection of photography (at the institute, in D.C.), from the article archives. 
Two weeks ago, I attended the exhibition opening at the Cultural Institute, in the mansion that used to serve as Mexico’s embassy. Inside, the murals of Roberto Cueva del Río carried my mind to the Diego Rivera paintings in the Presidential Palace of Mexico City. The gold, mahogany, and red upholstery of the luxurious sitting rooms on the 3rd floor of the Institute brought me back in time to the 18th century. It was the perfect setting to be transported across time and space through the imagery of National Geographic photographers. Each of these photographs records not only a place far removed to the American readers of National Geographic, but also an adventure across the geography of barriers to that place. Like the murals of Cueva del Río, they transport you through time and space to places you never thought you would see. 
The photographs are organized by themes that reflect the editorial focuses of National Geographic coverage over the years: explorers, the Maya, nature, the border, people, and “the photographic eye,” the latter acknowledging the role of foreign photographers in shaping a perspective of Mexicans and their cultures. 
Many of the photographs are from extremely old articles; some were never even published in the Magazine. In this post I’ll share some of those photos for our readers who can’t make it to the physical exhibition. Also included are factoids and quotes from the corresponding articles.


Description: An explorer measures the eye of a colossal head
Location in Mexico: Tres Zapotes, Veracruz 
Photographer: Richard Hewitt Stewart

Corresponding Article: “Great Stone Faces of the Mexican Jungle” (Sept. 1940)
In the photo above, explorer Matthew W. Stirling measures one of the many Olmec heads unearthed in this expedition, funded by the National Geographic Society and the Smithsonian. Stirling also wrote the September 1940 article, based on the expedition, which did not include this photo. He describes information gathered from locals about the mythology of the site:
“We learned also that on fine nights the ghosts of Montezuma and his court come out to dance and sing and conduct ceremonies in the abandoned ruins. Though we did not have the good fortune to witness any of these doings, we were soon sufficiently impressed by the ruins themselves.” 


Description: Monarch butterflies drink water at their winter sanctuary after a long migration
Location in Mexico: Sierra Madre (more specifically, the Eje neo-volcanica*)
Photographer: Bianca Lavies

Corresponding Article: “Found at Last: the Monarch’s Winter Home,” (Aug.  1976)
Caption of the original photograph: “In regal repose, a monarch drinks from a mountain stream. Having flown south to avoid killing frosts, the monarchs await the certain day when instinct again commands them north to fields and flowers.” 
Another section of the same article dealt with the challenges of tagging such delicate creatures that travel thousands of miles each year. Author and researcher Dr. Fred A. Urquhart writes: 
“It took many years–and many failures–to develop a foolproof way to tag a monarch. As long ago as 1937 we experimented with a printed label, affixed to the butterfly’s wing with liquid glue. But tags and butterflies got tangled and sticky, and many of these insects couldn’t stay airborne.” Eventually, the researchers succeeded with an adhesive label used for glass merchandise, which read “Send to Zoology University Toronto Canada.”

(Original Caption) “SADDLE MOUNTAIN: MONTERREY, MEXICO. Standing perpetual watch over Monterrey, this mountain is known throughout the Republic, for it appears on the label of the beer that has made the Mexican Milwaukee famous.”
Corresponding Article:  “The Treasure Chest of Mercurial Mexico” (1916) focuses on the mineral riches of Guanajuato, a city much further to the south. 
The brewery mentioned might be Cuautémoc, which has an interesting history due to its relation to the revolution of 1910. Check out “Saddle Mountain,” or  Cerro de la Silla, on Google Earth to see its saddle shape, and the neighboring Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range.
*Thanks to Geo-Mexico bloggers for spotting this mistake. I originally called it the Sierra Madre Oriental, which is incorrect. 
-Cedar Attanasio, for My Wonderful World

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