Cinematographer Hugo Arvizu’s Impactful Photos Inspired by Mexican Traditions
In his own words, Los-Angeles based cinematographer Hugo Arvizu, originally from Mexico, describes a photo series of his which melds elements from two female archetypes.
Photography: Hugo Arvizu
“There are two things that humans throughout history have been aware of: life and death. We know life exists because here we are, and we know death will be because we have seen it come to others. And we fear it. We fear it because no one knows what comes after, if anything.
Many civilizations and cultures have come up with different theories, wondering about different possible options in regard to what comes after, but no one is certain. In Mexico, my home, people believed in death as a path where people would continue their journey. People who already passed, however, would have the chance to come visit their family once a year, and this is on the Day of the Dead, where the dead would come to visit us from Mictlán, which is the land of the dead in Mexican mythology.
One of the most famous figures in Mexican culture is La Catrina, a character created in the early 20th Century to mock the government and how bad it was doing. This character later became the representation of death used during the Dead of the Dead. This holiday is also a time to write and recite calaveritas. The literal translation of this word is “little skulls,” but it refers to poems written for the living as if they were dead. Writing them is a very common tradition in Mexico.
La Catrina started becoming more popular as a representation of the goddess of death, which is highly celebrated in Mexico, and then she was also infused with traits from prehispanic goddesses.
Photography: Hugo Arvizu
On the other hand, we have la Virgen de Guadalupe, which is the main saint and the representation of Mary in Mexican Catholicism. Miguel Hidalgo had a flag with her image when he first fought for Mexico’s independence in 1810, and La Virgen essentially represents the combination of Spanish culture from when Spain invaded the country with the native cultures that were forced to turn Catholic.
Both of these characters are, in Mexican culture, the main representation of women. There are no other female archetypes in Mexico.
Knowing that La Virgen represents life and La Catrina represents death, I once wondered what an interaction between them would be like. Technically speaking, they both belong to different religions, but in Mexico we don’t see it like that, they’re just part of the culture. At first, the fight between life and death seems to be an option, but that’s not what any of them really represent. They are both too elegant to fight each other, and, for us, life and death are not enemies, but a part of our journey in existence.
‘Love’, I thought. ‘Love is the answer.’
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In my art, I like to challenge people, and when it comes to a very homophobic culture such as the one in Mexico, a romantic and passionate affair between these female characters was the perfect fit for this story.
Of course, La Virgen wouldn’t be the one to start this affair, she is a saint. La Catrina, however, is more playful, more flexible, and a temptation for La Virgen. And so it happened.
La Catrina first comes to La Virgen and gets her to sin, gets her to be attracted and seduced.
In this photo series, I wanted to show La Virgen in her most saintly representation possible, and how it would slowly switch as La Catrina comes to her and ends up in a very passionate kiss.
The kiss was very important because this passion is not about sexual attraction, or at least not at first. This is about temptation and what the mix of both characters mean in Mexican culture. This kiss, as explicit as it is, represents a change in the history of great characters that were never introduced to one another. This kiss represents passion, love, and an opportunity for people in Mexico and the world to be free.”
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