John Mack
Revealing Mexico

May 19 — July 1, 2011


In his first exhibition with Robert Mann Gallery photographer John Mack presents selections from his series Revealing Mexico. Rendering this complex country in black and white, Mack has assembled what critic Teresa del Conde calls a "mosaic of identities." Expansive urban and rural landscapes, enigmatic street scenes and views of contemplative or poetic moments all conspire to sketch an intricate text of the nation. At once testament to the richness of contemporary Mexican intellectual culture, with portraits of seminal figures such as Graciela Iturbide, and Chavela Vargas, this body of photographs also does not shy from the contradictions inherent to Mexico's status in the twenty-first century as a place seemingly mystical, mysterious and modern.

In this land of extremes, Mack's photographs assess the legacy of indigenous, mestizo and Spanish cultural heritages and identities. An urban view foregrounds a centuries-old colonial church, flanked by International Style high rises. While such subjects point to the network of global economies and information that modern Mexico is a part of, elsewhere Mack's lens focuses on the particularly local context, seemingly unaffected by the wider world. The ongoing importance of religion is conspicuous, manifest in the many icons of the Virgin of Guadalupe and the appreciation for devotional ceremonies. Such images are constructively opposed to the economic importance of an ongoing tourist presence or the enduring archeological sites of the Toltec, Aztec and Mayas. A striking image of a makeshift basketball hoop in front of a dilapidated church, a wispy cloud floating by, seems to speak of earthly immanence, spiritual transcendence and spectral ephemerality as modes of being which we as humans must somehow strive to negotiate.

With the 2010 publication of Revealing Mexico in its book form, John Mack and the writer Susanne Steines pay tribute to two significant anniversaries in Mexico's history: the bicentennial of its independence, and the centennial of its revolution. To survey Mexico at this moment is then also to consider its history, and the way in which it continues to reveal itself. Mack's photographs insightfully pay tribute to this complex nation of people.

Born in New York, NY, John Mack has lived and worked in Mexico since 2002. He took up photography after studying sociology at Duke University. Published by PowerHouse Books with essays and interviews by Susanne Steines and a prologue by art critic Teresa del Conde, Revealing Mexico (2010) is Mack's third book of photographs. His work has been exhibited in New York and Mexico City.

September 2011

In anticipation of the bicentennial of Mexico's independence from Spain and the centennial of its revolution, the Mexican government commissioned photographer John Mack to create a body of work that would go beyond stereotypes and attempt to capture the complexity of the country. Mack, who has been photographing there since 2002, published the results in Revealing Mexico, a book with essays by Susanne Steines and Teresa del Conde (powerHouse Books, 2010).

This exhibition revealed what Mack discovered as he traversed the country with classic black-and-white film and a Leica camera. To appreciate his achievement, we must look back to a period when Walker Evans and Robert Frank defined documentary photography. Mack's is a view of Mexico devoid of 21st-century cities and headline-stealing drug lords.

Instead, he offers intimate views of pueblos and rural towns. His airy and poetic image Cholula, Puebla (2008) captures flickering white banners decorating the town square, and in Villa de Etla, Oaxaca (2005) there is the haunting site of a lone basketball hoop - almost a found sculpture - in front of a church.

Mack's portraits are heartfelt and sensitive, as in his photograph of a pair of Indians, Lacandon Community of Naha, Chiapas (2002), and the one of a team of aging ranchers, titled Torreón, Coahuila, Mexico (2009). Mack relishes the perfect moment, as seen in Downtown Durango, Durango (2008), where two passengers - a boy resting his elbow out the window and a man in a cowboy hat - are framed by the window of a bus.

Arguably theses photographs do not advance a view of Mexico beyond Paul Strand's moving prints of the 1930s, but they do demonstrate what Mexico has retained of its roots, despite globalization and political turmoil.