Feb 112021
 

Esther Henderson and her husband, Chuck Abbott, spent six weeks in Mexico taking photographs for Arizona Highways magazine in the early 1940s. They were major contributors to the magazine for decades.

They published at least three photographs related to Lake Chapala in Arizona Highways. The first two were black and white images in the September 1942 issue of a farming family’s home and a landscape view of adjoining peasant smallholdings on the lakeshore. This color Kodachrome photograph, taken from almost exactly the same vantage point as that landscape view, was included in the October 1945 issue of Arizona Highways.

Esther Henderson / Chuck Abbott. c. 1942. Lake Chapala.

Esther Henderson / Chuck Abbott. c. 1942. Lake Chapala.

The original caption for the following photo (from the September 1942 issue of Arizona Highways) read “A farmer’s house and his family on the shores of Lake Chapala, near Guadalajara. These farming folk are unusually industrious and self-reliant.”

Esther Henderson / Chuck Abbott. c. 1942. Lake Chapala.

Esther Henderson / Chuck Abbott. c. 1942. Lake Chapala.

The precise location of these smallholdings is undetermined, but appears to be somewhere on the southern shore of the lake, perhaps close to San Luis Soyatlán or Tuxcueca.

Charles “Chuck” Abbott was born in Michigan in 1894 and died in Santa Cruz, California in 1973. After high school, he joined his brother in Hawaii to work on a pineapple plantation. During the first world war, he served with the 23rd Army Engineers in Europe, where “he photographed the war-torn landscape.” On his return to the U.S., he established Chas. H. Abbott Photography business in New York to market his photographs. With the proceeds, he opened (with a German partner) a shop on Fifth Avenue selling exotic birds. Abbot married the daughter of a wealthy rug merchant and the couple moved to Florida to run a dance hall and casino, “Abbot’s Joint.” After that business was destroyed in a hurricane in 1928, his wife returned to New York.

Abbott, however, moved to California and ran a coffee shop in Carmel before relocating to Palm Springs, where he became known as the “Cowboy Host,” arranging breakfast rides and events for the wealthy patrons at the Desert Inn. He first met his second wife, Esther, when he was hired by the Tucson Sunshine Club as the “Cowboy Photographer” to take photos of all the various important celebrities visiting Tucson.

Esther Henderson was born in Illinois on 24 July 1911 and died on 22 August 2008. She was a professional dancer in New York City for several years before taking up photography. After studying at the New York Institute of Photography, she moved to Tucson, Arizona, in 1935 to start her photography career. Esther specialized in landscape photography and was a frequent contributor to Arizona Highways from the 1930s onward.

Chuck and Esther met in early 1941. Esther was the chairwoman of a group of local Tucson photographers who were outraged that the Sunshine Club had chosen Chuck Abbott, an outsider, as their “Cowboy Photographer.” Chuck tried to visit her in an effort to smooth the ruffled feathers. After first refusing to meet him, Esther later agreed to join him for a drink, which led to a picnic, and then a joint camera shoot. They were married within months.

The couple, who had two sons, traveled and worked regularly together to capture images and write copy for several travel publications. During the 1950s, Esther published “Way Out West”, a weekly photographic feature column every Saturday in the Tucson Citizen.

Esther and Chuck opened The Photocenter photography studio and gallery in Tucson, where they also later established Color Classics, the first color laboratory in Arizona.

The January 1968 issue of Arizona Highways was a special edition devoted to three decades of Esther’s photography.

The couple moved to Santa Cruz, California, in 1963 where they were actively involved in community affairs. They restored a number of houses in the town and spearheaded an initiative to improve the downtown area; the name Abbott Square honors their achievements. They also replaced the town’s lighthouse as a memorial to their son, Mark, who drowned while bodysurfing at the age of 18.

Chuck died in 1973. Esther continued to live in the family home in Santa Cruz until her death in 2003.

The University of Santa Cruz is the custodian of an extensive archive of the couple’s color transparencies.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Jan 142021
 

Herb McLaughlin was a prolific commercial photographer who began his career in Illinois before moving to Arizona. These images of the church and waterfront in Chapala were published in Arizona Highways in November 1950.

Herbert (“Herb”) McLaughlin was born in Chicago, Illinois, on 30 July 1918 and died in Phoenix on 19 February 1991. He first became fascinated by photography after receiving a gift as a teenager of a Voightlander folding camera. McLaughlin studied safety engineering at Purdue University and then completed a double major at Indiana University in business administration and journalism. Even before graduating, he had established his own business, Mercury Pictures, in Hammond, Indiana. On graduating in 1940, McLaughlin married Barbara Cartwright (1920-1996); the couple had two children, but divorced in about 1949.

While running Mercury Pictures, McLaughlin undertook commissions for several newspapers as well as for wartime factories and other companies. In 1945 he sold this company and, following medical advice, moved to Phoenix, Arizona, in the hope that his asthma would improve. The new company he began, McLaughlin and Co. did well and in 1947 he bought a rival company, McCulloch Brothers Inc., together with their extensive photographic collection.

It is unclear whether his photographs of Chapala were taken on commission for Arizona Highways, or whether the lake was where he chose to spend his honeymoon following his second marriage – to Dorothy Ann “Dot” (Jensen) Jolley (1912-2005) – in the summer of 1950. Or perhaps both reasons were true?

Herb McLaughlin. c. 1950. Chapala.

Herb McLaughlin. c. 1950. Chapala.

The photo above shows the Chapala waterfront as seen from the end of the pier. At the time of McLaughlin’s visit, the large-scale remodeling of the town center to create Avenida Francisco I. Madero and Paseo Ramón Corona was almost complete. Villa Tlalocan (built in the 1890s by George Edward King for British consul Lionel Carden) and Villa Ferrara are visible on the right hand side of the photo.

The image below, of the San Francisco church in Chapala, shows what the church looked like prior to a major (and never fully completed) renovation of its facade and bell towers (or spires) in the 1960s, which left the towers at different heights.

The clock visible above the main entrance dates from about 1897 and was a gift of Eduard Collignon, owner of the nearby Villa Ana Victoria (which was demolished during the updating of the town center). This imposing parroquia (parish church) gets several mentions in D. H. Lawrence’s The Plumed Serpent, and is only a short stroll from the house Lawrence rented in Chapala in 1923 while composing the first draft of his famous novel. That house, greatly expanded since Lawrence’s visit, is now a boutique hotel known as the Hotel Villa QQ.

Herb McLaughlin. c. 1950. Church at Chapala.

Herb McLaughlin. c. 1950. Church at Chapala.

McLaughlin’s second wife, Dot, had previously been married to Marion Doval Jolley, with whom she co-owned Jolley Turkey Company in Mt. Pleasant, Utah. After her first husband died, and she remarried, Jolley sold that company to become co-owner of McLaughlin & Co. She organized the company’s photographic library and began her own photographic career, specializing in portraits of children. The ownership structure of the firm was changed in 1955 in order to grant their staff a stake in the company, now relaunched as Arizona Photographic Associates.

The McLaughlins published two books of photographs: Phoenix 1870-1970 in Photographs (1972) and Arizona the Beautiful (with Don Dedera, 1974). They donated an extensive collection of their photographs to Arizona State University.

For more about the many historic buildings in Chapala, please see my recent book If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s historic buildings and their former occupants.

Sources:

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Dec 312020
 

Herbert Johnson (1877-1960) and his wife, Georgette (1893-1975), settled in Ajijic in December 1939. Shortly after Herbert died in Ajijic in 1960, Georgette returned to live in the UK.

These photographs come from a photo album that once belonged to Georgette. For the story of its rediscovery by historian Dr Kimberly Lamay Licursi in an estate sale in New York, see

The photos in the album have no captions or dates and date from 1940-1945.

This gallery (many locations unknown) focuses on places in central and western Mexico.

Note

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Dr Kimberly Lamay Licursi for recognizing the importance of this photo album and for kindly entrusting it to my care.

Comments welcomed via email or via comments feature on this post.

Dec 032020
 

Herbert Johnson (1877-1960) and his wife, Georgette (1893-1975), settled in Ajijic in December 1939. Shortly after Herbert died in Ajijic in 1960, Georgette returned to live in the UK.

These photographs come from a photo album that once belonged to Georgette. For the story of its rediscovery by historian Dr Kimberly Lamay Licursi in an estate sale in New York, see

The photos in the album have no captions or dates and date from 1940-1945.

This gallery (locations unknown) focuses on horsemanship and bullfights.

Note

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Dr Kimberly Lamay Licursi for recognizing the importance of this photo album and for kindly entrusting it to my care.

Comments welcomed via email or via comments feature on this post.

Nov 052020
 

Herbert Johnson (1877-1960) and his wife, Georgette (1893-1975), settled in Ajijic in December 1939. Shortly after Herbert died in Ajijic in 1960, Georgette returned to live in the UK.

These photographs come from a photo album that once belonged to Georgette. For the story of its rediscovery by historian Dr Kimberly Lamay Licursi in an estate sale in New York, see

The photos in the album are in no particular order and have no captions or dates. The photos in the album date from 1940-1945.

This gallery focuses on three individual archaeological sites:

  • Tenayuca
  • Teotihuacan
  • Xochicalco

Note

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Dr Kimberly Lamay Licursi for recognizing the importance of this photo album and for kindly entrusting it to my care.

Comments welcomed via email or via comments feature on this post.

Nov 052020
 

Herbert Johnson (1877-1960) and his wife, Georgette (1893-1975), settled in Ajijic in December 1939. Shortly after Herbert died in Ajijic in 1960, Georgette returned to live in the UK.

These photographs come from a photo album that once belonged to Georgette. For the story of its rediscovery by historian Dr Kimberly Lamay Licursi in an estate sale in New York, see

The photos in the album are in no particular order and have no captions or dates. The photos in the album date from 1940-1945.

This gallery focuses on Xochimilco and its trajineras.

For more information about Xochimilco, see:

Note

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Dr Kimberly Lamay Licursi for recognizing the importance of this photo album and for kindly entrusting it to my care.

Comments welcomed via email or via comments feature on this post.

Nov 052020
 

One of the delights of writing this blog has been the number of readers who have reached out to me with further information about the artists and writers I’ve written about. This has greatly improved the blog and resulted in some valuable virtual friendships.

A case in point. A year ago, a chance find at an estate sale by Dr Kimberly Lamay Licursi, an adjunct instructor of history at Siena College in New York, and author of Remembering World War I in America (University of Nebraska Press, 2018), led to her contacting me to ask if I knew anything about “Georgette and Herbert Johnson” of Ajijic. 

I was barely able to contain my excitement. The Johnsons were an English couple who settled in Ajijic in 1939, and I’ve been researching them for a chapter in a forthcoming book. Kimberly had rescued a photo album containing more than 250 photographs which fortuitously included a copy of a greetings card sent by the Johnsons. Long story short, Kimberly has entrusted me with the album’s future.

The album almost certainly belonged to Georgette Johnson. Apart from a copy of their own greetings card, it also includes several postcards sent to the Johnsons and one or two photos with inscriptions on the back that make it clear they were gifts to the couple. The fact that the photos are in no particular order and have no captions or dates makes me confident that the album was Georgette’s rather than Herbert’s. (Herbert’s hardcover “weather log,” given to me many years ago by Jocotepec author Joan Frost, has meticulous notes and weather records from the 1940s, making me confident that Herbert would have added neat captions and dates if the album had been his.)

Herbert Johnson was an engineer and loved his gadgets, including his camera. He is depicted in a few of the photographs (presumably taken by someone else), but both subject matter and style make me confident that he was the photographer responsible for the vast majority of the photos in the album. Almost all the photos date from 1940-1945; a few loose photos are slightly later.

A small number of Herbert Johnson’s photos were included as illustrations in June Summers’ Villages in the Sun. In that slim volume the photos were misleadingly captioned and poorly reproduced. The original of one of those photos is in the photo album; the quality of the original clearly reveals the technical skills of Herbert Johnson as a photographer.

Apart from the Johnsons’ photo album, very few photos of Ajijic in the early 1940s (or earlier) are currently known. This makes the photo album particularly valuable in documenting the village’s history.

The following posts are photo galleries revealing the scope and quality of Johnson’s work:

Further photo galleries will be added in due course, including:

  • Quinta Johnson (house and garden), Ajijic

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Dr Kimberly Lamay Licursi for recognizing the importance of this photo album and for so kindly entrusting it to my care.

Comments welcomed via email or via comments feature on this post.

Jan 022020
 

German engineer and photographer Helmuth A. Wellenhofer lived with his wife, Antonia (“Toni”) in Jocotepec for many years in the 1970s.

Helmut (as he was known in Mexico) was born in Bavaria in 1935. After completing his studies, he worked in a fashion house, became interested in literature, modern art and music, and founded a jazz group. In 1960, he crossed the Atlantic to Canada where he worked in a sawmill, warehouses and mines.

He became a passionate and serious photographer, undertaking trips to Alaska, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Sumatra and India. He visited Mexico for the first time in 1962 and planned to return, but only after visiting Panama, Germany and several other European countries, as well as seeing more of the U.S. and Canada.

Poster for 1976 exhibition

Poster for 1976 exhibition

On 17 August 1965 he married Antonia Bruggner, then aged 23, in Santa Barbara, California. The couple settled in Santa Barbara for several years and had a son, Andreas. Helmuth managed the Coral Casino Beach Club and Antonia worked with a title insurance firm.

The Wellenhofers, with their young son, returned to live in Jocotepec on Lake Chapala in 1973. They became close friends with photographer John Frost and his novelist wife Joan Van Every Frost, whose son, John, was of similar age to Andreas. Both families spent Easter 1973 at the beach and in the surf at Tenacatita.

The Wellenhofers built a house in Nestipac and later sold the upper part of the property to another couple who eventually became long-time Jocotepec residents: Austrian artist Georg Rauch and his wife, Phyllis.

In 1975, Wellenhoffer embarked on a photographic railroad excursion to Los Mochis and the Copper Canyon and back. This was the basis for a fascinating exhibit which opened the following May at the Goethe Institute in Guadalajara.

That exhibition, entitled “Impresiones de un Viaje en México” featured photos from throughout Mexico, including Wellenhofer’s train trips along the west coast and through the Copper Canyon.

Wellenhofer summarized his railroad experiences for the local weekly newspaper, the Colony (Guadalajara) Reporter:

“Freight train 656 gets a “go” signal via shortwave radio and jerks slowly out of Guadalajara. After a few street crossings, the four-engine, 62-boxcar convoy picks up speed and we roll through the open countryside. I’m sitting in the third engine – my camera ready – and am happy to finally be on the track again.

Maybe it’s because I was born in a train station that I feel such an affinity for rail travel. I’ve ridden Japan’s “superfast”, spent three days inside a closed cattlecar in India and recall an unbelievable trip through Bolivia where male passengers were given reduced fare if they helped to chop wood for the engine.

My Mexican odyssey began when I approached the director of Ferrocarriles del Pacifico with a plan to travel the nation’s passenger and freight trains, documenting my journey with photographs. He approved and issued me a letter of introduction, instructing stationmasters and train personnel to help me along the way.

Armed with the letter I hopped aboard my first freight train in Guadalajara – bound for Tepic. En route, engineers and brakemen came by to talk, curious about my rail journey with a camera….”

At Tepic, Wellenhofer “switched to a freight train for a six-hour run to Mazatlán, riding alone in the last compartment of a 70-car convoy.” In Mazatlán he “hopped aboard a three-engine train barrelling 56 miles per hour to the railroad junction at Sufragio” where he boarded a second-class train through the Copper Canyon to Chihuahua.

From Chihuahua, he took the mid-night train to Zacatecas, in case full of “families, boxes, people sleeping on the floor, crying babies and moaning grandmothers.”

According to the poster for that show, he was then working on a collection of photos and poems about his impressions and perspectives.

The Wellenhofers were regular return visitors to Jocotepec for many years after moving from Mexico to Germany. Their son, Andreas Noar Wellenhofer is a professional saxophonist. (Enjoy his videos on Youtube)

Acknowledgments

  • My thanks to the late John Frost Sr, and to John Frost Jr., Phyllis Rauch and Peter Huf for sharing their memories of the Wellenhofers.

Sources

  • Colony (Guadalajara) Reporter: 14 April 1973; 6 Sep 1975; 24 April 1976, 14; CR 1 May 1976, 11, 14, 18.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcome. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Dec 262019
 

Volkmar Wentzel photographed Lake Chapala for a 1967 National Geographic article by Bart McDowell entitled “The Most Mexican City, Guadalajara.” Wentzel, a German-American photographer, took some striking photos.

Volkmar Wentzel. ca 1966. Flying Dutchman race on Lake Chapala.

Volkmar Wentzel. ca 1966. Flying Dutchman race on Lake Chapala. (National Geographic, March 1967)

Volkmar Kurt Wentzel was born on 8 February 1915 and died on 10 May 2006. After studying photography at the Corcoran School of Art he became a darkroom technician and photographer with National Geographic for almost 50 years. He was responsible for the photos in more than 30 articles and also wrote and illustrated several more.

Volkmar Wentzel. ca 1966. Fishermen with net, Lake Chapala.

Volkmar Wentzel. ca 1966. Fishermen with net, Lake Chapala. (National Geographic, March 1967)

Wentzel traveled widely on assignment and is remembered for having been one of the earliest people to photograph Tibet and Nepal, and for documenting the final years of several traditional tribal kingdoms of Africa.

Volkmar Wentzel. ca 1966.Girl with catfish.

Volkmar Wentzel. ca 1966.Girl with catfish. (National Geographic, March 1967)

Perhaps the most charming of Wentzel’s photos of Lake Chapala is this portrait of a young girl holding catfish.

Wentzell’s photographs were displayed in exhibitions at such illustrious institutions as the Royal Photographic Society, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Washington Center for Photography and the Smithsonian.

Wentzel is only one of several photographers whose images of Lake Chapala have graced the pages of National Geographic.

The earliest known images of Lake Chapala in the magazine were published in 1904. They were taken by E. W. Nelson and Winfield Scott. A 1916 issue of the magazine included a photo of Lake Chapala by Janet M Cummings, one of the first female photographers ever to have work published by National Geographic.

In addition, Dorothy Hosmer, a pioneering female photographer for the magazine most active in the late 1930s,  California photographer Horace Bristol, and Mexican photographer Luis Márquez all had work published in National Geographic—and all had close associations with Lake Chapala.

Note

Despite the claims made on many webpages, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that National Geographic ever ranked the Lake Chapala area as having the “second best climate in the world.” The climate of the area is certainly good, but it’s time to put that particular myth to bed once and for all.

Sources

  • Bart McDowell. 1967. “The Most Mexican City, Guadalajara.” National Geographic, March 1967, 412-441.
  • Volkmar Wentzel website.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcome. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

 

Nov 142019
 

Among the very few early images of Chapala that depict village people going about their everyday lives, is this postcard from about 1910 entitled (on its reverse side) “Chapala. Un mercado en México – Mexican market.”

Photographer unknown. Postcard published by Juan Kaiser. “Chapala-Market in Mexico”. c 1910.

The postcard was published by Juan Kaiser. Given that Kaiser lived in Guadalajara, he was somewhat loose with his titles and his geography. The postcard actually shows an open-air market in the village of El Salto, much closer to Guadalajara than to Chapala! The building to the left of the open-air market in the image is the former tienda de raya (hacienda store) in El Salto, Jalisco, near Juanacatlán Falls; the building is now the town’s Centro Cultural.

In his defense, Kaiser was a savvy businessman and postcards such as this one were clearly designed to appeal to a much broader audience than only those visiting El Salto. The market vendors displaying their wares on the sidewalk and prospective purchasers inspecting the fresh produce made for a timeless scene.

Fortunately for Chapalaphiles, there are several early descriptions of the market in Chapala, including this one by Polish traveler Vitold de Szyszlo who witnessed the real Chapala market in 1910:

On the dusty road appeared groups of horsemen. They were selling milk, fruit and vegetables, trotting, loaded with baskets and containers of various sizes. Large cowboy hats completely masked their faces; a blue shirt with pants of the same color and leather huaraches completed their attire. Country girls with olive complexions and braids black as ebony, carefully tied on the nape of the neck, followed, sometimes sitting two on the same mule or donkey, like proud Amazons. Others, darker skinned, let the ivory of their pearly white teeth show through their gracious smiles and the blazing heat of the Andalusian gypsy show through their burning gaze while their silvery voices resounded in harmonious bursts of laughter.

The market, in the center of the village, is the meeting point of all these colourful people. Under multicoloured awnings are mounted pyramids of fruit and vegetables, bananas, oranges, lemons, watermelons, melons, papayas, mameyes, lettuces, sweet potatoes, red and hot peppers. Elsewhere, zealous merchants offer fresh tortillas and tamales of golden cooked corn, and pulque, the smell of which fills one with intense repulsion.

On the other side of the square, cluttered stalls display sombreros, wool sarapes and leather huaraches.”

More details of Vitold de Szyszlo and his visit to Chapala can be found in chapter 55 of  my Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales.

Source

  • Szyszlo, Vitold de. 1913. Dix mille kilomètres à travers le Mexique, 1909-1910. Paris: Plon-Nourrit et Cie., pp 235-236; translation by Marie-Josée Bayeur.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Sep 052019
 

This post looks at the small number of early stereoscopic photo pairs of Chapala that have come to light. A stereoscopic pair of photos is obtained by taking the same picture twice, but from slightly different positions, akin to the two slightly different views from your left eye and right eye, respectively. When a stereo pair of photos is printed side by side and viewed through the two lenses of a stereoscope, the brain can combine the two slightly different images into a vivid 3-dimensional image, with depth and perspective.

Taking stereoscopic views was much more expensive and time-consuming than taking regular postcard photographs, so the paucity of images is no surprise. What is a surprise is the subject matter of some of the photo pairs.

I only know of two stereo pairs that definitely show Lake Chapala. The first (below) was apparently taken privately (ie for his own use, not for commercial use) by a French mining engineer, L. Legrand.

L. Legrand. 1907. Stereo pair showing Chapala.

L. Legrand. 1907. Stereo pair showing Chapala.

Dated 14 April 1907 it shows the view looking west from Playa Chacaltita, the beach originally to the east of the church in Chapala. In the distance, at the foot of Cerro San Miguel, is the distinctive holiday house of the Capetillo family.

Several small fishing boats occupy the foreground, making for a pleasing composition, similar to the bottom left photo appearing on this Juan Kaiser triple-view postcard.

Juan Kaiser postcard

The second known Chapala-related stereo pair of photos (uncredited and undated) shows a sunset as seen from the pier at El Fuerte, near Ocotlán.

Uncredited photo of Lake Chapala from Hotel Ribera near Ocotlán.

There is a a third stereo pair (below), also uncredited and undated, that purportedly has a connection to Lake Chapala. This pair, not published commercially, has a handwritten caption on the back: “Pueblo de Chapala.” It is an unusual view looking down on rustic single-story homes and buildings surrounding a crowded central square. The inclusion of an animal-drawn cart headed for the “jardín” makes for an interesting and compelling composition.

Uncredited photo from stereo pair. Location unknown.

Unfortunately, the profile of the hills in the background does not appear to match any location near the settlement of Chapala itself. It is possible that the “Pueblo de Chapala” was shorthand for “Pueblo del Lago de Chapala” and that the photo actually shows some other lakeside village. If you can suggest where this photograph was taken, then please let me know!

At least two other stereo pairs are indirectly related to Lake Chapala. Visitors traveling from Guadalajara to Lake Chapala in the early part of the 20th century often stopped off in Juanacatlán in order to admire the beautiful waterfalls there: “The Niagara of Mexico.”

The Keystone View Company, of Meadville, Pennsylvania, and St. Louis, Missouri, published two stereo pairs of the Juanacatlán Falls. The earliest, dated 1900 and copyrighted by B. L. Singley, shows a group of men and women on a ferryboat on the River Grande (Santiago) immediately above the falls. A second, later, Keystone stereo pair shows the falls themselves in all their glory. Whether or not Keystone also published a stereo pair of Lake Chapala is unknown but it would seem very likely given the company’s immense output.

Are there any more stereoscopic images of Lake Chapala out there? If so, please let me know!

Acknowledgment

  • My thanks to the members of the “Imágenes históricas de Guadalajara, México” Facebook group for their valuable comments on the “Pueblos de Chapala” image.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Aug 222019
 

French-born photographer Frédèric Faideau (1880-1954) took some remarkable photos of Lake Chapala in the early 1920s. Unlike the commercial postcard photographers and publishers who portrayed the Chapala area and its inhabitants at that time, Faideau was an unpaid amateur. It is precisely because his photographs had no commercial or monetary motivation that they are so interesting.

F. Faideau. ca 1920. Truck on road to Chapala. (Delcampe image)

F. Faideau. ca 1920. Truck on road to Chapala. (Delcampe image)

Faideau was not the only talented and skilled amateur photographer portraying the Chapala area and its inhabitants in the first half of the 20th century. For example, two local photographers, architect Guillermo de Alba and hotelier Antonio Mólgora, are known to have published a limited number of their images as postcards, with Mólgora apparently giving away or selling his own photos to guests of the various hotels he managed as a means of garnering publicity and clientele.

A very small number of fine photographers appear never to have made any attempt to formally publish their photos, and only ever shared them with family and friends. Faideau is probably the most noteworthy member of this group.

F. Faideau. ca 1920. Local children near Chapala. (Delcampe image)

F. Faideau. ca 1920. Local children near Chapala. (Delcampe image)

Faideau was born in Bouresse, Vienne, Francia in 1880. He left France in 1905 to join his cousin, Dr. Adolphe Faideau, who was living in Guadalajara. Faideau began working for Las Fábricas de Francia, and later became a representative and shareholder of the company.

In 1914, Faideau returned to Europe to serve as a nurse during the first world war and married Lucie Muzard, a girl from his home village. The couple had two children: Suzanne and Pierre. After the war ended, the family settled in Guadalajara where they lived until 1925, the year they returned permanently to Europe.

While living in Guadalajara Faideau indulged his serious passion for photography. His techniques were sound and his subject matter varied from pictures of his workplace, co-workers, family and friends to urban and rural landscapes, including some views of Chapala and its eponymous lake.

Faideau’s photos of children are especially charming and his portraits of local people are valuable ethnographic images, revealing the wide disparities in the social, economic and cultural life of the time.

The Musée de la Vallée in Barcelonnette, France, has a collection of Faideau’s photographs, donated in 2009 by Cristian and Catherine Dejoie, two of Faideau’s descendants. Faideau’s photographs were showcased in an exhibition entitled “Frédèric Faideau and Charlotte Lions-Plisson: views of Mexico” hosted by the museum from 10 August to 30 October 2011.

Main source (biographical details)

  • Sergio Valerio Ulloa. 2014. “Tras las huellas luminosas. Fotógrafos e imágenes, la construcción de la memoria de los barcelonnettesen Guadalajara, 1880-1930.” Letras Históricas (Universidad de Guadalajara), No 10 (2014).

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

May 022019
 

Brooklyn-born photographer Louis Stettner, one of the greatest U.S. photographers of all time, died in 2016 at the age of 93. The largest retrospective of his work to date – entitled “Traveling Light” – opened at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2018 and closes in June this year. It includes three photographs of Lake Chapala and its fisherfolk taken in 1956.

Louis Stettner. Lake Chapala (1956). [postcard image on Delcampe website]

Louis Stettner. Lake Chapala (1956). [postcard image on Delcampe website]

Among them is this photograph of an oar silhouetted against Lake Chapala, an image that was reproduced at least once as a postcard. Stettner had a twin brother, and Sally Katz, assistant curator of photography at SFMoMA, makes a strong case that this influenced, whether consciously or unconsciously, much of his work. She points out, in her Instagram walkthrough “Being double“, that many of Stettner’s photographs show a “strong doubling effect, both literally and poetically.” In this case, the oar helps to establish this duality.

It should be noted that in 1956 Lake Chapala was just recovering from a severe drought. The lake’s level in summer 1955 was the lowest on record (and has never been equaled since).

Louis Stettner was born in New York on 7 November 1922 to Austrian immigrant parents. He became fascinated by photography as a teenager, was given a Box Brownie by his parents, and joined the Photo League in 1939 to take a basic technique course, the only formal photography lessons he ever took.

Throughout his career, he always printed his own work and gained renown for his consummate technical skills. He formed friendships with, and was encouraged by, some of the most noteworthy photographers of the time, including Paul Strand and Alfred Steiglitz.

Stettner served in the U.S. Army from 1941 to 1945, including stints as a combat photographer in New Guinea, the Philippines and Japan. On his return to New York, he taught the basic course at the Photo League and began to photograph New York subways.

Between 1947 and 1952 he lived in Paris, France. He was commissioned to collect prints for the first exhibition of contemporary French photography in the U.S. in 1948 at the Photo League’s gallery. In 1949, he held his first solo exhibit at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris and was a prize winner in Life’s Young Photographers Contest. He accumulated an extensive portfolio of Parisian photographs and also studied film-making.

For the next six years, he worked as a freelance photographer for magazines such as Life, Time, Fortune, Paris-Match and National Geographic, with frequent trips overseas to take photographs in Paris, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Holland and Mexico. It is unclear how long he was in Mexico in 1956; please contact me if you can offer more information about his time in Mexico.

From 1958 to 1962 he returned to Paris to continue his freelance work. In the 1970s he was appointed Professor of Photography at CW Post Center, Long Island University. During this period he frequently gave lectures at other institutions. In 1975 he was awarded first prize in the Pravda World Contest and spent six weeks working in the then-Soviet Union.

He spent most of the 1980s developing his creative ideas, and produced several photographic series including Still Lifes (1983/84); Cityscapes (1985); Brooklyn Bridge (1988); Manhattan Walls (1990) and Pavement (1990).

In 1990, Stettner moved permanently to Paris, France, to photograph, paint, and sculpt. He returned regularly to New York and began taking color photographs during summer visits. He was awarded the Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres medal in 2001 and honored with a retrospective exhibition at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris in 2012. He died in Paris on 13 October 2016, at the age of ninety-three.

Note
The image of Lake Chapala reproduced here comes from a postcard offered on the auction site, Delcampe in April 2019.

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Jorge Varela Martinez Negrete and his daughter Sofía for bringing this exhibit to my attention.

Main source

Other photographers associated with Lake Chapala:

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Jan 172019
 

Sir Peter Smithers (1913-2006), a real-life James Bond, was the British Acting naval attache for Mexico, Central America and Panama from 1942 to 1946. He spent much of this time in Mexico. An avid amateur photographer (among many other things) he took thousands of transparencies (slides) of Mexico. In 1999, several years before he died, he donated more than 3,000 transparencies taken with his trusty Leica cameras to Mexico’s National Photo Library (Fototeca Nacional).

Smithers’ photos of Mexico include some great shots of Paricutín Volcano during its early eruptions (it first burst into life in 1943) and many archaeological and historical sites. They also include a handful of interesting early color photos of Ajijic and Chapala.

Sir Peter Henry Berry Otway Smithers was born in England on 9 December 1913. He attended Harrow and was awarded a Masters degree from Magdalen College, Oxford in 1937. He was a barrister in London for several years and an officer in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve from 1937 to 1958. In the early part of the second world war he was interviewed for a position in the Naval Intelligence Division by none other than Commander Ian Fleming. The two men became close friends and it was Fleming who later recommended Smithers to his friends in the diplomatic corps.

Smithers is one of several real-life spies alleged to have been the inspiration for Fleming’s James Bond. Fleming gave Smithers a pistol disguised as a pen and used Smithers’s wife’s gold typewriter in Goldfinger.

Peter Smithers. Ajijic. ca 1945. Credit: INAH/Fototeca

Peter Smithers. Ajijic. ca 1944. Credit: INAH/Fototeca Nacional.

In 1940, Smithers was appointed to the British Embassy in Washington D.C. where his tasks including liaising with the U.S. Navy Department and spreading disinformation via the cocktail circuit.

In 1942 he was made the British Acting naval attache for Mexico, Central America and Panama. Smithers spent much of his time as naval attache in Mexico, where in 1943 he met Dojean Sayman, originally from St. Louis, Missouri; the couple married a few weeks later and had two daughters.

While in Mexico, Smithers pursued another of his lifelong passions – gardening – to create his own garden in Cuernavaca. He was a respected botanist and collected numerous plant specimens in Mexico for British Museum herbarium. He amassed a collection of some 2,000 species of cactus at his home in Winchester, England and they accompanied him when he moved to Strasbourg.

Peter Smithers. Ajijic. ca 1945. Credit: INAH/Fototeca

Peter Smithers. Ajijic. ca 1944. Credit: INAH/Fototeca Nacional.

His interest in photography began as a means of documenting plants but quickly expanded into other subjects. He was encouraged by Claudine Laabs, a leading bird photographer, to exhibit his photos of plants and Smithers held numerous one-person shows of his work in the U.S. and elsewhere. He won many photo awards and was the recipient of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Gold Medal for his plant photography.

These two photos of Ajijic were taken in about 1944, well before the village spread into the surrounding hills. The upper photo shows a typical local chinchorro (seine net) drying on the beach.

Later in life Smithers made a series of TV programs on foreign affairs for the BBC, gained a doctorate in history from Oxford (1954), and completed a doctorate in jurisprudence from the University of Zurich (1970). He was a British parliamentarian for many years and served as Secretary General on the Council of Europe in Strasbourg from 1964 to 1969.

Smithers lived the latter part of his life in Switzerland and died on 8 June 2006 in Vico Morcote, Ticino, at the age of 92.

Sources

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Jan 032019
 

This post features one of the more evocative photographic images of Lake Chapala taken in the 1930s. Depicting a “dug-out canoe” and fisherman against an evening sky, this carefully staged photo was used to illustrate an article about central Mexico that reached a worldwide audience because it appeared in the The American Foreign Service Journal.

Anon. October 1935. "Native Fisherman on Lake Chapala"

Anon. October 1935. Original caption: “Native Fisherman in his dug-out canoe on Lake Chapala”

The article, by Josephus Daniels – then American Ambassador to Mexico – describes a get-to-know-Mexico junket offered in 1935 to the diplomatic corps by President Lázaro Cárdenas the year after he took office. The President offered the use of his private train for the ten-day trip that, in mid-October, took Mexico City-based diplomats and their partners to various locations in Michoacán (the President’s home state) and Jalisco.

After a brief stay in Guadalajara, where the diplomats “watched from the Governor’s Palace a review of some fifteen thousand school children, lasting one hour or more,” they were driven to Lake Chapala for a splendid lunch at the “Quinta Monte Carlo” (Villa Montecarlo), where they enjoyed caldo michi while listening to music played by a local band.

The photo of the fisherman and his boat is uncredited. Does anyone know who the photographer was?

Source

  • Josephus Daniels. (American Ambassador to Mexico). 1936. “The Diplomatic Corps Tours Central Mexico in the Presidential Train.” The American Foreign Service Journal. Vol XIII, #2 (February 1936), 70-73, 110, 112, 114.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcome. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Aug 232018
 

In the early 1990s, a small number of photos signed “Arzapalo” were included in J. Jesús González Gortázar’s book Aquellos tiempos en Chapala. Judging by their subject matter, the Arzapalo who took these photographs was almost certainly Ignacio Arzapalo Palacios (1837-1909), though there is a small possibility that they were the work of his son, José Ignacio Arzapalo Pacheco (1878-1904).

Ignacio Arzapalo was the man who built the Hotel Arzapalo, Chapala’s first purpose-built hotel which opened with 36 large and comfortable rooms in 1898. For the record, brief biographies of Arzapalo appear in each of my previous books about the Chapala area – Western Mexico, A Traveler’s Treasury and Lake Chapala Through the Ages – but I now realize that my descriptions of his life were not entirely accurate.

Ignacio Arzapalo. ca. 1898. San Francisco Church, Chapala. [from Aquellos tiempos en Chapala)

Ignacio Arzapalo. ca. 1898. San Francisco Church, Chapala. [from Aquellos tiempos en Chapala)

I now know that Arzapalo was born in Sinaloa, not Spain, and had been in Guadalajara for many years before he commissioned the Arzapalo Hotel in Chapala.

Ignacio Arzapalo was born in the mining town of Cosalá, Sinaloa, in 1837. He had two marriages, the first of which was to Emilia Salgado Maldonado. They married in Mazatlán on 12 February 1963 and four years later Emilia bore him twin girls: Emilia and María Luisa.

It is unclear what became of his first wife, but by the 1870s, Arzapalo was living in Guadalajara, apparently without his daughters. In 1877 he married 16-year-old María Pacheco in that city; their son, José Ignacio, was born the following year on 7 February 1878. José Ignacio, who was sent to school in Denver, eventually married into the highest levels of Guadalajara society, taking as his bride Aurora Pérez Verdía, the daughter of influential lawyer and historian Luis Pérez Verdía and his wife. José Ignacio died in Guadalajara in 1904; his father Ignacio Arzapalo died in Guadalajara five years later, on 6 May 1909.

Ignacio Arzapalo. ca. 1898. Chapala shoreline. [from Aquellos tiempos en Chapala)

Ignacio Arzapalo. ca. 1898. Chapala shoreline. [from Aquellos tiempos en Chapala)

In the 1870s and 1880s, Ignacio Arzapalo was on the board of various different partnerships hoping to build a railway linking Guadalajara to Tlaquepaque. In 1881, for example, he was prepared to invest $10,000 pesos to help capitalize a new company that needed to raise $105,000 in total.

In 1888 Arzapalo was elected to a seat on the Guadalajara city council.

Coincidentally, only a couple of months earlier, his wife had lent her diamond necklace to a group of people interested in witnessing the skills of American mentalist Washington Irving Bishop who was visiting the city. The necklace was hidden, without his knowledge, a mile away from the Hotel Humboldt where he was staying. Wearing a blindfold, he was walked out of the hotel and placed in a carriage. The instructions he relayed to the driver took the carriage directly to the necklace to the cheers and applause of thousands of onlookers.

Ignacio Arzapalo. ca. 1898. Villa Capetillo, Chapala. [from Aquellos tiempos en Chapala)

Ignacio Arzapalo. ca. 1898. Villa Capetillo, Chapala. [from Aquellos tiempos en Chapala)

Arzapalo began preparations for his hotel in Chapala in 1891 after being granted permission to construct a wall at the lakefront side of property he owned.

As plans progressed, he continued to do his civic duty in Guadalajara, sitting on the board of the “Círculo Mercantil” and as a member of the group planning the city’s Parque Agua Azul.

Construction of his two-story hotel in Chapala got underway in earnest in 1896 and the hotel opened for business in 1898.

Arzapalo eventually commissioned de Alba to build him a second, even better-appointed hotel. The Hotel Palmera had its formal opening in 1908. Part of the original Arzapalo Hotel is now the lakefront Beer Garden restaurant-bar. The Hotel Palmera later became two hotels: Hotel Nido (now Chapala’s Presidencia Municipal or city hall) and the short-lived Hotel Niza.

Not surprisingly, given his obvious commercial interests, Ignacio Arzapalo was an active member of the Jalisco Development Company which proposed, in 1902, building an electric railroad from Guadalajara to Chapala, and was one of the business leaders trying, in 1904, to form the first Chapala Yacht Club. Though neither of those projects came to fruition, Arzapalo’s contributions to Chapala were one of the crucial steps in transforming the former fishing village into Mexico’s premier lakeside resort.

Note

While aware that the quality of these images is not up to our usual standards, we believe they are worth reproducing. If any reader has access to better quality images of photographs by Ignacio Arzapalo please get in touch!

Sources

  • Anales del Ministerio de Fomento de la República Mexicana, Volume 4, 1881.
  • El Siglo Diez y Nueve, 16 Jan 1892.
  • El Tiempo, 28 June 1893; 11 Sep 1896.
  • Jalisco Times, 27 Aug 1904.
  • J. Jesús González Gortázar. 1992. Aquellos tiempos en Chapala. Guadalajara: Editorial Agata.
  • La Patria, 12 August 1904, 2.
  • La Voz de México, 27 Sep 1888.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Aug 162018
 

Writer, actor and cinematographer William Colfax Miller (1911-1995) had worked in the film industry in Hollywood and Mexico, before he moved to Lake Chapala with his third wife, Virginia Downs Miller (1914-2005), in the early 1980s.

Miller was born on 29 May 1911 in South Dakota. He moved to Chicago after graduating from high school in 1928 to attend the Armour Institute of Technology where he majored in chemical engineering.

William C. Miller in Spain, 1938. Credit: Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives.

William C. Miller in Spain, 1938. Credit: Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives.

His interest in the film industry soon took him to Hollywood where he worked for several movie studios until January 1938 when he left the U.S. to go to Europe and fight in the Spanish Civil War. While participating in the 3,000-strong Abraham Lincoln Brigade of American volunteers fighting fascism in the Battle of the Ebro, Miller was diagnosed with tuberculosis and removed from combat. He returned to the U.S. a year later, after working on a war documentary for the Spanish Communist Party’s film office.

Later in life, Miller claimed to have left the U.S. in 1939 because he was a Marxist, and was therefore no longer welcomed in Hollywood. He decided to move to Mexico because he had heard that, having being a commander with the Lincoln Brigade, he could be made a General in the Mexican Army. This turned out not to be true, but Miller remained in Mexico anyway. Miller’s claim to have been a commander in Spain was equally untrue; this was a classic cross-border promotion. While not in any way diminishing Miller’s contribution to the Spanish Civil War, the archives of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade show that Miller’s rank in the volunteers never rose above “soldado”, the lowest rank possible.

Equally, Diana Anhalt relates in her book about American political expatriates in Mexico how Miller wrote to her a few years before he died claiming personal involvement in the first attempt on Trotsky’s life in Mexico City in May 1940, an attempt led by artist David Alfaro Siqueiros who later became a personal friend of Miller and his third wife. However, when Anhalt phoned Miller to double-check the details, he back-tracked on this claim and admitted that he “had never actually participated in the attempt but, yes, he had known about it”.

Soon after he moved to Mexico, Miller met then-president Lázaro Cárdenas who hired him as his official photographer to film a series of short documentaries during the final year of his administration. Miller then began combining work as a cinematographer with roles in acting and directing.

Miller claimed to have participated in more than 150 films in Mexico; this may or may not be an exaggeration. Unfortunately, for some of the claims made in earlier biographies, independent corroboration is lacking. It has proved impossible to verify, for example, the claim made in regard to Forgotten Village (1941) that “Bill commandeered an entire village, persuading the people to be photographed and adapting the script.” (El Ojo del Lago, July 1989).

As an actor, Miller apparently appeared in Soy Puro Mexicano (1942) and Espionaje en el Golfo (1943). He worked behind the camera on Luis Buñuel’s Subida al Cielo (1951) and was assistant director on the the award-winning documentary Walls of Fire (1971). Miller was also one of the photographers employed to work on a documentary film given the working title of The Spanish Republicans In Mexico. While it is unclear if this film was ever completed, the Brownsville Herald in November 1943 reported that Miller’s specialist contribution to this project was “agricultural documentary photography” to complement the “industrial photography” supplied by Walter Reuter, a well-known German photographer who was resident in Mexico City.

Miller was credited as “Technical Director” for the satirical comedy El Brazo Fuerte (1957), filmed by Walter Reuter in the picturesque small village of Erongaricuaro on the shores of Lake Pátzcuaro. This film won prizes at the Cannes Film Festival but was not released in Mexico until 1975.

Miller also apparently worked with Pathé Newsreel, published a Mexican Motion Picture Directory and recorded numerous talking books, as well as being appointed Director of Cinephotography for the Mexico City Olympics in 1968.

Miller was married three times. His first marriage, in Hollywood in 1932 to Ruth Elizabeth Timberlake (1911-1940), ended with her death in 1940; they had one daughter. In 1948, Miller married Roseann Sparks (1923-1968) in Atizapan de Zaragoza on the outskirts of Mexico City in 1948; they lived in Cuernavaca and had a son and two daughters. In November 1969, a year after he lost his second wife, Miller married Virginia Downs. The couple lived in Cuernavaca and opened the Akari Gallery, the city’s first major art gallery, before moving to Lake Chapala.

The Atari Gallery was one of the venues for a group show by Clique Ajijic in February 1976. The Clique Ajijic was comprised of eight Ajijic artists: Tom FaloonHubert Harmon, Todd (“Rocky”) Karns, Gail Michaels, John Peterson, Synnove (Shaffer) PettersenAdolfo Riestra and Sidney Schwartzman.

Among the other “Ajijicans” attending the opening in Cuernavaca were Peggy Koll, Margo Thomas, and Bruce and Patricia Wightman.

William Colfax Miller, who led a rich, varied and productive life, died on 15 September 1995.

Sources:

  • Diana Anhalt. 2001. A Gathering of Fugitives. American Political Expatriates in Mexico 1948-1965. Archer Books.
  • Anon. 2005. “William Colfax Miller.” The Volunteer (Journal of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade) Vol XXVII, No 3 (September 2005), 22.
  • Anon. “William Colfax Miller.” Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives.
  • El Ojo del Lago: August 1985, July 1989.
  • The Brownsville Herald (Texas): 19 Nov 1943, 15.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Jul 262018
 

Jakob Granat (1871-1945) was a Jewish merchant and businessman born on 18 October 1871 in Lemberg (now Lviv, Ukraine), then part of the Austrian empire. He left Europe in July 1887 to seek his fortune in the U.S., where he was known as Jacob Granat. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in New York City on 11 July 1900, having worked as a salesman in New York, Chicago and San Antonio, Texas.

Granat moved to Mexico City (where he was known as Jacobo Granat) in about 1905 and lived there, with periodic trips back to the U.S. until at least the 1920s. His brother also lived in Mexico City. Granat established various businesses in Mexico, including a leather and curios shop, a printing company and a small chain of cinemas. Granat is credited with opening the city’s first public cinema – El Salón Rojo – by elegantly remodeling the interior of the downtown eighteenth century building known as Casa de Borda. The renovations included the installation of Mexico’s first electric escalator.

El Salón Rojo quickly became the most famous of Mexico City’s early movie houses and the one favored by all the high society families, including those close to President Porfirio Díaz. To help publicize the silent films being shown, which starred both Mexican and foreign actors, Granat published a series of small movie lobby cards, similar to postcards, sold in the theater lobby. These became popular collectors’ items as did the series of picture postcards he published showing people, views and scenes from all over Mexico.

Granat is believed to have published around 300 postcards, including this one of the buildings along the waterfront in Chapala in about 1905. The most prominent buildings are the Arzapalo Hotel (opened in 1898) with its bathing huts (on the left), the turreted Villa Ana Victoria owned by the Collignon family (in the center) and the San Francisco parish church with its twin towers.

Chapala, ca. 1905. Postcard published by J. Granat.

Lago de Chapala, ca. 1905. Postcard published by J. Granat.

During the Mexican Revolution, Jakob Granat claimed on repeated passport applications to have returned to the U.S. every year since 1905 for between two and six months, though these claims may have been made only to prevent losing his right to a U.S. passport.

Later, Granat sold his cinemas to William O. Jenkins, an unscrupulous American businessman and property speculator who was living in Mexico City, and moved back to Europe. Granat continued to visit Mexico periodically, presumably to see family members (including a sister-in-law and her children) still living in Mexico City.

When the second world war began, Granat (and his wife?) found themselves trapped in Europe. Despite the claim made in Mexican sources that Granat was killed in the gas chambers at Auschwitz in 1943, the Holocaust Survivors and Victims Database lists him as dying in the equally infamous Bergen-Belsen concentration camp two years later, on 27 January 1945. His wife’s name does not appear in the database, though it is possible that she did indeed die in Auschwitz in 1943, since only fragmentary records exist of the thousands who lost their lives there.

This is an outline profile. Contact us if you would like to learn more about this particular artist or have information to share.

Sources:

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Jul 122018
 

Mexican actor and photographer Luis Márquez Romay (1899-1978) was born in Mexico City on 25 September 1899. The family fled to the father’s homeland of Cuba in the midst of the Mexican Revolution and Luis began his art studies there at the Feliú studio in Havana. Alongside his studying, he worked as an actor, with starring roles in Dios existe (1920), Mamá Zenobia (1921) and Aves de paso (1921).

He returned to Mexico City in 1921 to study photography at the Public Education Secretariat’s Photography and Cinematography Workshop. He also continued his acting career, with major roles in Bolchevikismo (1923), El Cristo de oro (1926) and Conspiración (1927).

His photographic assignments at the workshop included documenting traditional religious celebrations in Chalma (State of México) and in Janitzio, the island-village in Lake Pátzcuaro renowned for its Day of the Dead festivities. This began a life-long interest in indigenous Mexico. Márquez later wrote the screenplay for the romantic drama movie Janitzio (1935) – the earliest all-Mexican sound film – which starred Emilio Fernández and María Teresa Orozco.

Poster for Janitzio (1935)

Poster for Janitzio (1935).

As Márquez pursued his photographic career during the 1920s and early 1930s he was working during one of the most creative periods in Mexican photography. The photographic opportunities offered by Mexico were being used to good effect by several talented foreign-born photographers including Edward Weston, Tina Modotti, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paul Strand and Josef Albers among others.

Márquez was a key member of what he later called Modern Mexican Photography as it gradually emerged, evident in the body of work of photographers such as Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Agustín Jiménez, Emilio Amero, Lola Álvarez Bravo and Aurora Eugenia Latapí. This group eschewed conventional pictorialism in favor of subjects that allowed them to edge towards surrealism and abstractionism. The light, patterns and shadows of urban and industrial landscapes gained favor, as did artistic images of the human form.

This postcard view of Lake Chapala was taken on a trip to the lake sponsored by the Carta Blanca beer company in November 1930.

Luis Márquez. Chapala (November 1930).

Luis Márquez. Chapala (November 1930).

This colorized postcard of a Lake Chapala aguador (water carrier) was published by Publicaciones Fischgrund in Mexico City in about 1939. A black and white version of this photograph, credited to “Grace Line Photo” had been used in 1937 to illustrate “Discovering Mexico”, an article by Edna Mae Stark in Modern Mexico.

Luis Márquez. Aguador en el Lago de Chapala. (1939)

Luis Márquez. Aguador en el Lago de Chapala. (1939)

Márquez traveled widely across Mexico for decades and combined his ever-evolving photography with collecting and exhibiting ethnic Mexican clothing. His photographic work was popular as illustrations in newspapers and magazines, as well as for postcards, calendars and books. His work won numerous awards, including a coveted first prize at the Exposición Iberoamericana (1930) in Seville, Spain, and a first prize at the International Photography Exhibition at the New York World’s Fair (1939-40).

Four of his photographs were published in the May 1937 issue of National Geographic which brought his work to an international audience.

Mexican Folklore: 100 Photographs by Luis Marquez, a book that showcased a selection of 100 of his magnificent black and white photos, accompanied by text by Justino Fernandez, was published by Eugenio Fischgrund in Mexico City in about 1954. In the 1970s, Mobil Oil sponsored the publication of El México de Luis Márquez and its English version, Luis Marquez’ Timeless Mexico.

In 1997, a previously unknown side of Márquez’s portfolio as a photographer emerged when 53 artistic photos of nudes (40 male and 13 female) were discovered. The photographs date from the mid-1930s and are some of the earliest photographs of the male form ever taken in Mexico.

The extraordinarily gifted photographer Luis Márquez Romay died in Mexico City on 11 December 1978.

Sources:

  • Alquimia. 2000. El imaginario de Luis Marquez” – The major source for this post is this special issue of Alquimia, año 4, núm. 10, Sep-Dec 2000, which has numerous essays about Márquez and his work.
  • Susan Toomey Frost. Undated. “Postcards of Luis Marquez“. Blog post.
  • Arturo Guevara Escobar. 2011. “Letra M. Fotógrafos y productores de postales.” Blog post.
  • Ernesto Peñaloza Méndez. 2006. “Luis Márquez Romay.” Kean University. [30 Sep 2019]]
  • Edna Mae Stark. “Discovering Mexico”, Modern Mexico, Vol 9 #2, July 1937, 19-23.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Jul 052018
 

Swiss-born publisher Juan Kaiser (1858-1916) published some of the earliest postcards of Lake Chapala. His early postcards of the lake, dating back to the start of the 20th century were multi-views, with three small images on each card.

Kaiser was born in Leuzigen, Bern, Switzerland in 1858. In 1881, at the age of 23, he left home to seek his fortune in the Americas. After working with family friends in Peru and traveling in several South and Central American countries, he moved to Mexico in about 1886. After some months in Mexico City, working at “La Helvetia” (part owned by his countryman Guillermo Kaiser who, despite his surname, is not thought to be a relative), Juan Kaiser moved to the silver mining boom town of San Luis Potosí where he bought a bookstore – “Al Libro Mayor” – in 1887.

This proved to be a successful venture and Kaiser envisioned that opening a branch in Guadalajara, which was experiencing rapid growth at the end of the nineteenth century would be similarly profitable. With this in mind, he sent for his younger brother, Arnoldo Kaiser (1875-1952), to join him in Mexico to help run the business. Arnoldo, still a teenager, joined him in San Luis Potosí in 1891. Both brothers were multilingual, having acquired French, German and Spanish in addition to the Romansche spoken at home.

Juan Kaiser postcard

Juan Kaiser’s first wife, Ana Simmen, of Swiss parentage, died in San Luis Potosí on 19 January 1892. The following year, on 13 Nov 1893, Kaiser married her sister, Maria Guillermina Simmen, then 38 years of age, in Mexico City. The couple’s eldest child, Guillermo Juan Kaiser, died as an infant in San Luis Potosí in February 1895.

Juan Kaiser expanded the business to Guadalajara in 1899, opening a store named “Al Libro de Caja”. This bookstore and stationers supplied all manner of pens, inkwells, journals, bookbinding, pocket books, cashbooks and accounts books for the city’s thriving commercial and mining sector. Kaiser also developed a lucrative sideline in publishing picture postcards. His artistic connections were immediately visible to all patrons since the entrance to the store, located at the intersection of Calle San Francisco and Calle López Cotilla, was decorated “in a neat and stylish manner” with the work of another Guadalajara resident, the Brazilian-born artist Félix Bernardelli.

The first series of Kaiser postcards (see triple view of Chapala, above) was published in 1900-1901, with the imprint “Al Libro Mayor. S. Luis Potosi”. Various other imprints were used by the brothers including “Juan Kaiser y hermano”, “Juan y Arnoldo Kaiser”, “Juan Kaiser, Guadalajara”, “Juan Kaiser, San Luis Potosí”, “Juan Kaiser, San Luis Potosí y Guadalajara”, “Arnoldo Kaiser, San Luis Potosí”, “Al Libro Mayor, San Luis Potosí” and “Al Libro de Caja.” According to expert deltiologists (postcard collectors) all the early Juan Kaiser postcards were printed in Germany.

Jose María Lupercio. Chapala. Postcard view published by Juan Kaiser.

Jose María Lupercio. Chapala. Postcard view published by Juan Kaiser.

The Kaiser brothers worked with several photographers, including José María Lupercio and the American hotelier-photographer Winfield Scott. The early Chapala photographs on Kaiser postcards are unattributed but many are believed to be the work of Scott. Scott also sold his own vast collection of photographs of Mexico – “Scott’s Types and Views of Mexico… true pictures of life and scenery in this country of unequaled picturesqueness” – through the Guadalajara store. The majority of later views of Chapala (see above) include a clear attribution to Lupercio.

See also: Vitold de Szyszlo visited Chapala market in 1910

Juan Kaiser died in Guadalajara on 13 February 1916. His then wife, Berta Meter, and their son Hans Paul Kaiser, aged 4, inherited the business and sold their interests in Al Libro Mayor to Arnoldo Kaiser. Advertisements for the store continued into the 1920s. In 1927, Berta and Hans Paul left Guadalajara for Switzerland. They came back in 1930 to wind up affairs in Mexico before moving permanently to Switzerland in 1932.

Sources:

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

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