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A Photographic essay by students of art professor Peter Goin

Once upon a time in Mexico
Guanajuato

Story by Peter Goin

Nestled within mountainous central Mexico, this is the magical place where 16 students and Foundation Professor Peter Goin wove every waking moment through a maze of cobblestone streets and alleys, winding around steep hillsides, opening into vistas of beautiful churches and small plazas. Every glance revealed houses of pastel-colored facades and balconies trimmed with iron work and flower-filled window boxes. Although the city boasts a population of more than 115,000, there is nary a traffic light nor any neon in the entire city. Most of the passageways are primarily pedestrian, since modern automobile traffic circumvents the narrow streets in massive stone tunnels underground and upon the riverbed, past the basements of the core city.

These photographs reveal only a glimpse, only a moment of hundreds of photographs made in nine days; a blur of festivals, floats, Diego Rivera’s House Museum, and Callejoneadas, a students’ minstrel group dressed in 17th century costume, wandering through the sidestreets and alleys serenading. This is the city where loyalists sought refuge during the first battle for Mexican independence in 1810, when besieged by Miguel Hidalgo at the outset of the war against Spain. In 1811, loyalists hung on each corner of the massive grain warehouse in the city center the severed heads of the four leaders of the War of Independence. This was done as a gruesome reminder to other potential revolutionaries of the cost of their actions. This is also the place where students saw more dead bodies than any one of them had every seen before; more than l00 bodies line the Museo de las Momias’ walls in glass cases. Some of the dead still wore their burial clothes, and others are, quite literally, just skin and bones. This is just another aspect of the city, like the shape of an onion, with layers to be peeled back, investigated, explored. Here are a few photographic samples., with excerpts from student’s journals, of the magic of this place.

Editor’s note: Peter Goin, Foundation professor of art at the university, has established himself as one of the country’s foremost photographers. His contemporary photographic study of the Truckee River has graced the Library of Congress and his work has been featured in more than 50 museums nationally and internationally. His books have earned the Award of Excellence from the Natural Resources Defense Council, and he has garnered several National Endowment for the Arts fellowships. In addition to his insightful photos, Goin is known as one of the campus’ finest professors, both passionate about the art of photography and the students who have entrusted their instruction to him. Says Paul Starrs, professor of geography, who is collaborating with Goin on a book: “With Peter and teaching, it’s all about intensity. He’s so focused on results, on looking at something in fresh ways. He’s also about analysis: of feelings and motives. If he were a cop or a character on CSI, he’d be a terror at interrogation. But there’s something about this Goin intensity that those other public servants or TV folks don’t necessarily show: Peter truly cares.”

A panoramic vista of Guanajuato by Deborah Cruze.
A panoramic vista of Guanajuato by Deborah Cruze.

One of many images Cruze made of the Virgin Mary. "My work 
              was an intuitive response to culture," Cruze said.
One of many images Cruze made of the Virgin Mary. "My work was an intuitive response to culture," Cruze said.

Matt Theilen took visual note of what was happening above the street.
Matt Theilen took visual note of what was happening above the street.

Pam Henning captures a youngster's fleeting gaze.
Pam Henning captures a youngster's fleeting gaze.

David Torch befriended American retirees in San Miguel de Allende.
David Torch befriended American retirees in San Miguel de Allende.

Japanese student Ikue Yada wrote, "(People) passing by on the 
              street was like a memory that is going to fade out, but something 
              remains."
Japanese student Ikue Yada wrote, "(People) passing by on the street was like a memory that is going to fade out, but something remains."

   

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