I made these images a couple of years ago while walking around in San Francisco near Coit Tower. My friend was taking me downtown to visit one the oldest surviving structure in the city, Mission Delores. Just as we were leaving a wedding party showed up and I caught 8 musicians walking along the sidewalk. Three of the musicians paused outside for a break and I approached them with my retro Twin Lens Reflex and asked them for permission to make a portrait of them. I don’t speak spanish and I think most of the communication occurred with a simple gesture of me pointing and holding up my camera with a smile.
I am grateful that they accepted me for the briefest of moments. Immediately following the two exposures another car pulled up with the bride and groom and the race was on for the musicians to get into the auditorium and start playing. I lingered for a moment to listen. I love Mariachi music! It brings back such wonderful childhood memories.
On Sunday mornings I would be awakened by mariachi music blaring from my parents RCA stereo system. We were living in LA and my mother loved the early American furniture she had purchased with blue chip stamps. The Stereo was hidden in a large decorative wooden cabinet that was the major piece of furniture in our house complete with an 8 track player. I think they bought it from the RCA dealer that was next door to my father’s camera repair shop.
By the time I came up from my basement bedroom there was orange juice and toasted frozen Eggo waffles waiting for me on the dining table. I loved the music because it was happy and it was the one day of the week where my parents were usually happy too.
After we moved away from LA it was 7 years before we returned for a visit. My favorite memory of that trip was going to Olivera street in Old Town LA where you could hear Mariachi musicians as they strolled along the promenade and paused for a song and tips. That year I fell in love with a senorita waitress who was probably in her twenties. I remember asking her if she would let me take a picture standing next to her. She had a brilliant bright smile and wore the traditional white ruffled blouse off the shoulder and a dark green skirt with a red sash. She was so sweet and kindly tolerated this lovesick teenage boy.
Three years ago I took my own teenage son to Olivera street and we sat outside and enjoyed watching the musicians and the pigeons as we dined before heading off to Chavez Ravine to see a Dodgers game. It was another special memory in the city of angels.
I can still recall the album covers of Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass and Cream that my parents and grandparents owned. It is the soundtrack of my 70’s youth. I think knowing how Alpert suffered from intense stage fright and still managed to make incredible music has given me inspiration in my own life to face challenges.
The last time I listened to Mariachi music was in Portland last year on Cinco de Mayo. I had a gallery reception on Friday night in Spokane, another one for my students on Saturday, and I woke up and caught a flight to Portland just in time to ride the train from the airport to downtown to participate in a fun run. Later that night we went out dancing and partying to the sounds of three bands. There was a singer, Edna Vasquez who absolutely mesmerized me with the power of her voice and her eloquent beauty. She reminded me of the images I had seen of Frida Kahlo. I can’t dance very well, but I didn’t care. Joy knows no embarrassment.
Photographer’s Note: These images are copies of the original darkroom prints made on fiber paper from Tmax 100 medium format negatives printed on a Saunders VCCE enlarger.. They were photographed using a digital camera on a copy stand and do not adequately show the sharpness or tonality of the original print.