‘The Headline, the Setting Sun, My Shadow’

Photographer Alex Coghe tells Brandon Hoops the story behind one of his favorite pictures from Mexico City.

By / September 2012

The question, once begged of my mother or my father, I now ask of my city every time I walk its streets with my camera: Tell me a story. It can be a true story or it can be a false story. Just don’t make it a clichéd one. This picture tells a false story, a slightly fictionalized version of reality in Mexico City.

It all starts when I learn of a street photography contest on Flickr. The theme is “headlines” and rules are simple: black and white, square format, taken during December, only one submission.

The search follows. It moves slow. Nothing fun. Just the typical. A man reading the newspaper on a bench. I take several shots, but I am not satisfied. A glance at the gallery of submissions shows many similar photographs. Mine would just bleed together with the others. I want something different.

The tension builds one evening as I walk an avenue in the Bosque de Chapultepec with my Olympus Pen E-P1 and a 17mm lens. I see a strange site. A woman lying on the ground, a newspaper over her head. Sleeping, I think. My chest beats an excited rhythm. My steps slow to a tiptoe. Is she aware of my presence? I inch closer. No, doesn’t seem so. Everything is perfect. I raise my camera to my eye. Wait? What’s that?

The headline, the setting sun, my shadow. There is more to play with than I realized. After I get the one I want, I slowly step away. Check the image on the LCD. Yes, this is incredible. God sent me this image. As always.

Alex Coghe, a native of Rome, now lives north of Mexico City, near the Basilica of Guadalupe.

I did not win the competition. But this is not a sad ending. To win is only minor consolation. No, I got another prize. Look at the photograph. Do you see it? In the newspaper, a true story, of which there are too many: drug violence and the death of a boy. Then in the shadows, a false story: a photographer lurks suspiciously, as if a killer himself. I intend not to make light of the situation so much as to show the dark shadow the brutality casts over our city.

You see, my city, and I can call it that now after more than two years living here, is always telling stories that pull me, a curious photographer, into participation. I feel like a child again, only I’m not lost in waves of words and sentences but in human narratives that give this city of 20 million its pulse.

Many people only listen to the ones that have remained for hundreds of years. The classical representation of the Mexican postcard. The rite of Limpia. A man with a sombrero. The seller in the street.

Not me. I want this city’s almost surreal qualities. It’s a bit of a strange concept, I know. This is what I mean: On the street I observe the reality. It could be a man walking to work. Or a woman outside of a store. Then I photograph it. Making the story my own. Playing with the light and the shadows. Offering a second reading of what I heard.

I am part photographer and part writer. The two things are related. Yet when at 10 years old, when my hands clasped my first camera, a cheap Fujica, I had absolutely no idea it would become an extension of my hand and a pen of my eye.

 

— as told to Brandon Hoops

 

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