For their new book Sweet Dreams, photo collective Tripod City traveled throughout Mexico documenting its contemporary culture to dispel racial stereotypes – especially ones cast by Donald Trump.
The three photographers who make up Tripod City – Charlie Kwai, Chris Lee, and Paul Storrie – regularly travel to developing countries to provide fresh perspectives of the locals. In the past, they went to Ghana and China for their series Gold Dust and Made in China, respectively.
With so much talk about building walls along the US-Mexico border, the creatives decided to visit six different Mexican cities in the space of five weeks, photographing “thousands of people on hundreds of streets.”
The result is an enlightening book filled with over 100 photos that touch on themes of love, life, and death.
“The photographs combine a mix of portraiture, still life, and street photography from the bustling cities of Mexico City and Guadalajara to the dusty streets of Oaxaca and Guanajuato,” said Tripod City.
We recently had a short chat with Kwai, Lee, and Storrie, to discover more about their work.
Why did you decide to make a photo book on Mexican culture?
“Within the collective, we are most attracted to developing countries in the media or otherwise, and places that continue to build particular expectations. For us, it is simply about exploring new places first-hand and reimagining them together in new ways using our own personal experiences.
“Latin America seemed like the most logical choice for us after previous trips to Asia and Africa, simply for the diversity in culture. Mexico, in particular, is a rapidly developing country that has been mentioned a lot recently in light of Trump’s rise to power.
“We really wanted to witness this country first-hand, and represent Mexico for the bold and beautiful place it is through our photography of people. In general, we are attracted to countries with a strong cultural identity or places with existing stereotypes that we can challenge. In any case, we look to offer an alternative perspective with our street photography.”
You mentioned that you visited six different cities across Mexico in five weeks. Can you tell us more about that trip?
“As with every project, we focus on photographing people across as much of the country as we can. With Mexico City being so big, I knew this would be a challenge in itself which is why we had to dedicate enough time to familiarise ourselves with the different areas.
“We also travelled to Oaxaca in the south, Veracruz in the East, and Guadalajara in the North, visiting a mixture of villages or smaller cities outside of each main city to that region. The aim is to capture an unbiased overview of Mexico.”
You were also in the country during the highly-celebrated Day of the Dead. How was that like?
“We were initially in Mexico City in the lead up to Day of the Dead and went to the Zocalo where they held the first major parade after inspiration from the James Bond movie Spectre. Hundreds of people were dressed up in some really inventive costumes in the main square, it was clear to us that Mexico takes Halloween to another level.
“Following that, we travelled outside of the city to a village called San Andrés Mixquic where in contrast, we got to witness more of the traditional side to Day of the Dead visiting the candlelit cemetery and people’s houses to see their ‘Ofrendas’ or shrines for the dead.
“We also visited a village called Soledad Etla in Oaxaca where it happened that there was a big party that evening where the whole village dress up in some crazy outfits and parade around town with a big brass band.”
In terms of photography, how would you describe the style you used in the series? And how did you capture your themes of “love, life, and death” through pictures?
“Each of us has a different approach to street photography, and when we work together, we focus more on our individual styles combining portraiture, still life and candid street scenes.
“The theme of Sweet Dreams came about whilst we were in Mexico. We were struck by how kind and welcoming people were that we wanted this to form the heart and soul of the photographs.
“In regards to the title, the sweet coloured pink or ‘Mexican Pink’ is also a very popular colour choice in Mexico and widely considered a symbol of Mexican charisma that features heavily through all of our work.
“The dream aspect to the project represents aspirations or desire. Public displays of affection are common to see all over the city and people are not afraid to show their love for one another, the same goes for their efforts to celebrate the lives of the dead in such a unique and compassionate way.
“We attempted to capture this sentiment in our photographs, looking at both traditional and modern day aspects around the countless fiestas held during this time.”
What should readers expect from the photo book?
“The idea of contrasting our different photographic styles together in one book is really about allowing people to explore connections between the photographs and use their imagination.
“In particular, we spent a lot of time pairing different photographs together in the book to evoke certain thoughts or feelings about Mexico that might keep you wondering.”