This photograph was taken in the town of Patzcuaro, in Michoacan state, Mexico. Patzcuaro and the surrounding towns are a primary destination for Mexicans to travel for Day of the Dead celebrations each November. I was very much aware of this fact before arriving, and was fascinated to spend a few days in a place where death is essentially an integral and visible part of the culture.
I noticed this store and the adjacent coffin shop during the drive into town. There was something strangely inviting about them since there weren’t any doors physically separating the threshold between the sidewalk and the interior. (At least not during business hours.) There was no mystique to what was inside.
When I arrived one afternoon with my camera, I asked the young man who seemed to work there if it would be alright if I took some pictures. He shrugged an indifferent okay, and nonchalantly sat down and continued to smoke and watch the television. (He’s in the left corner of the image.) A friend or coworker of his, who arrived shortly after I got there, chimed in with curiosity and ended up being my “tour guide” as I explored with my camera. They and some other men who arrived in a pick-up truck were amused and perplexed as I squatted and focused and looked all around. The interaction made the experience memorable for me, and I’m sure it was for them, too. There I was, a crazy gringa from San Francisco - a little entertainment for what was probably a rather normal afternoon in a coffin store.
Coffin store, Patzcuaro
There’s an artisanal goat farm down the coast about an hour south of the city that feels like one of the happiest places on earth. Watching goats and llamas, and tasting (and buying) fresh cheese, can only make one smile and linger in this idyllic place.
The quirky juxtaposition depicted in the photograph happened to be at the farm – one of many odd little touches around the property. I love this kind of dry humor. Although the goat head is a carving, I’ve been surprised by how many people view this image and respond with a bit of hesitation as they seem to think it’s a real animal’s head.
During a recent visit to the farm, I think the head was gone. Of course "Duck" on it's own over a low doorframe is funny, but something seems to be missing.
Dead fox, San Francisco
New year’s day, 2006. Walking on the trail near Land’s End, I noticed what looked like either a dead animal or a mound of dirt in the grass at the edge of the golf course. Stepping off the trail to get a closer look, confirmed the first guess.
The fox and grass were soaked from days of seemingly nonstop rain. The fox looked like it had fallen over and died mid-stride. There was such a haunting beauty to its posture and expression. But it looked so alive. I got a little creeped out while taking the photo. There was a magnetic pull to come closer with a strong urge to stay away. I swear I felt something of the animal’s energy or soul.
This was taken during my first visit to Germany. It was one of those moments that brought the camera to my eye…and got my hands out of the warm gloves. It was early December, and it was cold. The winter light is pure magic.
These shutters are a bold and graphic red. The image was meant as a snapshot, a visual note of a memory to bring home from Amsterdam. This note turned out to be more interesting than intended.
Pianist, San Francisco
One of my favorite liberties while armed with a camera and the responsibility to document an event is wandering around to see what’s going on. Many times, the main event isn’t where the moments are always happening.
While a friend’s wedding festivities were going on inside the building, one of her young cousins was happily improvising on the piano that had been moved onto the porch. He was in his own world, and time felt suspended. I can still hear the piano in one ear, and the cacophony of revelers murmuring in the other. I was torn between the lure to stay there to listen and be mesmerized and to go back inside.
This picture almost didn’t happen. That dog was such a strange, regal, and angular looking beast, poised, almost sphinx-like, at the door of a hair salon. As I walked by, I said it would make an interesting picture. But I wasn’t going to take it. The camera was in the backpack, and hunger and the day’s heat were making me cranky. My partner, Sven, convinced me it was probably worth the effort. A little internal hemming and hawing, and well, here it is. The dog stood up and walked inside after I finished and made my way back across the street.
DEBRA BAIDA is a photographer, visual literacy advocate, and picture editor based in San Francisco. Her photographs have been published in divide: creative responses to contemporary social questions (Fall 2006) and are featured on Chemystry Set's CD, "Cobblestone Below My Feet." Over the years, she has worked with photojournalist Ed Kashi, The New York Times Magazine, The Industry Standard, Natural History Magazine, Mother Jones, the International Center of Photography, the Labor Archives and Research Center, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, and the library of Mary Ellen Mark, among others. She is a volunteer with First Exposures, a photographic mentoring program sponsored by SF Camerawork. More of her work can be seen at www.debrabaida.com.