To capture the real spirit of Mercado Lucas de Gálvez, Pim Schalkwijk stripped much of it away. The clutter of merchandise, the kinetic movement, the clashing colors — all gone.
The acclaimed photographer took market vendors — who work there daily selling fruit, butchering meat, arranging flowers, cutting hair — into his pop-up photo studio that operated for five months among the stalls at Mérida’s historic central market.
Taken out of context, the portraits focus on the subjects themselves. Some have worked for decades and appear weary. Others are younger and appear buoyant and carefree.
The concept was inspired by the mid-century work of Irving Penn, whose monumental project “Small Trades” took him through Paris, London, and New York. Pim’s project, “Báalam: Guardians of Heritage,” is like Penn’s in that it has a power that would have been lost without a clean, neutral backdrop. The photos have a continuity that make them of a piece. Moreover, the focus is on the people, not the place.
A sample of his 250 bigger-than-life portraits is still on view along the abandoned railroad tracks at La Plancha, where the train station operates as a state-run art school. The exhibition, which opened in October for Noche Blanca, has had its run extended. It serves as a preview to a larger exhibit planned this spring at Palacio Cantón.
The studio was simple, consisting of a seamless backdrop made of Durock and gypsum board, some lights and a printer. It was dubbed U’ulab, or “visitor” in the Mayan language. And it gave him ready access to lure in the sometimes reticent vendors to pose.
“It’s difficult because, in the market, people are working,” Pim says. “And usually, they are alone. So they can’t leave their work. So I needed to be there a long time, so people find the time to get to the studio.”
In exchange, they got a framed photo to take home.
Since the studio represented an ongoing expense, U’ulab was vacated, and the huge, seamless backdrop had to be demolished. “It’s a pity. I’m very sad,” Pim says.
About Pim Schalkwijk
Born in Mexico City in 1971, Pim Schalkwijk is the son of the late theater director Nina Lincoln and the renowned Dutch photographer Bob Schalkwijk, who has lived in Mexico since 1958 and turns 90 on May 3. Pim’s work has been published in National Geographic, México Desconocido and Arqueología Mexicana, as well as in architecture and art magazines.