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Latin American Fotografia: Juan Carlos Lelo de Larrea

By David Schonauer   Wednesday September 23, 2015


The passion play of Iztapalapa is unlike any other in Mexico.

Held each year during Holy Week, the event in the Iztapalapa district of Mexico City is one of the oldest and most famous passion plays in Mexico. The origins of the event is also unique: It began 171 years ago during a cholera outbreak. A procession to petition relief evolved over time to include a passion play with scenes related to Holy Week. Today, the passion play features a cast of thousands, including men called “Nazarenes” who follow the actor playing Jesus.

“From then until now, the representation incorporates new elements each time,” says Mexico City-based photographer Juan Carlos Lelo de Larrea, who documented the passion play of Iztapalapa on Good Friday of 2014. His work was later selected as a winner of the Latin American Fotografia 3  competition.

It was the Nazarenes who first caught the attention of Lelo de Larrea. “The great effort they made to carry the heavy burden and the many numbers of young people participating impressed me,” he says. “I remember feeling a real sense of community and friendship among the people the day. I also took notice of the great pride the neighborhood felt for the tradition.”

Indeed, he calls the event “both a ceremony and folk festival unresponsive to a sacred narrative, nor a traditional theater. It is an expression of multiple contributions that merge into a particular syncretism.”

Lelo de Larrea captured the scene with a Canon 60D and a 10-22mm lens. “I chose to work with a wide-angle lens to really get inside the action and side by side with the characters and to be able to establish some kind of bond between the subject and me,” he says. “I shot in black and white because I wanted to emphasize the texture of the scenes, the faces, the objects.”

A veteran photographer, Lelo de Larrea majored in communications at the Universidad Iberoamericana, graduating in 1998. In 2000, he established an audiovisual production studio and has had his work featured in a number of exhibitions, including a solo show, “Comercio en Chino,” at Galeria Primate in Mexico City. His LAF-winning work was also included in the “Los Diaz” traveling exhibition sponsored by Epson. His commercial clients include InStyle and Elle magazines, Proctor & Gamble, L’Oreal, Danone, Nestle, Banamex and Microsoft.

“I love photography because it lets me share with others the way I see and understand the world,” he says. “Right now I am planning to document the gay pride demonstration in Mexico City and the festivities that take place in Alvarado, Veracruz, in October, where almost all of the men in the town dress like women. I’m interested in both events for their iconoclastic character and visual power.”

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