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Spotlight: Daniel Ramos Captures the "Muy Hermosa" of Northern Mexico

By David Schonauer   Monday July 8, 2019


Donald Trump warned Americans of “bad hombres” from Mexico.

Photographer Daniel Ramos went looking for them.

Ramos grew up in Pilsen, a Mexican-American working-class neighborhood of Chicago, but he spent summers in Lampazos De Naranjo — a small town near Monterrey, Mexico, two hours away from the US border — with his grandmother. “My parents sent me there to so I would not fall victim to the gang violence in Chicago,” he says. His mother died in 2012, leaving Ramos a house she had inherited in Monterrey, and he decided to move there “to have some peace to mourn her loss.”

In Monterrey Ramos taught classes on documentary photography at LCI Education, a Canada-based college of the arts, and pursued personal projects in his spare time. They included “Eres Muy Hermosa” (“You Are Very Beautiful”), a series of portraits of the working-class people of Northern Mexico.

“I wanted the people I photographed to know that they are worthy of a portrait, for them to begin to think differently about how they feel about themselves,” he says. “Most had never had a photograph taken of themselves until I came along with my camera. At this particular moment in history, every human being south of the American border is under suspicion. The wall is supposed to protect the American people from the ‘bad hombre.’ The portraits I have made are of men and women who have nothing but their lives to keep them going. They are what many in the US imagine a bad hombre looks like. Their image is what people might easily fear. I want to free the Latin man and the Latin woman from those negative connotations and stereotypes.”

The work was named a winner of the Latin American Fotografía 7 competition.

Ramos shot all the images for the project in Monterrey at night, using a 4x5 view camera.

“It has taken me time to make my presence known at various establishments and on the streets,” he notes. “The locations in this series are known only to locals, and the region is known throughout the country for its violence. I had to receive permission to make photographs inside certain places. Once people became comfortable with me, I decided to introduce props and photo-strobes to create a studio environment inside these establishments. This series is about liberation from fear — of a particular race, a class, a country, or a place. Things are not always what they seem.”

Prior to his “Eres Muy Hermosa” series, Ramos worked on a project titled "The Land of Illustrious Men, which he describes as a “photo-novella” that combines photographs and writing with family photographs and ephemera to explore the “understated drama of many immigrants' lives in the United States of America.” Ramos received the 2018 Dorothea Lange–Paul Taylor Prize for the work.

That series, which was featured earlier this year in The New York Times, will be on view at the Filter Space in Chicago from July 12 to August 10. Below is one of the images from that project.

Ramos graduated from Columbia College in Chicago with a BA in Photography in 2003 and studied for an MFA at the California College of the Arts in 2007. “I originally wanted to pursue a degree in film, but because I feared I could not write eloquently enough, my advisor at Columbia College in Chicago suggested I try photography,” he notes.

Currently he lives in Texas, outside of San Antonio.

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Dispatches from Latin America