Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Back Story of the Mayan Beauty

I've probably received more attention from my award-winning image Mayan Beauty than any other.  I'm often asked if she was modeling for me, or how I got her to pose.

The Mayan Beauty by Tom Bell
The truth is that she was a total stranger.  I don't think I ever spoke to her other than maybe to say, "hello."  If not for a broken-down car, this image would have been lost.

It was the end of July in 1995.  My wife and I live in Illinois.  However, my wife is from Guatemala and taught Spanish classes in Guatemala for an American university during the summer.  I accompanied her and some of her students on a field trip to the highland lake towns of Panajachel and Santiago Atitlán.  I shot numerous images on the trip, among them, another of my well-know and award winning photographs The Chicken Bus; I also came back with an image of a Mayan man praying and making offerings of candles, rum and cigars to the mysterious idol/saint/god Maximón (pronunced "maa-shee-MOHn").

The Chicken Bus.  Panajachel, Guatemala.

Worshipping the Maximón.  Saintago Atitlán
After several days of sight-seeing, good meals and cultural experiences with my wife's students, we headed back for Antigua, the best preserved Spanish colonial city in the Americas.  However, right out of town, we stopped the van to view a waterfall that overlooked the lake.  An old Nissan car was stopped near where we parked the van. The hood was raised. The Mayan Beauty, another couple of women and some children, all in traditional colorful Indian dress stood nearby.  My wife's students saw it as an opportunity to practice their Spanish.

A Mayan Indian girl, presumably the daughter of the Mayan Beauty.
Initially, I started to photograph the encounter merely to document the trip.  My first photos were wide shots showing the students in animated conversation with the Indian lady. One of the students was also taking photos with her point-and-shoot camer. As I walked closer, I noticed the woman's gestures, the way she held her hands and head as she spoke and paitently listened to my wife's students.  I nodded and said "hello" as I approached, but didn't interupt the conversation.  I did however frame several of the shots as a portrait of the woman.  She was well aware that I was taking photographs, but never really paid attention to me.  It was obvious that she was pleased that we had taken such an interest in her.

Another view of the Mayan Beauty.
She explained to our group that the vehicle had overheated and the men in the car had gotten a ride back into town to get a replacement fan belt.  They would be back soon and the group would be on their way.

Normally, I'm sorry for any person's misfoutune.  However, if a fan belt had to break, I couldn't be more pleased that it broke when and where it did.  My wife gave the woman the name Mayan Beauty after seeing the photographs.

You can view the Mayan Beauty and my other images at my fine art photography website:

No comments:

Post a Comment