When Wendy Ewald arrived in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains in 1975, she began a project that aimed to reveal the lives, intimate dreams and fears of local schoolchildren. Tasked with finding authentic ways of representing the lives of these children, she gave each of them a camera and interviewed them about their childhood in the mountains. Through these intriguing transcripts and photographs, we discover the lives of families as seen through the eyes of their children: where domestic, rural life is understood with startling openness and depth. In Portraits and Dreams, life’s most mysterious realities – love, loss, violence, death, new life – are given voice through an altogether novel discovery: the camera. We learn the eloquence and originality with which children see the world and we see a generous new way of engaging children in the possibilities of the photographic medium.
This revised and expanded edition of Ewald’s now-rare book, first published in 1985, and called “An American masterpiece,” offers access to a different and broadened view of the rural south over the span of 35 years, and includes contemporary pictures and stories by eight of the students from the original publication.
In 1990, a year before the Zapatistas’ armed revolt, Wendy Ewald was invited to conduct photography classes for Mayan, Ladino, and Tzotzil children living in Chiapas, the southernmost province of Mexico. The sponsoring organization was the Mayan writers’ cooperative, Sna Jtz-ibajom (The House of the Writers). While cameras and camcorders were hardly novelties in Chiapas, they were generally used by tourists whose picture-taking reinforced their own cultural biases. Ewald did not take pictures; instead she guided her students in taking their own pictures of their daily lives, dreams, desires, and fantasies. These briefs resonated with the importances held by dreams in Mayan culture, which considers them as real as waking life. The resulting project, The Devil is leaving his Cave, is a unique insight into the everyday realities of life in Mayan communities just before the devastation of the Zapatista uprising. This book brings together Ewald’s original project with new work made in collaboration with fifteen young Mexican Americans living in Chicago, coordinated with the help of Centro Romero, an immigrant service organisation. These images respond to many of the same subjects as those by Ewald’s 1990s students, with an emphasis now on capturing inner lives and dreams as a way of reckoning with the unvoiced experiences of immigration. The themes of restriction and self-reflection that emerged from this new work were intensified by being made in part under COVID lockdown. Together, the Chiapas and Chicago projects trace the differences between growing up in different Mexican geographies with diverse histories, while holding on to the universal joys and sorrows of childhood.
With essays by Wendy Ewald, Abigail Winograd, and Edgar Garcia.