#963. Looking for walls and colour on the streets of Playa Del Carmen

By AlanMacKenzie | Travel Photography

Feb 08

I’ve been lurking on DearSusan for some time and have thus far restrained myself to an occasional comment or two. No more! Despite an abundance of Impostor Syndrome when waxing philosophical I’ll give it a go. I’ve been doing photography for a long time, once as a news photographer and then in pursuit of artistic glory. Neither amounted to much but it did lead me to packing my Gitzo #5 and 4×5 Sinar F (F for field – hmm…) through Yosemites’s backcountry in hopes of channeling the still-alive Mr. Adams. No one told me that he transported his gear on the backs of mules. Not fair!


I went from there into architectural photography and left that for the world of IT, the last refuge of the otherwise unemployable. And here I am, married, retired, with enough to eat, a place to live and a bit of money for travel. My library of archival scans and new files continues to grow as does my obsession with cataloguing it properly and ensuring it is safe from flood, fire, theft, police raids and technical faults.


A chat with a lady as we both photographed Silex Spring, one of Yellowstone Park’s endless series of always-ever-more-fantastic sights, gave me a bit of insight as to why I bother. I commented that it was depressing to have all these images end up on a hard disc, rarely seen and even more rarely admired by anyone but their creator. She had a good answer: we do it because it helps us really see. The photographic process focuses the mind and intensifies the visual experience.


I was satisfied with that but wanted a bit more so, prior to discovering the wonderful DearSusan, I barged ahead and set up my own blog, www.travelphotorepeat.com and I take modest pleasure in the ten or fifteen people that visit it each month. I’ve done my part and the rest of it’s up to the world. I never was one for marketing.


So, back to DearSusan. Many themes resonate. The tussle between obsessing over gear and sharpness and this and that or leaving it at ‘f8 and be there.’ The perennial theme of the long-suffering spousal companion as we photographers plod silently along, lost in our thoughts, often stopping, occasionally pointing and shooting and occasionally whipping out our credit card (as if surreptitious and whipping out can co-exist) for that aforementioned gear. Boy, DearSusan resonates!


Then there’s the patented DearSusan theme of the Undestination. Brilliant. Me and the missus often seem to end up at noted Destinations but it’s hard not to as most of the earth is now well-travelled. I console myself with two thoughts. First, the most touristic of destinations is often new to us. Not our fault that millions got there first. Second, of course, is the fourth dimension, time. Shoulder season travel (all we can afford!) and just-above-backpacker budgets ensure that we are generally not afflicted by the hordes. I’ve also found that a short walk off the beaten path can eliminate ninety percent of the mob and that the theme park atmosphere quickly dissipates. Even day-of-week (no cruise ships at Cozumel on Sundays) and time-of-day (get there early) can take the Disney out of many Destinations.


If that fails, I revel in past glory. China was not a Destination in 1982. There were simply no tourists. Nada. Good times. Now it’s an Undestination for other reasons which is to say I wouldn’t go there for all the tea in the world. Just like the US, currently embargoed by me and therefore an Undestination. Perhaps again, some day.


So, as I procrastinated adding to my own blog (did I mention it’s www.travelphotorepeat.com ?) I had the great pleasure of reading two recent DearSusan posts that got my sprockets turning.

First was Paul Perton’s post. “If you’re ever in Mexico proper…” he said and, as we are, it demanded a response. We are not, like Mr. Perton, in an “elegant suburb” of Mexico City but holed up in a concrete mildewed box of an AirBnB in a down-at-the-heels commercial district of the great tourist destination Playa Del Carmen on the Yucatan Peninsula. Another take on Undestinationalism. The entire Yucatan is Cruise Ship Central but staying a half hour walk from the beaten path of 5th Avenida (we’re on 30th) means we are in another world, very local and very real. Paul described Mexico City as “a city of texture” with “blobs of colour, huge dynamic range…” Same here. It’s wonderful!


Second was Philberphoto’s “The way we shoot… (part Deux).” PMPM and GAS put acronyms (no spoilers, read the post!) and form to much that had been burbling around in my head. Thank you! It seems to me that travel feels much like GAS – a fast-acting drug that inspires bursts of photo-making.


So here we are. This collection is from a recent stroll around my neighbourhood, searching for walls and other interesting bits between six & seven in the evening. Nothing earthshaking but I like them and hope you do too.


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  • David says:

    Hi Alan
    Enjoyed the photographs and your comments.
    The discussion with the lady in Yosemite really summed it up for me.
    Thanks David

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Now HERE’S a man who thinks, before he does anything! Thanks for a creative and absorbing contribution, Alan!

    Another way of ridding the world of the carnival atmosphere of a tourist plague is time exposure – perhaps coupled with bracketing, so that once the shot is assembled, you don’t even have shadows of figures passing through the scene.

    Or waiting, till they shuffle along to annoy their next victims.

    Shoot at night – most of them haven’t the brains to take night shots, even if their cellphones tell them that they can. (I’ve even seen an 8 year old kid actually doing that, with his dad’s cellphone, while all the adults he was with were incapable of doing it. He was having the time of his life, jumping around and telling them all what he wanted them to do, so he could take his photo!)

    You don’t have to take it as far as moving from 5th Avenue to 64th Street!

    If you really CAN’T get rid of them, turn them into part of the scene. Just make them look like any anonymous crowd, so they cease to matter.

    A couple of years back, my wife and I were on the Pont d’Avignone and there was an EXTREMELY obnoxious pair, annoying absolutely everyone else who was trying to take a photo. The wife was armed with a selfie stick, taking her shots of herself, with practically anything and everything in the background – the husband had a huge book, and he was running around all over the place, as she move, so that he could hold the blasted book up and shield her screen from being blanked out by the sun as she tried to photograph herself. They had no regard for anyone else, and were getting in everybody’s way. Till someone else decided they’d had enough, and chased them off the bridge, by turning their own camera onto the offending couple – who suddenly fled, when they realised everyone else had decided to join in and photograph their idiotic behaviour, as well.

    • Alan says:

      Ha! Never been accused of that before!

      Getting rid of unwanted people is certainly an important skill (in many contexts). Maybe the lack of people is why so many of us seem to enjoy recording random walls.

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    You’ve certainly shown us the more interesting side of Playa del Carmen, Alan! The colors and irregular architectural shapes are intriguing and invite the viewer to linger awhile. Welcome to DS and thanks for sharing!

    • Alan says:

      Thanks for the kind comment, Nancee, and thanks for having me. I understand we are both North Americans though living on opposite sides of the 49th parallel.

  • Sean says:

    Hi Alan,
    The words “… The photographic process focuses the mind and intensifies the visual experience…” sums it up for me, and to achieve that you’ve given us food for thought in the way you approached the ‘visual experience’ we as aspire to securing, as described in this article. Well done.

  • philberphoto says:

    Brilliant post, Alan! You write that DS resonates with you, let me say that your post resonates with me. There is a mix of history, portent, colour, smell, dust, light in your images that, to me, screams “Mexico”. That is the proof of the pudding IMHO. Congrats and thank you!

  • Alan says:

    Phillip! Thank you! I’m blushing as red as the wall in the last shot.
    We’re heading back to dreary midwinter Toronto in a few hours so this experience will have to keep us going til Spring.
    I’ve been flying photographically solo for a long time and the connection with like-minded people – courteous of Dear Susan – is very invigorating.

  • Alan says:

    Phillip! Thank you! I’m blushing as red as the wall in the last shot.
    We’re heading back to dreary midwinter Toronto in a few hours so this experience will have to keep us going til Spring.
    I’ve been flying photographically solo for a long time and the connection with like-minded people – courteous of Dear Susan – is very invigorating.

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