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A transcription of conversations with architect and artist Alan Rios Cruz, a friend I met while we both were in residency at the MAK Center for Arts and Architecture in Los Angeles in 2018. Alan’s family, and more specifically his two young brothers, are the main subject of “The Cruzz”, a series presented this week on Der Greif. This conversation happened on a Monday evening, in September 2023, while we were shopping at Soriana, a big box store chain in Mexico.
Alan: So…first question: why “The Cruzz”?
Baptiste: That’s it? That’s the question? Why “The Cruzz”?
Alan: Yeah, my family always asks me why you chose to take pictures of them.
Baptiste: It started because I wanted to escape Paris after the first COVID lockdown. I came to see you in Mexico for the whole summer. You showed me pictures of your brother (Guero) who had just adopted a pet alligator. And I was like: that sounds like a fun thing to take pictures of. It was very, you know, like a simple, kind of anecdotal, informal start… I don't know. I remember it was just a way of killing time at the beginning, even for your brothers. Everybody was bored in the summer of 2020.
Alan: That's it? That's your answer?
Alan: I’m gonna follow up but the thing is… First, you started taking pictures with my brother (Guero) and then it became my cousins and then it's like… spreading. Now, you sometimes even bring in some lights and props to include in the pictures. So my question is, what would be the theme, or story that connects all of the images? Because, you know… I've been involved in the process of making the images but sometimes I don't see where this is going…
Baptiste: It's not telling a story. It's more like fragmented moments, pieces of information about what’s a summer with the Cruzes like. But at the same time, there’s a lot of ambiguity around the authenticity of what is in the images. They are kind of sitting in between documentary and complete fiction. Like you said, there's lighting involved and props that I bring… All of those are derived from my own physical experience of your brother’s (or to an extent, your family’s) daily life and environments. Only, slightly fantasized-exaggerated? I like the idea that this series started with no real other ambition than “let’s take pictures of this pet alligator” and then it became an obsessive, almost clinical observation of your family (even in its most mundane aspects) that has led me to come back every summer for 3 years. The fact that your brothers are teenagers, means that they changed fast and drastically over the three years I have been here. Which is also an interesting thing to observe and document.
Alan: You mentioned the bending of reality, or “staging” of the pictures, but somewhat, when I’m with you on “the set”, meaning when you're taking the pictures, I do feel that, as crazy or as surreal the images can be, they are deeply anchored in the reality of Mexico and my family. So, how do you decide to “stage” a picture or throw in a “prop”?
Baptiste: I would say that… I suggest something. And then whoever is in the image (your brothers, your cousins, etc.) will grab it - or not, and make it their own. If they react to an idea, a posture, or a space that I'm suggesting and they make it their own, then that's when it all works well. Sometimes, I’ll pull out a “prop” (meaning, an object) or an idea that I find cool but they don’t know what to do with it. Then, that’s when we move on to something else. It’s a very collaborative process, an exchange. I try to be very attentive so as to not abuse my “photographic power”, as I am the one behind the camera and they are in front, which is a more vulnerable position to be in.
It’s like a fine line to use what is their reality/truth/experience without falling on the side of clichés - even though clichés exist because people are clichés sometimes. What started the whole thing was that your brother had a pet alligator, which is something unusual and random, but at the same time, when you think about a 15-year-old kid in a Mexican suburb, you’re like: okay, that kind of makes sense. You know what I mean?
Alan: Yes. I would like to specify that my brother would carry around his alligator (named “Leopoldo”) on a leash, so that's what made it funny. It was a pretty small alligator, on a leash. He would also let him roam around in his bed with him while sleeping. They had a real, nice, loving relationship.
End of part 1