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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 Tuesday evening, in September 2023, while we had dinner at “El Rincon Del Parque”, a restaurant in the Division del Norte district of Mexico. The restaurant is decorated to look like the interior of a Swiss chalet but serves traditional Mexican dishes.
Alan: Do you think that the way you've been taking the pictures for “The Cruzz” series has changed over the years? People don't see this in the final images, but you know, there's a whole process that I would like to describe. Usually, you come during the whole summer. And we go to see my family every Sunday - I have breakfast with my mom and my brothers every Sunday. A few days before, we’d go to this market called “Las Torres”, which is a street market in Mexico City that has piles and piles of used clothing. That’s where you pick up cheap clothing for the pictures, sometimes props. Usually, the first weekend is the hardest, because you know, it's like going back to… you haven't seen the subjects (my family) in a year, so it’s like reuniting again. It's a whole ritual… before taking any picture. You arrive, we have breakfast, kind of like a bonding time or, you know, catching up… And then you take pictures the whole afternoon. You always repeat the same process. Same formula but different results every time. Do you think this process has changed over the years, for you?
Baptiste: For sure, it has changed. I didn't know your family at the beginning. I was just an intruder coming in and taking pictures. I was more hesitant, I was taking pictures like a tourist on vacation. The pivot point is when I started using the garage light from Home Depot to “light” the spaces in which I was taking pictures. That’s when it started looking like I was staging the images in collaboration with your brothers. What I like is that the lighting process is very vernacular. No flashes or studio lights, but basic hardware store neons. The danger (as I’m here to do a third part of the series) is that now your brothers and cousins are very familiar with what I’m doing, and are very willing to “act” in the pictures. It’s a dangerous line to walk on. The series could become too staged.
Alan: Just to react to what you said about the light, I would say it’s a very “frugal” way of working.
Baptiste: That also reminds me that what started the series is that Mexican interiors are most of the time equipped with super cold white LED light bulbs that bathe the whole space in a kind of harsh grocery store light. It’s hard to “live” in that light, in my opinion, but it’s very cinematographic and great for pictures.
Alan: But I would say that's kind of like a new trend. I mean, not new new, but you know… A big reason, I think, is that we have a hot climate. So if you have warm light inside your place and it's hot, then the place feels hotter. If you put cold white lights, it feels cooler, even though it’s not. But I agree, it doesn't look really nice and it's horrible to live in.
Baptiste: I never thought about that, that’s a very good reason.
Alan: The other point I would like to follow up on is the willingness of the subjects to be photographed. I do remember, at the beginning, when I would tell my brothers what you wanted them to do…
Baptiste: We have to mention that your family doesn’t speak English, so you have to translate everything when we do the pictures.
Alan: Yeah, and the message changes a lot. I have to do the translation and then maybe it distorts the meaning of things, slightly. So, it’s like if, if you were taking two pictures…
Baptiste: It’s like we’re all taking (making) the pictures: you, your brothers, and me. Everybody.
Alan: I think, over the years, they (my brothers) have been willing to do more. They are not questioning the “why” of the pictures. It’s like they are embracing it. My whole family (even those not featured in the series) has become accustomed to the process. At first, it was: why is he bringing tripods? Why is he bringing all these neons? Like a lot of questions. But now they are used to the process. On Sundays, it’s like an ecosystem: my mom cooks meals for the week while you take pictures in the living room. You know, it's nice.