How the Idea of the Photographic Lottery Came About
(the most frequently asked question)
It didn’t begin with the idea. I’m motivated rather by feelings or desires than by ideas. I simply liked coming to Mexico. Since 1985 I made as many trips as possible. I had Mexican friends, learned to speak a little Spanish, and was accumulating a pile of photographs. I’d say that the idea of making a lottery came around the half-way point when I began to select the best photos and give them titles. With these titles they already looked like a lotería, I just needed to collect more cards. The original dummy was a small box of loose photographs with their names typewritten below.
So in the beginning, the pictures came to me without having to search for them. Of course I had been going around looking for objects and scenes particular to Mexico, which are not be found in any other place and that identify this universe. What fascinates me is to find what is different in every place, like a kind of private visual ethnographic investigation.
The moment that I named the series “Lotería fotográfica”, then I had to complete the game and this became more difficult. My aim was to collect 54 photographs that pleased me, the same number as in the original game, and that these would present a kind of rounded and balanced portrait. Certain figures had to be included for a proper Lotería, for example “The Devil”. I searched for him everywhere in vain, until finally he surprised me pointing a plastic gun. I searched for The Mermaid also, but without luck. She never appeared to me in the sensational way she deserves.
In any case, I wasn’t interested in copying the lotería cards- how boring! The traditional game, although very Mexican as a whole, is not a catalogue of Mexican-ness, however the Photographic Lottery could try to be just that. A double game: referring to the popular lottery game known by every Mexican and at the same time showing objects and characters from Mexican life. All this by means of photography, itself a game of chance. According to my rules for hunting fleeting images, all must come from reality and nothing is set up. Arranging photographs doesn’t interest me and the result never retains that spark of the unexpected.
For the purpose of comparing lotteries, the traditional cards can be divided into basic categories: things, characters, animals, fruits or plants, musical instruments, and vehicles. I combined four fowls (The Rooster, The Bird, The Parrot and The Heron) into one: The Turkey. And four musical instruments (The Accordion, The Cello, The Drum, The Harp), also into just one: The Violin. Instead of three trees (The Tree, The Pine, The Palm) only two: The Tree and The Palm. I played with others: The Pear is a light bulb converted into a pot for a plant. The Light replaces The Sun and takes the form of light bulbs in front of a church steeple. The Lady is a mountain known as “the sleeping woman”: The Woman. The High Heel instead of The Boot; The Mellon changes to The Squash with chickens; The Star is a piñata; The Dandy– a natty dresser on a downtown street; The Brave One- a pair of wrestlers and I found Death in a shooting gallery at the fair. I exagerated a bit with means of transport- where there is only The Canoe (or The Train) I invented four: The Bicycle, The Cart, The Bus and the shadow of The Airplane. For animals I only have: The Dog (street dog), The Horsey (toy horses on the sidewalk), The Tiger (a man with a mask), The Little Bull (a fireworks tower) Eliminating many insects and animals (The Spider, The Scorpion, The Shrimp, The Fish, The Frog, The Deer) left lots of room for invented characters: The Guy, The Girl, The Devout One, The Virgen, The President, The Love-sick One. And things: The Cage, The Sea, Ice, Pulque, Adobe, The Broom, The Tower, The Kite, The Tortilla, The Street Corner, Time.
Nearly all the photos were taken during ten years of trips between 1985 and 1994, except for two from previous voyages. I have fallen in love with countries several times. My first big affair with Poland lasted ten years and produced a book published in France. I would say that Mexico was my second big love story with a country. This series of photographs is the result of my desire to know the idiosyncrasies, the people and their expression in popular culture. So why Mexico? How do you explain an enchantment? It may have something to do with what is missing in one’s life at a certain moment. When I made these photos, I was living in Paris. Paris is lovely, of course, refined and orderly. It is also usually cold and grey, and the inhabitants are rather closed, critical, grumpy, dreadfully negative, nervous, fed-up and bored…plus there’s the climate- it’s constantly drizzling. Perhaps for me, Mexico at that time was a kind of antidote to my Parisien existence.
The story of how the little box of photos was published began with my meeting with the graphic designer Azul Morris, associate of Peggy Espinosa at the time. When she saw the photos, she immediatley wanted to do a book. I wasn’t quite ready and she put a lot of pressure on me to hurry and finish. Azul did the design and organized the team of writers under Alfonso Morales that collected the popular lyrics and anonymous sayings. Alfonso also wrote the historical investigation. The verses from popular songs for each card have just the right flavor, though I would have liked to find a genuine “riddle singer” of the Lotería. ‘Could be an endangered species, if anyone knows one, I’m still looking…