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Mexico: A Higher Vision -- an Aerial Journey from Past to Present.

Great works of art defy description, and the nearly two hundred photographs by Michael Calderwood that fill Mexico: A Higher Vision are indeed great works of art. Produced over a period of 425 flying hours, these breath-taking scenes reveal a Mexico in which nature and civilization, order and chaos, color and shadow are constantly at odds. Lush forests, deep purple plains, multihued fishing boats, polluted cities--these images seem to contradict and complement one another at the same time. Seen as a whole, Calderwood's photos create an impression of excess. The waters of the Gulf are so blue, the Chihuahuan Plains so vast, the Sierra Madre so rugged, that the viewer is dizzied by the sheer exorbitance of Mexico's natural beauty.

In his highly poetic introduction Carlos Fuentes writes, "To see Mexico from the air is to look upon the face of creation. Our everyday, earthbound vision takes flight and is transformed into a vision of the elements. This book is a portrait of water and fire, of wind and earthquake, of the moon and the sun." Fuentes goes on to relate this "vision of the elements of creation in simultaneous interplay" to ancient Mexican cosmogony, in which five suns presided over natural phenomena. Indeed, these photographs do give the viewer a sense of the power and continuity of natural forces. Human beings seem to be, as the Aztecs believed, a rather insignificant part of a vast totality. Even in the cityscapes, people are invisible. They have created sprawling, colorful cities, but these lie in the shadows of huge mountains or in the midst of luxuriant forests that assert their dominance over everything man-made. Humans have left their mark, of course--in the soccer field squeezed between factory walls in Monterrey, in a seaside villa on the cliffs on Careyes, in the pyramids and apartment buildings that stand side by side in Tlatelolco, in the huge office buildings along the Paseo de la Reforma, in Mexico City. Yet, these achievements, large and small, seem in constant danger of being obliterated by forces beyond man's control. Calderwood's aerial views make it clear that the humanistic, anthropomorphic perspective that characterizes Western culture is gravely flawed.

The photographs are organized by region: the Southeast, the Gulf Coast, the Central Plateau, Mexico City, the Pacific Coast, the Northeast, the Northwest, and Baja California. Each section begins with a two-page introduction full of interesting geographical and historical data in which the authors have interspersed some telling anecdotes. In the piece on the Gulf Coast, for example, they describe the wonderment of the first Spanish conquistadors who, stepping ashore on the blistering beaches, were met by the sight of a white-capped volcano to the west. Doubtful that snow could exist at this latitude, Cortes sent men to climb the volcano and was amazed when they brought back snow and icicles. The account serves to enhance our appreciation of the extreme contrasts that abound not only between one region and the next or between rural and urban landscapes, but also within a relatively small area.

Although the text provides some fascinating information, the photographs need no explanation. They speak for themselves, conveying magnificently the mystery, power, and complexity of Mexico's varied landscapes.

Barbara Mujica is a novelist, short-story writer, and essayist, as well as an associate professor at Georgetown University, where she teaches Hispanic literature and directs El Retablo, a Spanish-language theater group.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Organization of American States
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Mujica, Barbara
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1990
Words:564
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