Los ladrilleros – The Brickmakers

February 7, 2017 ·

Hugh O. Smith
Article Views: 427252

Under the Baja Sun

The crew in the pit making bricks.
The crew in the pit making bricks.

Four years ago, my wife and I moved to Baja, California (Mexico). It’s a beautiful and inexpensive place to live but the locals have to eke out a living pretty much anyway they can. The minimum wage here is $5.00 a day. For Americanos, it is cheap living. For Mexicans, just staying on the edge of poverty is an everyday struggle.

A friend of mine who is also a photographer and I decided to shoot what turned into a photo essay.  I was introduced to a group of laborers (Los ladrilleros. The brickmakers) who make bricks for a living. The bricks are handmade in the manner that they have been made for centuries and all by hand. The finished bricks, which take as long as 30 days to complete are sold for as little as 4 pesos a brick. Currently, the peso is at 19 pesos per dollar and that translates into roughly 20 cents per brick. It puts new meaning into “dirt cheap.”

Here the brickmaker (ladrillero) in Rosarito, Mexico molds and shapes the carefully mized and aged clay into molds. These workers get from 1-3 pesos per brick which is a lengthy process of mixing, aging and shaping the clay, then sun drying and baking. This can take a week or more.
Here the brickmaker (ladrillero) in Rosarito, Mexico molds and shapes the carefully mized and aged clay into molds. These workers get from 1-3 pesos per brick which is a lengthy process of mixing, aging and shaping the clay, then sun drying and baking. This can take a week or more.

Interestingly, a number of years ago, a dog crossed some green bricks leaving his paw prints in the wet clay. At first, the brick makers scolded the dog, but with true native ingenuity, they now sell these “imprinted” bricks for a peso more for the added decoration.

I could have chosen my Fuji X-100s (which I normally use for this kind of project) but for sharp detail and flexibility not much can compete with my Canon EOS 5Dsr and 24-105mm lens. It isn’t light by any means, but it produces beautiful files that, when done, can be upwards to 200 mb.

Here one of the brick makers is sifting the sand preparing to mix it with clay in a specific way to get it ready for molding.
Here one of the brick makers is sifting the sand preparing to mix it with clay in a specific way to get it ready for molding.

I always shoot in color and convert later using Nix Efex Pro. I have greater flexibility with color files than shooting with black and white. I also usually set my ISO on “Automatic” and my aperture set on F/8 so that regardless of the light, I always have a hand holdable exposure.

Ramon is a brickmaker (ladrillero) in Rosarito, Mexico. These workers get from 1-3 pesos per brick which is a lengthy process of mixing, aging and shaping the clay, then sun drying and baking. This can take a week or more.
Ramon is a brickmaker (ladrillero) in Rosarito, Mexico. These workers get from 1-3 pesos per brick which is a lengthy process of mixing, aging and shaping the clay, then sun drying and baking. This can take a week or more.

One of the brick makers, Ramon, lives in the pit where the bricks are made and was kind enough to lead us around the pits and explain the process.

This is the view that Ramon has from his backyard where he makes clay bricks. The coconut shells are used to fire the semi finished bricks in the homemade ovens.
This is the view that Ramon has from his backyard where he makes clay bricks. The coconut shells are used to fire the semi finished bricks in the homemade ovens.

First, the sand and clay is mixed and sifted in a specific “formula” that will hold their shape when wet. The wet mixture is formed by hand and molded and left to dry for several days. Once the molds are lifted and the unfinished brick is dry enough, they use the “green” bricks to make kilns.

Ramon, the brickmaker at home in Rosarito, Mexico
Ramon, the brickmaker at home in Rosarito, Mexico

These freestanding kilns are then filled with coconut husks and lit. These ovens burn extremely hot and continue burning for a week or so until the bricks are fully fired.

The bricks are strategically placed in such a way as to bake at different temperatures according to their eventual use.

I will let the photographs speak for themselves and the hard work these people put in day in and day out.

The sun cured bricks are stacked in a very particular way and the interior is filled with coconut husks. Each layer dries at a particular hardness depending upon their end use.
The sun cured bricks are stacked in a very particular way and the interior is filled with coconut husks. Each layer dries at a particular hardness depending upon their end use.

Here is a slice of Northern Baja life and will give a gringo a good idea and appreciation of how hard working and living is for a Mexican National. If indeed an extension of the existing border wall is ever built I can only hope it will be with Baja brick.

Like so many rural villages in Mexico, a town has grown into a small but vibrant community around the industry itself. 

Once the raw brick has cured in the sun for a month, they are sequentially stacked to form a kind of kiln. Coconut husks are loaded getting ready to fire the bricks.
Once the raw brick has cured in the sun for a month, they are sequentially stacked to form a kind of kiln. Coconut husks are loaded getting ready to fire the bricks.

When I shoot an essay, I try to capture the people that make up the area. Since my Spanish is so poor, I brought along my friend Sam to not only translate but to give me a local perspective.

Tips:

When deciding on which camera to use, be certain you know the camera intimately, inside and out and keep your settings at the best aperture for sharpness.

Exposures in this kind of sun can really drive a photographer nuts. First, I always use my baLens to determine exposure. The baLens is an incident reading lens cap and is much faster than using a meter and certainly faster and more convenient.

The Brickmakers use the coconut husks for fuel to fire the bricks because they burn hot and are inexpensive. Their yards are piled high with the coconut.
The Brickmakers use the coconut husks for fuel to fire the bricks because they burn hot and are inexpensive. Their yards are piled high with the coconut.

I situations like this, I always bring a tripod, but rarely use it. I prefer to shoot freely as one never knows where he might end up and a tripod is often more of a hindrance than a help.

It often helps to have another person along to “distract” the subjects while you shoot. It’s also difficult to control the light in these contrasty situations and fill flash is often overwhelming. I like the EOS 5Dsr because of the way it holds highlights.

I caught this beautiful girl with her cat in the brick maker's vilage.
I caught this beautiful girl with her cat in the brick maker’s village.

Most of all, have fun and enjoy the experience like a tourist. (Just don’t act like one!)


Hugh Smith
January 2017

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Hugh O. Smith

A Philadelphia native, I have lived in Baja California for the past 3 years.  I make photographs. You can follow me at www.jargonart.com  I started shooting as a stringer for newspapers and in Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania.  I opened my commercial studio in Center City, Philadelphia in 1972. I shot catalogs for Spencer Gifts and Lenox China among others.  I shot fashion, runway and headshots until about 5 years ago as my wife and I started slowing to a merciful crawl and traveling and writing.  My work has appeared in magazines from Shutterbug to Sports Illustrated and I am a regular contributor for Trillium Art Magazine. I am a regular editor and contributor to 1X.com Magazine.  I have exhibited in Europe as well as the U.S.  My work hangs in the permanent collection of private collectors as well as corporate venues.  Currently, my work is in the permanent exhibit at Polo’s Gallery in Rosarito, Mexico.  I have published 6 books including Art of the Muse (books 1 and 2) as well as 'Italy, through my lens.' Paris, Through my Lens.' 'Ireland, through my lens.' and others.  You can also follow all of our work at www.jargonart.com 

You May Also Enjoy...

Introduction to Composition

February 14, 2011 ·

Alain Briot

Trees in fall colors, Zion National Park, UtahPhotography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas.It is a creative art. Ansel Adams A


Death Valley Moonrise

January 13, 2009 ·

Michael Reichmann

Please use your browser'sBACKbutton to return to the page that brought you here.