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