Drive-by shooting

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - Photography -

How did a Mex­i­can taxi driver end up in a ma­jor pho­tog­ra­phy ex­hi­bi­tion? Alas­tair Smart finds out

Astuffed dog, a reli­gious pro­ces­sion hon­our­ing the lo­cal Vir­gin, stray cows, aban­doned lava­to­ries, fallen road signs… These are just a few of the sub­jects cap­tured on cam­era by Os­car Fernando Gómez through his taxi win­dow in Monterrey, north-east Mex­ico.

Gómez’s images of ev­ery­day life in the less salu­bri­ous parts of his home town have made him a hit at pho­tog­ra­phy fairs world­wide. For the next few months he’ll fea­ture in Au­tophoto, a group show at Fon­da­tion Cartier in Paris, fo­cus­ing on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween pho­tog­ra­phy and cars.

Gómez ex­plains that his shots were in­spired by the way that Mi­crosoft Win­dows frames images on the com­puter screen. “My pictures were of peo­ple who didn’t have money for a PC, though,” Gómez tells me, speak­ing down the line from Mex­ico. “They were win­dows on to a dif­fer­ent re­al­ity, re­flect­ing the huge gap in wealth be­tween Monterrey’s rich and poor.”

The son of a steel­worker, Gómez, 46, grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and ad­mits there’s an el­e­ment of nostalgia to his pictures. “We lived in a wooden shack on the city fringes and I wasn’t even able to com­plete my school­ing: my fa­ther lost his job when the steel­works closed and I had to get work to sup­port the fam­ily.”

One of his first jobs was col­lect­ing scrap metal and wood to sell to recycling com­pa­nies. Years later, in what he de­scribes as his “most poignant photo”, Gómez chanced upon – and cap­tured from his taxi win­dow – a man do­ing ex­actly the same.

He took up pho­tog­ra­phy as a hobby in his mid-20s, first mess­ing around with a small Kodak, be­fore mov­ing to a dig­i­tal Canon EOS as the hobby got se­ri­ous. Af­ter be­ing in­vited to shoot a neigh­bour’s wed­ding, he re­ceived sev­eral sim­i­lar com­mis­sions through word of mouth – from chris­ten­ings to quinceañeras (the cel­e­bra­tion to mark a girl’s 15th birth­day).

“I was spend­ing so much money on taxis, get­ting to and from events”, he says, “that in 2005, I de­cided to start work with a taxi firm – and use the cab to go to my pho­tog­ra­phy jobs, when not on duty.”

The new Nis­san Tsuru he hired trans­formed Gómez’s pho­tog­ra­phy. He was sud­denly able to see more of Monterrey than ever. He kept his cam­era with him at all times, and reg­u­larly stopped the cab, got out and shot scenes that in­trigued him. He also started two se­ries from in­side the car: one of his pas­sen­gers in the back; and an­other of the views through the pas­sen­ger-seat win­dow. For the lat­ter, he liked the way the car’s in­te­rior served as a de facto frame – and the Win­dows se­ries was duly born.

There is a rich his­tory of Mex­i­can pho­tog­ra­phers cap­tur­ing the daily lives of peo­ple on the streets, from Manuel Ál­varez Bravo to Pablo Or­tiz Monas­te­rio. Did any of these in­flu­ence Gómez? “Not at all,” he says. “Apart from a crash course in pho­tog­ra­phy I took years ago, from an ar­ti­cle I read in a mag­a­zine, I’ve never had for­mal training. I have no ref­er­ence points or

‘Hu­mans will find hope and hap­pi­ness in any sit­u­a­tion’

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