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’