Photographer Jerry Buttles may be based in New York, but he can often be found anywhere but. Finding inspiration through diverse cultures, his global travels directly inform his aesthetic.
Yet Buttles did not begin as a photographer; he was born in California, and attended California State University, studying art. After which he travelled Europe and worked Paris Fashion Week, shooting backstage. This is where he began to develop his unique style of photography: intimate and distinctive, drawing from the authentic power of a location.
Mexico City had long seduced and alluded Buttles, the location being very close to home for a California native. The densely populated city often gets a bad rep due to the media’s exaggerated stereotypes of danger and violence, however the truth is that it’s a place boasting a fierce cultural identity and incredible pre-Hispanic underpinnings. In the Spring of 2017 Buttles finally travelled there, documenting an authentic picture of the city in his latest photo-diary. Upon returning, Buttles talked us through his travels, inspirations, and the resulting photo-diary.
Aaron West: What prompted you to go to Mexico City, and then document your travels?
Jerry Buttles: This trip was spontaneous but inevitable because I knew I would eventually find myself in Mexico City. I have been eager to travel to Distrito Federal for many years and just never took the time to do so. Europe and Asia were always higher on my list. Growing up in California, Mexico is so close to home. Almost too close, where one doesn’t take advantage of what’s right in front of them. Also, it is so easy to travel these days I was surprised by the short travel time and budget it took to accomplish such a trip. One of my main objectives was to document. I have done similar trips like this in the past.
Aaron: In your book Almost Home, you exhibited “the juxtaposition of love and loss but also destruction and faith.” What are you intending to exhibit through this collection?
Jerry: An intimate look into a culture that has inspired me for many years. I wanted to show as much as I could in the three days I was there. The story I wanted to tell developed as my journey unfolded. The colours there are gorgeous. The architecture. The art. The hard working people. The community and the language. The food. There is this buzz in D.F., like that inspired feeling you get but it’s on every block and around ever corner. It is one of a kind.
Aaron: You’ve said that you intend to create an intimate look at the communities within Mexico City; was this your original intention or did this thought develop during your stay there?
Jerry: I went into this trip open-minded and I was blown away by the culture and landscape. Pure beauty. It sort of developed on the go. I didn’t cloud myself with any expectations. I had this feeling that I would love this city. It was like I already had been there, and fell in love a long time ago.
Aaron: What did you do whilst you were out there? What were some of the things about Mexico City you enjoyed the most and did anything surprise you?
Jerry: I ate some of the best most authentic Mexican food I have ever had. Exquisite. It has always been one of my favourite cuisines. I spent a lot of time walking around as well, from one district to the next. In and out of street markets. I enjoy exploring a new city on foot. It really allows you to take in the experience at your own pace. I was amazed by the colours and the variety of tropical plants. There was a sense that the city was built around the foliage in some areas.
Aaron: My favourite photo in the collection is the one from within your car; contrasting a Catholic cross hanging from the rear-view mirror with a military vehicle driving ahead. The cross is a recurring symbol within this collection, did you notice this as well?
Jerry: Absolutely. Most of the country is Roman Catholic. Religion is a major part of their culture.
Aaron: Finally, Mexico City is sometimes tarnished by lazy stereotypes about the cartels and street thieves etc. Did you want to shine a different, more realistic light on the location and people?
Jerry: I am sure there are parts that are more dangerous than others but that goes for anywhere in the world. One should always be aware and cautious but fear shouldn’t keep you from traveling. Often the media influences fear and presents one side of the story. Mexico City was one of the most inviting countries I have ever visited and the people were wonderful. So much respect and kindness.
See more of Jerry Buttles’ work here.