BOOKS > HEAVEN, EARTH, TEQUILA

Un Viaje al Corazón de México

Throughout Mexico’s complicated, often violent history, one drink, an ancient sacrament and gift from the gods, has remained a constant in the culture: tequila. Blue Agave, the source of tequila, has been cultivated, fermented and enjoyed for over 9000 years. Over time many traditions and rituals were born, later incorporated into and modified by conquering cultures. It was in the 1500s that the Spaniards applied their brandy distillation technology to fermented agave juice to create what we call tequila.

The history of tequila and its role in Mexican culture is largely unknown to most Americans. After photographing in Mexico periodically over twenty years I thought I was excluded from this ignorance. Of course I was not. So I began the process of discovery that led me to realize that actually I knew very little about tequila, Mexican history or its culture. After six months I was able to locate one of the oldest distilleries in Mexico, where they still produced tequila using naked “tequileros” and methods handed down from pre-Columbian Indians, and was granted permission to photograph.

This was the start of a four year project with an initial focus on the manufacturing of tequila, specifically the rituals and traditions related to cultivating the fields, roasting and fermentation, and the ways tequila is incorporated into culture. The project eventually took on a broader coverage that included the region surrounding the town of Tequila and it (A town called Tequila!?) As my knowledge and understanding of the Mexican mestizo culture and history grew, I knew the work I created would never be definitive. Yet I believed I could absorb something of the richness, mystery and reality of rural Mexican life and express that in my images.

Mexico is a land where despite all the contradictions and struggles for political and economic justice, anything is possible.