Michel Pellanders - Mexico


Pellanders is well known to the IISG. A number of topics that he has dealt with in his more than 25 years of practicing his profession are part of the core of the IISG photo collection, such as, for example, his reports on protests at the NSM shipyards or the occupation of the Ford car factory in 1981 in Amsterdam. Photos of demonstrations and trade union activity are also included. Pellanders' interest in the ordinary man and his daily life, work, and struggle is apparent in nearly everything he creates. His work testifies to an empathetic vision that is not sentimental. Michel Pellanders is among a group of photographers who have made social photography in the Netherlands in the 1970s and 1980s visible again. The publication, which accompanied a general course on 'Social Photography' at Groningen University in 1981, shows photos by seven photographers. Among these are Hans van den Bogaard and Hannes Wallrafen, but the largest contribution is that of Michel Pellanders.

Pellanders showed an early interest in the theme of automation and work. The book In het teken van de robot [Under the sign of the robot], shows photographs commissioned by the Rijksmuseum from a time before computers hummed on every desk or table, but when magnetic tapes wound on big machines in large halls. Pellanders dealt extensively with the theme of 'work' in a several different ways, including his book, Werk 1980-1990 [Work 1980-1990], published by Aksant in 2005. But he also used the medium of film to engaged with this theme. On this subject he made in 1980 the short documentary film Nachtarbeid [Nightwork] (available at the IISG - call number BG F2/942-947).

Pellanders has also always held a fascination for the world outside Europe. He worked in Africa and Latin America. In Latin America Indians attracted his special attention, as his book Awi, Amazone indianen [Awim, Amazone Indians] (Amsterdam 2000) shows.

The series of photos presented here was made in Mexico in 1982 and 1983. The elements noted above are all present: the ordinary man or woman at work, daily life at the barbershop or at home in front of the television, a demonstration of trade union activists and farmers. The Indian element can be seen in many faces. The photos were deliberately chosen by the photographer, but not to illustrate a specific historical event, although there is one picture of the just elected president Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado. The photos show how Michel Pellanders' experience of Mexico in 1982 and 1983. Through them, a different Mexico emerges: it is raining in some, and it is not only because they are in black and white that the image is gloomy. The photos are very different from the clichés of Mexico: sombrero - mañana - fiesta. It is the poor Mexico on the eve of the liberalization. It is a land where, at that time, the old solutions of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, the party that had already reigned for nearly 60 years, no longer work. There is corruption, and state enterprises waste their subsidies. De la Madrid is the president who began liberalization and privitization, a road that has changed Mexico considerably, but has not been able to make social problems disappear. The Mexico of 1982/83 no longer exists, but we can see a glimmer of it in the strong personal vision of Michel Pellanders.

Huub Sanders, February 2007

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