Matt Mawson is a world-renowned photojournalist out of London and Mexico. We have been friends and fans of Matt’s for many years. His beautiful images of the distillery, where Hiatus is made at La Cofradía, and our agave harvest are featured on our first run of bottles, which made him a natural fit for our first Q&A subject. Matt’s raw style captures the unfiltered truth of Mexico. His photos have been featured in National Geographic and The Guardian.
1: How’d you get your start in photography?
I was born and grew up in Central Africa during a time of political turbulence. With a strong desire to become a photographer, in my early 20s I moved to London, England in order to get into the world of commercial photography. Good fortune was with me as I made that start at Holborn Studios, where some of London’s leading fashion and still life photographers worked: it gave me endless opportunities to learn from them first-hand. A few years later saw me working as a freelance Still-Life photography with a wide client base, particularly high-end gourmet magazines and for editorial restaurant reviews. Uninspired by the studio system I went on to develop my passion for reportage and documentary photography and in a freelance capacity documenting worldwide humanitarian crisis and war situations within Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. The disciplines of studio set-up and lighting meshed with reportage techniques and evolved into my individual photographic style: a combination of spontaneous and cinematographic imagery, which has become a hallmark for my subsequent commercial assignments and latterly my move into documentary and experimental short film-making.
2: Where did your interest in Mexico come from?
I have always admired Mexico from afar for it’s rich, sometimes violent and colorful history and culture unlike any other country I had worked in. The vast creative talent of Mexico introduced me to images of the country in paintings and photographs. I loved the work of the muralists Diego Rivera, José Orozco and David Sigueiros and the illustrator José Guadalupe Posada. I was inspired and drawn to Mexico by the images of photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo and his assistant Graciela Iturbide and the sometimes gruesome images of Enrique Metinides and, of course, the sometimes surreal lifestyle through eyes of the artist Frida Kahlo amongst many.
3: How long have you lived in Mexico and what part?
The opportunity for a short hiatus in Mexico came for me and my partner Carol (who is also my production manager) when we began working for clients in Southwestern USA. We fortunately booked ourselves on the last passenger train scheduled to leave from the frontier town of Nogales to Guadalajara in Jalisco State. After 28 hours, and still a ways to go before the final destination, we decided de leave the train at Mazatlán, a city on the Pacific Ocean. We liked the port city so much we eventually bought a house there. I live the majority of the year in Mexico and assignments and family visits take us to my second home in London and Phoenix, Arizona. We bought our house in Mazatlán, Sinaloa State in 1998. Mazatlán is an important port on the Pacific Ocean that has a history of immigrants working the silver mines and brewing beer. It has a rich art scene, great seafood cuisine and is a thriving tourist destination. During the intense heat and humidity of mid-summer we move to the inspirational capital of Mexico City for the duration of the year.
4: What is your most memorable image/experience from Mexico?
My most memorable experience and image from Mexico is standing on the precipitous lip of one of the canyons of Las Barrancas de Cobre (The Copper Canyon) in Chihuahua State taking a photograph with a telephoto lens of my partner Carol, who hates heights, as she tentatively stands looking outwards from the edge of another viewing point not really suited for those terrified of heights. “Never again!” she said. But I got the picture.
5: How do you typically like to enjoy tequila?
I really only got into drinking tequila when I moved to Mexico. Most European and North American visitors to Mexico on their two-week vacation for instance drink tequila as a cocktail thinking that it cannot be appreciated on its own as a sipping drink. However that’s how I like to drink the spirit, on its own, savouring its taste. I have subsequently experimented with many brands and have my favorites and drink mainly reposado, the golden, barrel-aged tequila.
6: What makes a great night out in Mexico, describe your perfect evening?
Mexico has a unique and varied cuisine from state to state and my perfect night out would be to sit outdoors, a restaurant preferably, in a typical plaza, alone with my partner or with friends eating great tasting regional food whilst surrounded by the colourful sights and sometimes boisterous sounds of ‘Plaza-life Mexico.’ The small town of Tequila immediately springs to mind where the plaza-life is particularly lively and one can smell on the breeze a hint of fermenting tequila from the many factories nearby. That deep smell is enduringly evocative. Working with Kristopher DeSoto and Hiatus Tequila was our first introduction to the town of Tequila. We have since returned frequently to hike the inspiringly beautiful surrounding canyons and enjoy eating from delicious food menus and bask in the friendliness of the locals of this, one of Mexico’s ‘Pueblo Magicos’ and a Unesco’s World Heritage Centres.
7: What’s the one place everyone should visit in Mexico?
Mexico is a vast country with countless memorable places to visit and one that stands out for me, as I love hiking and the outdoors, is Las Barrancas del Cobre, The Copper Canyon in Chihuahua State. Taken as a single unit (although the ‘canyon’ is six separate canyons), it far outsizes the Grand Canyon by as much as seven times and a train, the famed Chihuahua-Pacific Railway (El Chepe), runs through the canyons from El Moche in the Sinaloa lowlands. It makes its way through the rugged terrain over more than 30 major bridges and through almost 100 tunnels. One can hike along the precipitous rim of the canyon looking down into a near vertiginous other-world thousands of feet into the haze or one can hike to the bottom to experience a complete change in climate and vegetation.
8: Over the years, you’ve met a lot of personalities from all walks of life in Mexico, are there any that stand out? Tell us their stories.
I have a few select Mexicans from Mazatlán I like to call friends and am obviously closest to those who work within my chosen career. Four at the moment come to mind: Alwin van der Heiden, a wildlife photographer, eco tourist guide and surfer; Javier Díaz Dalannais, an actor, playwright and dancer; Dory Perdomo, fine artists and gallery owner; and Rocio Tisnado, another dancer / actor. All are supremely creative individuals. Alwin, born in Mexico with a Belgian background, spends much time in the High Sierras photographing and cataloguing birds and animals and introducing small groups of people to the beauty and abundance of wildlife therein. In his spare time he is riding the waves off Mazatlán. Javier, from a Chilean background, spends most of his time on the stage producing and acting in plays. He teaches dance and tours the country teaching workshops. He has been known to participate in my experimental short films never questioning my sometime frankly surreal ideas that are influenced by my life in Mexico. Dory, from a Colombian background, owns a successful art gallery in Mazatlán that becomes a hub of creative talent during the ‘season.’ She is an established artist in her own right and takes photographs in her spare time, particularly the vivid and natural beauty of Columbia on trips home. Rocío is a fine dancer and dance/teacher producer who graduated from the internationally renowned Delfos dance school in Mazatlán. She completed further studies in Brazil and also tours Mexico planning and producing dance performances. Rocío has also worked with me on my experimental films. Our neighbors in our street in Mazatlán have also become close friends and all come with their own unique Mexican personalities and walks of life. The overall, unifying factor being their friendliness and a readiness to incorporate us into their life.