P O W E L L, W y o. - A photography exhibit titled "Mesoamerica - Adventures in the Yucatan" opens Tuesday, April 29, with a 7:30 p.m. artists' reception in Northwest College's SinClair Gallery in Powell.
The images aren't the same as those found in typical tourist brochures. They were taken in March by 12 NWC students and an instructor who traveled to Ticul, near the center of Yucatan, an area completely away from the coastal stops most tourists see.
"When I take students on a field trip like this," Gary Bakken said, "I try to find someplace unusual. The people in Ticul have rarely seen North Americans before." Bakken, an assistant professor of photography and organizer of the 9-day trip, said he and his students sat through a five-hour bus ride to the large village of Ticul after a 12-hour plane trip. Almost nobody spoke English except for their guide.
Despite the language barrier, he said the generosity, curiosity, kindness and easy-going nature of the Ticulites was easy to see. Because of that, their American visitors had an authentic experience and were able to look into the daily lives of the people living there. Many of those daily lives were conducted without electricity; the average income in this area is $5 a day.
"In some of the shops that had electricity, there would be one bare bulb hanging from the ceiling to light up the entire building," Bakken said. He also noted that those solitary bulbs were usually the fluorescent kind designed to replace and be more energy efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs.
In addition to the people, the Mayan ruins at Chichén Itzá and Uxmal also were the focus of camera lenses during the trip. Testifying to the "phenomenal engineering and amazing artistry" of the Mayans, Bakken said Kukulcán's pyramid at Chichén Itzá is actually a calendar, with every detail so perfectly aligned that at the spring and fall equinoxes, a play of precise light and carvings create the image of a serpent snaking down the structure. The photographers also saw how these ancient works were treated in later times, specifically in the form of a church in Ticul, which was built out of stones plundered from the Mayan ruins.
Another highlight and lucky happenstance of the trip was a local bullfight. According to Bakken, bullfights in one of the small nearby villages are only scheduled when the village has a bull ready for slaughter. "In these bullfights, the bull has a serious fighting chance," Bakken said, "because they will use several bulls in the fights, but only kill the one bull that was already scheduled for slaughter."
For the bullfight, villagers built a temporary arena from palm fronds and small sticks. The lower level (and cheaper) seating that Bakken and some of his students occupied during the event gave the advantage of ground-level shots of a bull rushing directly to them.