The Southwest and Mexico, Illuminated

Region’s beauty and sorrows captured in first-ever photography show at Contreras Gallery

Alejandra Platt Torres has long photographed the horrors of the border—the deportees crowded into shelters in Nogales, Sonora; the border crossers praying for God's help on the journey; the dead sheathed in body bags in the Tumacacori Highlands.

This time around, in an engaging group photography show at Contreras Gallery, Platt goes deep into Mexico to photograph the nation's indígenas in their home places. Though a large percentage of migrants coming up from Central America and Mexico are indigenous, these photos don't explore their reasons for coming.

Instead, in this suite of a half dozen black-and-white photos, shot in old-fashioned film, Platt aims simply to make dignified portraits. Her subjects, often dressed in traditional traje, return her gaze, staring back confidently at the photographer.

"Seri" portrays a man in the blinding heat and light of the seaside Seri community along the Sea of Cortez. "Ixcateco" pictures five Oaxacan men lined up, holding ceremonial poles entwined with ribbons.

In "Mocho," Platt's most moving photo, a Maya mother and father and their seven children pose for a formal family portrait inside their spartan cinder-block home in Chiapas. The house signals their poverty, but it's spotless, and the mother lovingly wraps her arms around her youngest. Platt has captured the family's closeness, and she's bathed their faces in a light that's close to holy.

The six photographers in this first-ever photography show at Contreras are all from Tucson or thereabouts (Platt lives part of the time in Mexico). Though Platt and Michael Hyatt examine human woes, together the six artists' visions add up to an affectionate portrait of the landscape and culture of the Southwest.

David Scott Moyer's wonderful color photo "El Rápido" shouts Tucson. Shot under an impossibly blue sky, it records the peeling painted façade of an old adobe house on Meyer that once housed a Mexican food joint. The picture is all diagonals, with the roof slanting overhead and the street darting up below, and the white wall is brilliant in the summer light.

Tom Willett conjures Tucson's shimmering downtown skyline, and elsewhere makes three glowing hot solarscapes. A huge orange sun descends over Star Pass in one, and sinks behind Gates Pass in another.

Stu Jenks has roamed farther afield than some of his fellow shutterbugs—he has a charming black and white of a dock jutting in highly symmetrical fashion into the Rappahannock River in Virginia—but he also has plenty of Arizona scenes. The most beguiling is "Finger Rock in Snow, Tucson, Arizona." Tiny at about 8 inches wide and 4 inches high, the color photo depicts everyone's favorite peak covered in snow on New Year's Day 2015. The sky is still misty after the night's storm, but a ray of sun has pierced the fog and lights up the finger's rust-colored rock.

Jeff Smith plays around with sky and clouds too. He's known as a daredevil lightning photog, but here he photographs the heavens in a gentler mood. In "Dance," a celestial pas de deux, the lovely white moon of early evening hangs against a turquoise sky at upper left, while billowing clouds floats at lower right. "Ledge" finds the sky a midnight blue, and the mountain ridge below almost invisible in the dark, but the pure white moon is an orb of light.

In "Mist," a vintage gelatin silver print, Smith comes back to the ground. Positioning himself in some creosote flats, he shoots a view to the west of a golden Picacho Peak, lit by the setting sun.

Michael Hyatt sticks mostly to people, illuminating the region's troubles, particularly along the border. When he photographed protesters in "Memorial March for José Antonio, Nogales, Sonora, 2013," Hyatt stood at the exact spot where the Mexican teen was shot to death. The 16-year-old died while walking in his own neighborhood, slain by U.S. Border Patrol who aimed bullets through the border wall.

And for "Mysterious Form Near a Migrant Camp, Arivaca, Arizona, 2005," Hyatt hiked into a wilderness where northbound migrants struggle to survive. He found a little girl's dress, all polka dots and lace, hanging from a tree branch on a deadly migrant trail.

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