Xalapa fest kick starts

Ever found yourself at a loss for what to say at a party on the subject of graphic novels?  Well, here’s what you can pronounce, and do so with authority.  “Read ‘Habibi’ by Craig Thompson, it’s the Moby Dick of graphic novels.’  I was told that on the bus coming here, by a man who’s no slouch at penning a graphic novel or three, namely Eric Drooker, from Berkeley, California.  He loves this 672 page tale about two escaped child slaves, so I’m going to order one today.  He’s also one of those entrancingly engaging people to chat with, so all augurs well for Hay Xalapa, seeing as this is my first chat.  Bingo.

So, the fest starts for me with a workshop with students about journalism, in particular radio journalism.  I set them a challenge, to write a (very) short biography of a complete stranger and send it to me by Friday.  Luckily quite a few rise to the occasion.  I’ll post the best here come the end of the week.  It takes a mixture of bravery and respect to do this, so I wish them well.

An exhibition of Mexican photographer Gabriela Bautista’s work opened today – a rich panoply of Mexican writers complemented by Daniel Mordzinski’s portraits on the same subject.  Very different image banks, really. Daniel’s are zany, composed like adverts, with sleek line and bright colours, often with a prop (Owen Sheers in a knight’s helmet, a bunch of writers juggling apples) and they have oodles of visual flair and a real sense of fun.

Gabriela’s images of elder statesmen such as Sergio Pistol and the late Carlos Monsivais (picture with one of his beloved cats) or younger bucks such as Jorge Volti are more relaxed, with her sitters literally doing just that, sitting.  They’re also notably lacking very many books, with people taken out of their usual habitats, so few studies or groaning book shelves but a chance therefore to see them as they really are, as bodies, aesthetic objects,

I snatch a few minutes with Gabriela, ask her how she goes about it?   She always reads the author’s work before making her portraits, and if she hasn’t managed to feels duly embarassed.  She’ll spend a couple of hours, maybe three, sometimes up to a day with her subjects, to earn trust, get them to relax.  She loves the texture of faces and it shows in the work, a single image selected from hundreds.  It’s painstaking, a labour of love.  Yet she points out that she doesn’t think “the writer is a very special person” stressing that she loves “the look of a writer.”  It’s honest.  Like her work.