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An unusual intelligence

By The News · 15 of February 2016 21:57:47
TNE-DF_2016-02-16_19-2, No available, No available

On March 8, the International Women’s Forum will honor photographer Nadine Markova for telling the stories of her adopted, beloved Mexico for over 50 years. Nadine passed away last January 31st. The celebration, open to the public, will be held at the National Auditorium starting at 12:30 p.m. and includes an evening jazz presentation featuring Nadine’s husband, saxophonist Larry Russell.

How did a New York native achieve such status in Mexico? Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase “Global Village” to explain the impact of mass media and the internet in creating a shrinking world. I like to think of that phrase with a different meaning. There are many citizens of the world who transcend the country of their birth to become multinational and multicultural.

Mexican citizens contribute to countries throughout the world. Likewise, foreign nationals come to Mexico to enrich us with their gifts. Post-revolutionary Mexico seems to have been particularly attractive to transplanted artists and intellectuals.

Nadine first visited Mexico on vacation in 1964 at the age of 26 and never returned to Brooklyn, New York. As an artist, she fell in love with the people, the color, and the light. For the next 52 years she used her cameras to capture Mexico’s magic. Her photos appeared internationally in Life, Forbes, Playboy, National Geographic, Newsweek, People, Vogue, Rolling Stone, among others. Nationally, she was best known for her work in Caballero.

Charlie’s Digs collaborator Carol Hopkins recalls a description of Nadine’s Mexico City photography workshop she heard from Gail Nava, an early Nadine assistant. “Her studio was scintillating, the place to be for bohemian intellectuals. You never knew what would happen or who would show up next, but you could be sure it would always be interesting.”

By 1970 Nadine had established herself as one of Mexico’s handful of elite photographers — perhaps the best at portraiture and commercial promotion. She was President Luis Echeverria’s personal photographer with unfettered access to the worlds of politics, culture, fashion, and commerce. It was certainly a heady world.

Midway through his term Echeverria wanted a photo record of all of Mexico. Four photographers were chosen to divide up the country into quarters and spend three months creating a photo document.

Only weeks before, while visiting San Antonio, Texas, Nadine had a chance cab encounter with jazz musician Larry Russell. She invited Larry to join her on this photo excursion to Oaxaca, Chiapas, Veracruz and the Yucatan. It turned out to be a 3-month camping honeymoon in a VW bus.

“We’ve been partnered ever since in a syncretic creative relationship that helped make us both better artists than we could ever have been individually.” Larry Russell continued, “I started writing travel articles to accompany Nadine’s photos. She accompanied me to my jazz concerts in Europe; we turned those trips into opportunities to do freelance photo-journalism. We promoted Mexico wherever we went and the governments of the countries we visited hired us to photograph and write articles to promote their countries in Mexico. It’s a wonderful love story that continues even as Nadine’s body is no longer present.”

In 1972 Nadine traveled to Egypt with Televisa. After doing the required filming Nadine was left behind with a camera and 10,000 feet of film she could use as she chose. She improvised a tripod with a portable barstool and shot film at the pyramids to go along with a poem she had written about the Egyptian sun god.

“Only half of the film she shot was useable,” Larry recounts. “We made up for the lost film by later shooting at the sand dunes near the beach in Chachalacas, Veracruz. Through personal contacts, Nadine got John Huston and Eartha Kitt to do the voiceover for a 13 minute short. I played background clarinet. “Hymn to Aton” was Mexico’s entry in the 1977 International Emmys.

Larry went on to recount, “Although known for her photographic eye, Nadine’s eyes themselves were an extraordinary transparent color. Her face and voice were bright and alive; you knew you were in the presence of an unusual intelligence.”

Chances are if you’ve booked a room in a major hotel in Mexico you’ve seen Nadine’s work. She was, at one time or another, the official photographer for Las Brisas, the Camino Real Hotels, Misión Hotels and more recently for Grupo Fiesta Inn and a chain of Ex-Hacienda hotels.

Though I don’t do social media, Carol convinced me to look at Nadine’s Facebook page in the aftermath of her sudden death. People from all walks of life and nationalities wrote long recollections of Nadine in multiple languages. Students of her photography “boot camps” as well as celebrities and politicians who’d been subjects all poured out affection for this transplanted icon.

There’s a well-known saying, “Once the dust of Mexico settles on your heart, you can never go home again.” Many of us live that truth. Certainly, Nadine Markova did.

Anthropologist and longtime Cuernavaca resident Charlie Goff can be reached at <charlie@cemanahuac.com>. Carol Lamb Hopkins, Cuernavaca resident, former teacher and school administrator collaborates on this column. Previous Charlie’s Digs are posted at charliesdigs.com.