Shortly after my arrival in Yucatan (April 2012), I met Alex Martinez co-owner of Cafe La Boheme (now Cafe Pistache) on Paseo de Montejo. Through Alex I met Alfonso Galindo owner of I GO YUCATAN, who was good friends with Sylvia and Raul Ponce de Leon, the founders and original owners of The Yucatan Times. TYT was looking for a qualified photographer to hire on as their chief Staff Photographer. Alfonso, who was familiar with my work, brought the three of us together and the rest is history as they say. Some months ago Sylvia and Raul sold the paper to our very good friend Pipo, and TYT continues to grow along with Pipo’s other business interests in Merida.
TYT Prensa (Press) Credentials – Front
Although I am no longer the full-time staff photographer for The Yucatan Times newspaper, I still submit articles and photos to them periodically as a freelance photojournalist. I learned a lot working for them; shooting for a newspaper is much different than shooting in other venues. For one thing, you usually have a whole gaggle of other photographers vying for “the” choice spot, and they’re usually much younger. My one nemesis was a young Yucatecan girl, working for a competing newspaper, who was always shoving in ahead of me to get the unique first shot. She was young (like I said), petite and very cute—and she was a veritable Pit Bull. I lost more than one advantage to her in the months I was shooting.
TYT Prensa (Press) Credentials – Back
I had some advantages of course. For one thing I was very large compared to the average Mexican reporter/photographer (standing a little shy of six feet tall, and weighing about 205 pounds at the time). The other thing is I speak very poor Spanish, so I would just barge in and announce myself as Prensa, and then just play dumb (which isn’t hard for me). They saw me for what I was: a big clumsy gringo who couldn’t understand or speak Spanish. I got close to more than one politico or celebrity using those tactics, when my competing Mexican counterparts fell to the wayside—victims of their own understanding of, and fluency in, the local language. But the ever-present Pit Bull still continued to dog my heels, and elbow my ribs. In the weeks and months that followed she began to greet me with a wink and a smile, and then just push me out of the way.
I was viewed as a bit of a mystery. Although queried frequently, Sylvia and Raul would never divulge my past (or anything about me). So questions were natural: Who was this gringo shooting for a Mexican newspaper, where did he come from, what is he all about? Silence only drew more questions. I would show up and all the young photographers would look at my equipment, observe my technique and watch me intensely (like I might know something they didn’t). For instance, we all had strobes for shooting indoors, but I kept a diffuser on mine to soften the light and I tilted the head at about 45° to bounce my flash (you lose some flash range that way, but I was usually pretty close to my subjects using the “clumsy gringo” technique mentioned before). I showed up at a later political event, and by God every photographer there had a brand new diffuser on his/her strobe, with the heads pointed at 45° (even the Pit Bull). I had to laugh to myself.
Another time I was covering a PGA marketing event at the prestigious Yucatan Country Club (with their world-class golf course). I quickly became bored after capturing my requisite “bigwig” photos, and started looking for other opportunities. And wouldn’t you know it, there outside just milling about, were six exquisitely beautiful Corona Girls. I grabbed my brother Joel’s arm and directed him outside. For the next twenty minutes we had the girls all to ourselves, until the other reporters thought the gringo might be onto something. Pretty soon the PGA officials from the USA, the governor, the mayor and other important dignitaries and celebrities were all left alone, as we photographers and reporters continued with the Corona Girls.
Joel and the lovely Corona Girls – Yucatan Country Club
Corona Girls 1, 2 & 3 – Yucatan Country Club
(oh yeah, there was also 4, 5 & 6)
* And you thought being a photojournalist was easy. It’s damn hard work, and mind numbing at times. You should be ashamed of yourselves for even thinking any different.
TYT provided many great opportunities like that. I became involved with the Kaxil Kiuic Biocultural Reserve and Puuc Jaguar Conservation, and bartered my photographic abilities for privileged access into those private scientific reserves and study areas. I’ve met literally hundreds of movers & shakers in Yucatan and Mexico in general. I’ve met the leaders and trend setters in the local expat community. I’ve met restaurant owners, business owners, developers, gallery owners and high-ranking political leaders. I’ve met the rich & famous, and the down & out. I’ve been in almost every nook & cranny of the city, and deep into the jungles of Yucatan. All of this I experienced with TYT, and more. But finally the grip & grin (handshake and smile) sessions with the politicians and social elite became tiresome, and I longed to devote my time to the photography I love: Wildlife, Travel and Nature.
I will never forget my time with TYT, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to “Run with the Big Dogs”. The big, dumb, clumsy gringo, who can’t speak much Spanish, had a BLAST. My very special thanks to Pipo, Sylvia & Raul Ponce de Leon and Alfonso Galindo for making it all happen. Muchas gracias amigos—amigos siempre.
Pipo has generously renewed my Prensa (Press) Credentials, and I hope to continue submitting articles and photos to The Yucatan Times on a freelance basis during my world travels. This is a valuable pass; not only does it provide unique access to venues not always open to the general public, but it also provides a certain level of safety and security. The bad guys are reluctant to mess with the press. Also, everyone wants to know a photojournalist—it can be an easy entrée into almost every level of society. And the reputation and mystic surrounding photojournalists are legend: a romantic, suave, debonaire, swashbuckling, hard-drinking, cigar-smoking womanizer. Whew, I’m tired just thinking about it all.
Sidebar – A missed opportunity: Last year I was spending a month in Chiapas, MX (Palenque and San Cristobal de las Casas) when I received an email from the photo editor of The New York Times (yes, “the” New York Times). They wanted to sign me to a one week contract to assist, and provide photographic support, to one of their reporters on assignment in Yucatan. Unfortunately I could not be back in Merida in time and had to decline the offer. You win some, you lose some. SFD
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Indochine Photography International
* Expat Journal
* Indochine Portfolio
* My 1x.com Portfolio
* My NatGeo Portfolio
The Yucatan Times – Photojournalist (freelance)