Gordon Abbott was a twentieth century American photographer born in 1882. He spent much of his professional life working in Mexico and Guatemala and died in Mexico City in 1951.1 More than mere travel photography, his work captures the spirit of the places and scenes he witnessed. Instead of the flashy images suited for tourists’ guidebooks, Abbott created photos of a more contemplative nature.
Janitizio, shot in the 1940s, is a silver gelatin print of fishing nets drying in the sun on the Isla de Janitzio, Mexico. The main island in Lake Patzcuaro, Janitzio translates as, “where it rains,” and can only be reached by boat. The nets depicted belong to the local butterfly fisherman who pursued the small and brightly colored fish, closely related to angelfish, which frequented the shallows surrounding the island.2 The graceful rhythms of the nets at once evoke the ever-present clouds of the rainy season and the elegant forms of the fish they catch. Two fishermen and their boat are visible, as well as the mountains of Michoacán.
Magueyes, from roughly the same period, is a close-up silver gelatin print of several maguey plants, also known as agave. Magueyes are native to Mexico and have been nicknamed, “Century Plants,” due to their habit of only rarely flowering.3 The tight framing of the print lends the sharply spiny plant a delicate, lacy quality. The bodies of the magueyes become blooms in their own right, rising with an architectural integrity toward the sky.
Gordon C. Abbott’s ability to reveal the dignity in the mundane features of daily life is illustrated by his portfolio of work from Central America. Abbott transcends the ordinary by capturing compelling scenes of people or plants as well as the natural environment and preserving them on film, creating images with a grace and timelessness that elevate their subjects beyond the prosaic quality of the moment depicted.
- “Gordon C. Abbott.” The Permanent Collection, The Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery Online, Scripps College 1 Nov. 2010.
- “Butterfly Fish.” The New Encyclopedia Brittanica. 15th ed. 1998
- “Agavaceae.” The New Encyclopedia Britannica. 15th ed. 1998.