In 1973, I was born.
In 1975, my grandmother died. I have only one photo with her; I am a baby in her arms. I keep her wedding dress. I took her name.
In 1980, I got in an airplane for the first time. I left a country. I left a language. I wore a navy blue miniskirt and white stockings. I felt like one of Charlie’s Angels. My mother was holding my hand. I said goodbye to my father from the stairs. “Bye, daddy, bye. Bye, Arizona, bye.” I did not see them again for eleven years.
In 1983 my uncle Enrique gave me a Polaroid camera. I had never seen anything like that. The picture, then seconds later the image in your hand. I took photos of my dog, grandpa’s bookcase, the lady from the corner store, the corner store, a fly stuck on a cake’s frosting, my uncle Enrique’s shoes under my mom’s bed. “I like how the camera sort of traps a moment right before this disappears,” I wrote in my diary. “Why do you write in English and not in Spanish?” Everyone asks me. “It’s easier,” I say. But I lie. Writing is difficult in any language.
In 1985 Mexico City trembled, we saw the building in front of ours collapse. My first memory of fear. True fear. The others, in comparison, were minor fears: darkness, insects, thunder. They were all overshadowed by my city in ruin. My sixth grade teacher dead under the rubble. My childhood, gone. I took my mom’s camera, an Olympus. I took pictures. A large stretch of rubble, slanted buildings, vacant lots that were once banks, schools, neighborhoods.
In 1986 my mother got married again. Uncle Enrique stopped being uncle Enrique. “You can call me dad,” he said. I tried. I couldn’t.
In 1987 a brother was born and a brother died. In 1989 another brother was born and another brother died. “Why do babies have to die?” I asked my diary. Diaries do not answer, I should have known. Mom never got to have the perfect pair. “I have Doris, but I am missing a baby boy,” she kept saying.
In 1991 I was given my passport. I was put on a plane and returned to the country in which I was born. I discovered flying alone. I landed a new woman. I did not recognize anything, not even my father. The years had caught up with him, as well as grey hairs, and wrinkles, and so, so much loneliness. Not once did he called me by my name, he gave me a ton of nicknames that tasted sweet and felt soft. He bought me my first real camera. A 35mm Canon. I went nuts! I took so many pictures. The best one: him under a car, fixing it. I am the only one who knows that that is his car; those, his legs; those, his shoes. His shoes. The shadow of a tree covers it all. Like a subtle veil. A perfect image of the 90’s.
In 1995 I slept with a friend from the university, it was the first time for both of us. The only virgins in class. Of course, it was awful. “You have to go, my mom will be here soon!” my friend said. I came home late that night; uncle Enrique was in the living room. “I think your mom is cheating on me,” he said, “if he cheated on your dad with me, why not cheat on me too?” I was speechless. I finally replied, “I had sex for the first time today,” he was speechless.
In 1996 my father died; I barely made it to his funeral. To fly because you have to. He had just gotten married. His wife told me, “You look just like him.” I looked at her shoes; they were just like her: small, timid. I think I smiled.
From 1997 to 1999 I was madly in love.
In 1999, while everyone thought of the end of the world in the following year, I believed in love. I smiled like an idiot while I walked, while I drove, while I read the saddest news in the newspapers. I took way too many landscape pictures that year. Sunrises, sunsets, sunrises. Clouds and clouds and more clouds. Two moons and a sun.
In 2001 I took a photography workshop. I learned so much. I learned, for example, that my landscape series did not say anything about me. Where was I in them? “What part of you Dora, lies on those mountains?” I also learned how to break my boyfriend’s heart by sleeping with the professor. I don’t have a single image of him, my boyfriend I mean. Nor one of the professor either. Picture of their shoes, I do have.
In 2002 I left my mother’s house. I rented a two-room apartment; one became my bedroom, one my dark room. Such a revelation!
From 2002 to 2005 I worked for a marketing agency. My salary helped me buy camera gear; it also allowed me to make small weekend trips and take pictures everywhere; I bought books about light, shadow, color and I was able to attend workshops about light, shadow and color. I bought the best camera ever.
In 2007, after being included in a couple of collective exhibits, I had my first individual opening. I titled it “Overexposed.” I presented more than thirty photographs of men’s shoes and five or six of women’s shoes. Shoes under a bed, shoes on a chair, on a carpet, shoes next to a refrigerator. The series was in black and white, and color frames; some were digitally altered. People congratulated me. “Those shoes are portraits of people,” someone said. “They become the characters,” someone else explained. My friends praised me. My professors were proud. My mother, before leaving the gallery asked, “You slept with all those men, didn’t you?” I simply answered: “And with all those women too.”
In 2009 I got this fellowship that is now making me fly again. I am going to my country, I am traveling to my language. Again. In my backpack I have my passport, money, a Nan Goldin book, and an address. In my suitcase I put the minimum clothes required for winter, my two cameras, lenses, filters, my grandmother’s wedding dress, and a small print of a picture of my father. “I am ready,” I write in this notebook, “because every time I fly, I land a new woman.”