La Parroquia, San Miguel's parish church, crowns the city. San Miguel is somewhat remote, on a mesa one mile above sea level, and almost four hours by car from Mexico City.
Photographer Simon Watson's Note: I wanted to get a good picture of the town, but it was difficult to get a direct view of the church while keeping the beautiful foreground. After some experimenting, I took the photo from the roof of a private house overlooking the city. From the article Mexico Magico
La Parroquia, as grand and fanciful as Gaudí's Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, but here, rather than melting, the architecture soars.
Photographer Simon Watson's Note: I literally had my back up against a wall to take this shot. There was also a gate in the way, but I managed to maneuver. From the article Mexico Magico.
La Capilla restaurant. Mexican-American fusion cuisine in the shadow of La Parroquia.
Photographer Simon Watson's Note: La Parroquia is on the left. We also shot this picture from a nearby rooftop. I knocked on the homeowner's door and asked if I could shoot from his roof. We wound up eating at the restaurant and it was delicious. From the article Mexico Magico
The Escuela de Bellas Artes (School of Fine Arts), one of two art schools. (The other is Instituto Allende.)
Photographer Simon Watson's Note: I just loved the architectural elements of the building, which sits on a hill in the middle of town. From the article Mexico Magico
The courtyard at La Escuela de Bellas Artes (School of Fine Arts). A former convent built in 1765, it exerts its own gravitational pull, drawing passersby into its classic Spanish-colonial courtyard. Along two levels of covered porches supported by a rhythm of arches are classrooms and studios for visiting students and resident-artist instructors.
Photographer Simon Watson's Note: There's a nice little café here that reminds me of ones I've been to in Seville, Spain. Actually, the whole town reminds me of Seville. From the article Mexico Magico
The Rico family mariachis on the central plaza, El Jardín. San Miguel is famous for year-round patriotic and religious festivals. Easter is huge, but September has the most impressive fiestas. On September 16, Mexican Independence Day, people from all over the country come to celebrate with fireworks, dances, bullfights, and a rodeo in the cradle of their freedom. Some Americans may fault San Miguel for a lack of authenticity, but urban Mexicans go there to participate in their traditional culture.
Photographer Simon Watson's Note: I just stopped and asked these nice people to pose and they obliged. In fact, all of the locals I met in San Miguel were incredibly friendly--lovely and very hospitable. From the article Mexico Magico
James Pinto's 1951 fresco at Instituto Allende. The art and language school has brought American students to San Miguel for 50-plus years. The Instituto drew international students well into the 1970's and 80's. Although today neither the Instituto nor the Escuela de Bellas Artes are the economic catalysts they once were, without them San Miguel might have been a very different place.
Photographer Simon Watson's Note: This was shot inside the Instituto Allende, just off the main courtyard. From the article Mexico Magico
Sculpture students Damien Comas and Diego Arrain at Instituto Allende.
Photographer Simon Watson's Note: These guys were great -- and lucky. I envied them being able to choose from two great art schools in town and thought how nice it might be to end up here as a student. With its atelier windows and other architectural details, the whole place felt like a European industrial site, almost like a factory in Italy. From the article Mexico Magico
Felix Pérez, a weaving instructor at Instituto Allende.
Photographer Simon Watson's Note: He had a wonderful face and was a very gentle and clever man, very entertaining. I spent about 45 minutes chatting with him and he took the time to show me his studio, which had a wonderful vaulted ceiling. Incredibly, he has been teaching art for almost 50 years. From the article Mexico Magico
Church at Hacienda de Landeta.
Photographer Simon Watson's Note: I shot this in the late morning. I thought the church was beautifully framed by the trees above and the hedges growing on the sides. From the article Mexico Magico
Ristorante da Andrea. At 300-year-old Hacienda de Landeta, a few miles out of town, an Italian restaurateur oversees exquisite handmade pasta and fish that swims away.
Photographer Simon Watson's Note: The restaurant resembles an inviting old storeroom -- there's a soaring ceiling and great light. The ambience was nothing short of charming, and the food was superb. I had the gnocchi. From the article Mexico Magico
Officer Olivera Espinoza.
Photographer Simon Watson's Note: The officer was standing talking to some students when I approached her for this shot. I like to take photos of all kinds of locals -- not just of the people who live there but those who work there as well. From the article Mexico Magico
A terrace at Dos Casas hotel, an elegant six-room guesthouse owned by architect Alberto Lapòsse.
Photographer Simon Watson's Note: The terrace off my bedroom quickly became the place my assistant and I would hang out in the evenings after work to relax. The two beers on the table were enjoyed by us after taking the picture. From the article Mexico Magico
Hallway of Dos Casas hotel, an elegant six-room guesthouse owned by architect Alberto Lapòsse.
Photographer Simon Watson's Note: This interior shot is one of many that shows off the attractiveness of our hotel. From the article Mexico Magico
The Berlin Bar and Café.
Photographer Simon Watson's Note: This is a very open part of the restaurant, and I really responded to the height and the stairs. The two people in the shot are local Americans. Almost everyone there is an expat. (As John Davidson writes, "According to Christopher Finkelstein, secretary of the San Miguel City Council, 12,000 to 14,000 of the city's population of 80,000 are expatriates, roughly 70 percent of them from the United States.") From the article Mexico Magico
Senator Luis Alberto Villareal, a 13th-generation San Miguelense and the town's former mayor.
Photographer Simon Watson's Note: I had one minute to take this picture, because he was very busy. This was shot in his back garden at the end of the day. From the article Mexico Magico
Melissa Sumner and Ismael Chaveznava, who own La Buena Vida bakery. You meet Mexicans with English and German last names, and if you glance through Juarde, the expatriate telephone directory, a surprising number of surnames are Spanish. San Miguel is a study in how fluid nationality can be. They don't just reside in San Miguel -- they also own and run small businesses. Americans, Canadians, Italians, and Argentinians have started cafés, bakeries, guesthouses, clothing stores, art galleries, language schools, day spas, and bars.
Photographer Simon Watson's Note: This was an exceedingly friendly couple. We ended up eating lunch together here. From the article Mexico Magico
The adobe church El Santuario de Atotonilco, built in the 1700's and now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Photographer Simon Watson's Note: This is a gorgeous building. The interior is absolutely beautiful (see next slide). My approach to capturing this kind of architecture on film is to shoot it straight on, preferably in the late morning, where there's less contrast between light and dark. From the article Mexico Magico
The baptistery at Atotonilco. Its exterior suggests a very big clay oven, but inside, the most extraordinary frescoes, depicting biblical scenes, cover every inch of wall space. Guidebooks refer to the church as "the Sistine Chapel of the Americas," but the paintings are so frantic and obsessive, they recall Hieronymus Bosch rather than Michelangelo.
Photographer Simon Watson's Note: This is a very beautiful room. The clear light reminded me of a Caravaggio painting. This space is really a great example of what I love about classic Mexican architecture -- the graceful, aged quality and lack of fussiness. From the article Mexico Magico
Sisters Maria Guadalupe Rocha Salezar and Bianca Estela Torrez at El Santuario de Atotonilco. Next to the church, nuns run a spotlessly clean café and religious gift shop.
Photographer Simon Watson's Note: In San Miguel, you see a lot of things, and people, that are a throwback in time. These two nuns looked to me like they were from the 1920's. From the article Mexico Magico
On the plateau outside San Miguel de Allende.
Photographer Simon Watson's Note: As we were driving into town I found myself hoping the city hadn't become too over-developed. On the outskirts, we found a few signs of development but also this gorgeous field of trees. I stopped immediately, got out, set up and took the shot. From the article Mexico Magico
Manuel Topia, a souvenir vendor, by El Santuario de Atotonilco. Across the street from the church is a row of little stands where campesinos sell tacos and souvenirs.
Photographer Simon Watson's Note: He was a lovely old local, who sold whips and other religious stuff. (As John Davidson writes, "The penitentes make pilgrimages to the church to participate in Christ's suffering by whipping themselves, crawling around the shrine on bleeding knees, and sleeping on its cold stone floors.") This is something you don't really see in America; these vendors, I've found to be more common in Europe and Old World countries. From the article Mexico Magico
La Gruta hot springs, one of several thermal baths in the area.
Photographer Simon Watson's Note: I waded through the pool and into a cave to shoot, but by then my lens was so fogged up I couldn't take the picture! I wound up standing in the water outside the cave to take this shot. From the article Mexico Magico