Rescuing the city's image through its arts and crafts PDF
Written by Nora Olivia Sedeno Torres   


The Manuel R. Palacios Historic Archive of the City of Oaxaca has now its very own building. It now has a splendidly edited general guide of its documents and a much better organization. The catalog “Rescuing the city's image through its arts and crafts” is one more in a long line of achievements. It was made in 2003 along with ADABI Mexico. Now a CD-ROM will be made with the support of the City’s Authorities. This CD will include beautiful 19th and 20th Century photographs of people that serviced the community and now allow us to revisit our recent past. This photo catalog is not only an historical record, but also a pleasant visual journey for all the people of Oaxaca.



Policeman: Tiburcio López, 1919
(Click on image for a full view)


The goal of this project was to have a photographic record of the old time water carriers, merchants, chauffeurs, shoeshine boys and prostitutes. The project has collected 7,216 images. About 10% of them show some deterioration. Digital scanning has helped to preserve and extend the life of these photos.


All photos include descriptions of the trade, workplace and guild (or even the name of the brothel) along with the names of the people depicted in them, which have been fed into a database for research.


None of these trades have disappeared in the 21st Century; water carriers have substituted the old clay pitchers for plastic ones, this trade has not vanished, but evolved. The same goes for shoeshine boys, merchants, chauffeurs and prostitutes who are all still with us.


The photographs were taken by the city’s authorities to keep a record of the people working in these trades in the city of Oaxaca.



All the records are quite interesting, yet the one about prostitution is one of most appealing. It is the biggest archive, ranging from 1890 to 1957. The authorities kept a strict control of the business, recording the names of every house, owner and girl that worked in them, including the dates in which they started working and when they left town, their nationality, age and complete physical description.



Although authorities tried to avoid clandestine prostitution, there are some independent prostitutes portrayed in the archive.





Prostitutes: Emilia Reyes, 1895 >
(Click on image for a full view)







The records about the water carries are also very significant. Through these records we can do research about the cost of water and the social and technological aspects of the trade. It’s quite interesting to see the humbly dressed water carriers with their donkeys posing in front of the elegant sceneries.




< Water carrier: Pedro Escobar, 1903
(Click on image for a full view)












The Carriers regulations of 1891 in its Article 11 banned carriers from using foul language or working under the influence of alcohol, which carried severe penalties including mutilation.






Carrier: Tiburcio Martínez, 1902 >
(Click on image for a full view)








The records of merchants, unfortunately, have a bit less quality than the rest of the records.


The chauffeurs were the ones with the better social standing. Their trade forced them to be better dressed and have much better manners and language. They also had to have a timepiece to inform their passengers of the times of departure and arrival.



Chauffeur: Carlos Ruiz, 1920
(Click on image for a full view)



Most of the shoeshine boys, ironically, did not have any shoes in the photographs, which invariably feature their inseparable shoeshine box. Most of them were 10 to 16 years old.


The information that we have about these people depends a great deal on the calligraphy of the city official that wrote the record, and the skill of the photographer to capture the “essence of their model.


Shoeshine boy: José Coronado, 1917
(Click on image for a full view)



The photographs from the late 19th Century up to the 1930’s were full-body shots, which show the faces, garments and accessories. After the 1930’s the photographs became dreary due to the advent of the typical modern-day ID photo that only features the face. The calligraphy of the city officials also lost quality and beauty.


The original registry entry numbers have been respected which explains the leaps in the order of numbers, use of letters instead of numbers, etcetera.


We would like to thank ADABI Mexico for their contribution to this project.



Nora Olivia Sedeño Torres
Director of the Historic Archive of the Oaxaca Municipality




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