Black and White, Images. Salvaging of Ancient Photographic Archives PDF
Written by Marilyn Domínguez Turriza and Juan Carlos Saucedo Villegas   


Marilyn Domínguez Turriza

INAH Center

(National Institute Anthropology and History)


Juan Carlos Saucedo Villegas

Institute of Culture




A brief history of photography in Campeche.


mapPhotography has been a part of everyday life and been accepted by all social classes since its very beginning, thus it has become a means of expression of society. Photography is a valuable source of information and is considered a social document, since it allows the reconstruction of the past.

Photography has been a part of Campeche since the 19th Century, however it has not been deemed as historically, socially or politically important and in a number of occasions it has been considered as a useless, low-value object.

Photography arrived to Campeche in early 1840, just a few years after its invention.

The German Baron Emmanuel of Frierichstal arrived to the Yucatan peninsula and obtained images of the Mayan ruins with a camera Lucida, but he also made some portraits with daguerreotype plates in the cities of Campeche and Merida. Other foreign photographers that arrived to the peninsula were John Lloyd Stephens, Frederich Catherwood and Desiree Charney.



The local press of the 19th Century has records of getting the services of traveling photographers that would stay in Campeche for a few days.


In the edition of January 28th, 1847 of Amigo Del Pueblo, Ricardo Carr announces that he has brought with him the latest invention from Europe to make the most accurate portraits with or without color, either of a single person or a group using the same plate. All copies are guaranteed to be exactly as the original and to be entirely satisfactory and he will be happy to show samples of pictures and frames to any visitor to his studio, the price of each photograph is 5 Pesos.


We cannot tell which was the first photographic studio established in Campeche, some say it was Manuel Rejon’s, later property of Joaquin Hernandez. At any rate, the constant presence of traveling photographers demonstrates the interest of the locals in the new art or science of capturing reality.

Workers of the Carpizo Hacienda in Champoton, Campeche, circa 1930.


The Municipal Archive of Campeche has over 600 photographs taken between 1880 and 1950, which were obtained through the collaboration of the local people, who responded enthusiastically to the call for images of the two ancient family portrait contests organized by the authorities. There are images of landscapes, architecture, political life, society, everyday life, fairs, carnivals and portraits, mainly within the city and port of Campeche.


Soledad and Ángela Uc Collí, Calkiní, Campeche, circa. 1928-30


Mr. Valentin Uc teaching children how to make hats in a cave in Bécal, Calkiní 1937


After the family photos, the postcards made in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries are perhaps the most appreciated in Mexico. In the case of Campeche we can mention the ones made by Cicero & Perez, and Ernesto Aznar Preciat, in Ciudad del Carmen, Juan B. Caldera, postcards from another towns are available.

There are hundredths of family photos that are not officially archived or registered, but in recent years, The National Anthropology Institute via its Campeche center, has taken to collect these images that include views of towns and cities and everyday life scenes.

Historian Gaspar Cahuich mentions that Francisco C. Cicero, descendent of one of the first families to establish in Mexico during the Spanish Colony in 1654, lived in Campeche in 1910.

Cicero & Perez owned several buildings in downtown Campeche, among them, a store in front of the park, “La Estrella” that sold the postcards.

These postcards, made between 1910 and 1920, are the fruit of the work of Mr. Cicero who climbed to the rooftops to take unforgettable images of old Campeche that included everything he considered to be representative of the town: churches, the waterfront, shrines, markets, slaughterhouses, etc.

Cicero’s efforts to record old Campeche have had a big pay off. Many families keep those old postcards, which are still reproduced today and framed to be hung in living rooms or business offices or to illustrate a magazine or be part of an exhibition.

After this very brief history of photography in Campeche, we will now refer to the project of the magazine Blanco y Negro Imágenes.

First of all, we need to acknowledge the active role of the Director of the Campeche Center of the National Anthropology Institute (INAH), Carlos Vidal Angeles, who always has had the interest of forming an ancient photography archive and that currently holds more than 5000 images that can be consulted by the public.

This project had an unlikely beginning in a popular restaurant in downtown Campeche. There was an old picture of the small town of Dzitbalchen, in the municipality of Hopelchen, hanging on the wall. During the conversation about that picture, the owner of the place told us its date, the name of the photographer and even the name of the mules in the photo. That is when Mr. Vidal Angeles recognized the importance of preserving the images kept by the inhabitants of all 11 municipalities of the State of Campeche. Not only the images, but, whenever possible, the stories behind them should be published.

In February of 2004, INAH Campeche finally published the first issue of the Blanco y Negro Imagenes magazine.

The Blanco y Negro project has focused on the salvage of these images through research in archives, spoken accounts, registries digitalization of pictures, copies and reproduction of photographs of all 11 municipalities of the State of Campeche, and their publication in a periodical publication.


Carpet weaver of Nunkini in the municipality of Clakiní. 2006.


Anonymous photographers captured most of the images in the last three decades of the 19th Century, although some have the name of the author or the photo studios that include studios in Merida, Yucatan, Tabasco, Campeche and Mexico City. Although there are images of streets and public places, most photographs depict family members.

 Máxima Sosa, Filomeno Cajún Pam and María Ortega. Founding menbersof the Socialist Party in Nunkiní, Calkiní, Campeche. circa 1950.


We have managed to rescue forsaken photographs in family albums kept in closets and trunks, most of them dating back to the early 20th Century and up to the 1970’s.

The first issue of the magazine was dedicated to the Municipality of Hopelchen and featured a number of late 19th and early 20th century images.

The experience was very encouraging, the local historian did not hesitate o give us his own photos and presented us to people who were willing to cooperate with us.

Among them was Mr. Arturo Solis Lara, who has devoted himself to preserve, classify and register both ancient and contemporary photographs for over 30 years. In his place of business, an auto part shop, he has a camera ready to record any event he considers to have any relevance.

Mr. Solis also keeps a record of deceased persons, foreign visitors, local fiestas and other relevant community events.

After the publication of the first issue, we realized the potential of the project; therefore we sought the support of the Campeche Institute of Culture and the University of Campeche.

For the second issue, dedicated to the municipality of Champoton, we rescued an important number of photographs and historical documents such as an electricity bill of the first year that service arrived to that municipality, and original score and lyrics of the internationally famous Danzón Champoton, hand- written by its author Ramón Bocos who composed it out of nostalgia during a visit to Acapulco in 1945.


The Cardenas Group playing at Sihochac, Champotón. Campeche, circa 1935.

The issue dedicated to the municipality of Hecelchkan, features the collections of Mr. Jorge Euán Tay and Mr, Yanuario Guzmán Ortíz who contributed with more than 300 family pictures along with other information. Other pictures featured here included photos of the first generation of teachers graduated from the Escuela Normal de Hecelchakan.


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In the issue devoted to the municipality of Tenabo, the collection of Mr. Carlos Marentes Sosa stands out, with over 200 photos. Other collection featured was the one belonging to Professor Brunilda López Valle, 92, who clearly remembered everyone depicted in her 250-photograph collection.

The Palizada, Candelaria and El Carmen municipalities have one thing in common: The Usumacinta river, the boats and ferries of those towns were the vehicle of every social, political, economic and cultural event in the region.

The issue devoted to Palizada featured the collection of the Del Rivero family, who arrived to the region in the 19th Century as merchants. They installed the first electricity power plant, and built everything from dance halls to cinema theaters, ventured in the sugar cane and cattle businesses, and also the production of bricks and ice among many other activities, all included in their photo-albums, which amounted to over 400 pictures.


Omar Huerta


Jonuta is a town only 15 kilometers away from Palizada, that belongs to the State of Tabasco, due to its closeness, we decided to look for any photo collections that would depict the history of the region. We found there the collection of Mr. Omar Huerta Escalante, a self-appointed promoter of pre-Hispanic culture, founder of an archeological museum and a great collector of ancient photos. Mr. Huerta gave us excellent images of Candelaria, Palizada and Ciudad del Carmen, taken by his father in the 1920’s, unpublished pictures depicting the region’s economic development such as images of the San Rafael chewing gum plantation, property of the Mexican Gulf Land and Lumber Company.


Juan B. Caldera and family


Candelaria got its municipality status until 1997, before that it was largely occupied by the rainforest. In 1963 a colonization program was established, and we have featured the pictures of the odyssey of the more that 500 families that moved from Coahuila to Campeche to colonize the region.


The first photographer of Candelaria


In the case of the municipality of Clakamul, research was also quite an ordeal, since it only was created in 1996; therefore its communities are very new. Apart from the photos of the archeological sites of Becán, Calkmul and Chicaná, we did not find enough material to be published, since there were no communities established before the late 1960’s.

An exception is the community of Zoh Laguna, an old chewing gum collection camp in the middle of the forest that dates back to the 1930’s, which later became a prosperous sawmill that had every service available for its workers. This sawmill belonged to the renowned company Caobas Mexicanas, which also operated in Yucatan and Quintana Roo.

One of its founding workers was an amateur photographer that took pictures of the community since its very beginning. He photographed the construction of the houses and the production processes of the mahogany wood, the opening of roads for its transportation and the everyday activities of the community. After the sawmill went out of business, this man moved to Chetumal in Quintana Roo and then to Guatemala.

However, his wife stayed in Chetumal and we sought her with little hope, but we were happily surprised to find her and she gave us the most amazing 500-photo album.

These are only a few examples of what we have experienced in our quest for images all over the State. Now we only have to refer to our general method to edit the magazine and some curious anecdotes that occurred.

To define the contents of every issue of the magazine, the first step was to contact the local historian of each municipality, who was in charge to write an historical profile of each community and helped us to locate the people that kept the old photos, the oldest families, the most popular characters and the most important places.




After making contact with them, they gave us information concerning other families that might have more photographs. The main challenge was to convince people to provide us with the pictures so we could digitalize them. We had to explain their documentary value and sometimes we offered them to clean them and give them a digital back up when we returned to them.

The information of each image was obtained by interviewing the elders of the community, who provided very important data.




There is no other similar project in Campeche, except for the project of Mr. Humberto Caldera, who only dealt with his hometown, Ciudad del Carmen. Therefore, Blanco y Negro is one of the most significant projects for the salvage and dissemination of ancient photographs.

We are very satisfied by our accomplishments. The material contained in every magazine has become in one of the most important sources of historical knowledge of these communities, of how their inhabitants were, what were their social, cultural and religious activities, but also to remember their forgotten traditions, and in many occasions to reflect upon the changes suffered by their environment, the old houses transformed into offices or businesses, the disappeared parks and streets turned into avenues.

The images presented by Blanco y Negro present us with the costumes of yore, their garments, hairdos and moustache styles that mark the different epochs and social status. Blanco y Negro is already an effective instrument to help future historians and social anthropologists in their research.

We have salvaged around 3000 photographs that were doomed to oblivion. Most of them are in black and white. Our goal in making an historical family photo archive is to identify the person in the picture, place, date, technique and, if possible the name of the photographer, including the pictures that did not make it to the magazines due to their poor quality.


Maria Antonia Reyna Ibarra


The main goal of Blanco y Negro is to rescue those images that captured a precise moment, an event, a funeral, festivities or any other subject that the photographer, either amateur or professional, deemed worthy of being recorded and ended up in a family album.




To wrap up, in all eleven municipalities of Campeche we have had the satisfaction of obtaining a great variety of pictures that belonged to families of every social level, which evoke beautiful moments of the past of great artistic value.



Marilyn Domínguez Turriza
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