The Burden
Of Time

Photographs from the
Highlands of Chiapas

Marcey Jacobson
Edited by Carol Karasik

(Stanford University)
In 1956, Marcey Jacobsen came to San Cristóbal, Mexico, to stay for ten days --- and she scarcely left. She would go at times to New York to do drafting (she worked on drawings for the first radars during WWII) but she always returned to Chiapas to live. She originally wanted to paint, but she says, "there was too much freedom in the blank canvas."

A friend brought her a reflex camera, and she never looked back: "When you take photographs, something is there for you right away," she says. She taught herself to process the films, and says that she still loves every part of it.

    The darkroom is so exciting I can go out of my mind. I love the fact that I can close the door; it's quiet and semidark, and nobody can get at me. I even love the smell of the chemicals. When I develop a print and see the image floating up out of the tray, it's so poignant.

"I relive the moment," she tells us: "It all comes back stronger because there's nothing to deflect my attention. It's like Proust's madeleines."

Jacobson remembers San Cristóbal when there were only five taxis in town, all driven by twelve-year-old-boys. There were oxes and ox-carts on the cobbled streets. When you wanted something, for instance, a leather something, you went to the part of town where all the leather workers were. When you wanted some metal work, you went to that part of town. "If you wanted a dustpan, it got made from an old oil can that was pressed out and reshaped."

"I never thought things would change so quickly," she tells us. She misses the old San Cristóbal, but she remembers how the Mayans were maltreated: the vendors would grab corn or chickens "right out of the hands of the Maya women." One lady would lock the women in her house for the weekend "to make sure they didn't run away."

§     §     §

The title, Burden of Time refers to the Mayan cycle of days, years, and æons "that are carried round and round on the backs of the gods." But she thinks that it speaks as well of the burdens of the people, the homeless urchins, people crippled by poverty or disease, children bent under heavy loads. The burdens

    are both arduous and honorable, assumed or imposed, personal and historic... Everything is in some way a burden of time.

Reading the text (in both Spanish and English, hooray) and looking at the seventy-five black-and-white pictures makes us just want to get on an airplane and fly down to Chiapas and look up Marcey Jacobson and thank her: thank her for taking these winsome photographs and writing such a loving introduction to her book and the people and most of all being the kind of American in Another Country that we can be proud of: one who is industrious and gentle and generous and alive and who has been living for the last fifty years with a day-to-day that neither hurts nor destroys and being a person who --- best of all --- has left a visual record of a fascinating people who walk through the pages with dignity and beauty and soul and most of all cohesion:

    Everything has to fit in and it does. Sometimes it's not apparent immediately. Sometimes I don't see it until I get into the darkroom. Then I see the parts that form a perfect whole.

--- Carlos Amantea

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