“Tradition, Sorrow, Pride”: Nicole Franco Showcases Mexican Culture Through Charreada Photo Series

Oct 25, 2019
Photographer Spotlight

Mexican culture proudly wears its tradition, its sorrow, its resistance ... Mexicans are a passionate people in that their failures only make what they have mastered something to celebrate, an event to witness.

One such event is "Charreada," a centuries-old competition that traces its roots back to "Siglo de Oro" Spain. The modern version of the sport, a rodeo-esque spectacle with numerous events involving horses and cattle, developed after the Mexican Revolution.

Killer outfits

A California-born photographer now living in Mexico, Nicole Franco put together a personal fine art series centered around the "Charros" (the name for the traditional horsemen who practice this sport) and the event’s unmistakable and undying link to Mexican heritage.    

The festival and pageantry displayed reveal Mexico’s history. And while these images portray a cultural statement of courage, struggle, and power, they also attempt to impress the aesthetic, poetic movement, and beauty within the horsemanship. 

Horsin' around

Like all creatives, there are times when I feel the need to challenge myself. I had a very clear vision about this project. My documentary approach to shooting has always had a sensibility of fine art to it, and I wanted to explore that further.

One of the images from this stunning collection will be auctioned at the Bronx Documentary Center in late October. The proceeds will go toward “innovative education programs for youth, adults, and seniors in the Bronx.”

It's tearin up my heart when I'm with you

It's always wonderful to help support organizations that are committed to providing opportunities for artists, education, and community in our industry. 

Nicole got the idea to do a project on this sport while watching the event, using her connections and past riding experiences to get the ball rolling.

One of the Charros is a friend of mine who I've been out riding with before. The project developed while we were watching an actual Charreada together one Sunday in San Miguel De Allende, Mexico. Ideas and conversations about the approach I wanted to take were discussed while watching them perform. 

Got roped in to this life

I've been riding since I was a child, and my relationship with horses has been — and continues to be — tremendous in my life. There’s something so primitive, natural, and ritualistic about being in synchronicity with another species that is so definitive to your own ancestry. 

A very sweet picture

Communication is more intellectual than vocal. It’s an exchange of consciousness that is then interpreted through somatic movements determined by instinct, memory, and rhythm. It becomes fluid. I find any relationship between humans and horses intriguing and inspiring. 

Not only does this sport connect human and horse, it binds people of Mexican ancestry to their past. Simply put, Charreada is different than most athletic endeavors. To wit: it’s been described as “an art form drawn from the demands of working life.” Another way to phrase that is to say that Charreada pays homage to the daily lives of ranchers and ranch-hands of yesteryear. How many other sports actively honor cultural roots through competition and performance?

[I look at Charreada as] taking a skill that is inherent to your livelihood and history, understanding its complexity, and transforming it into a technique to champion.  

Originally, these competitions took place between ranchers in neighboring haciendas (estates). A completely amateur sport, Charreada is nowadays often performed by extended families who have been participating in this event for generations. In 2016, the sport was included in UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, further signifying its importance. Nicole’s use of black and white helps to convey the timelessness of Charreada.

Black and white imagery does what it does best: [it] creates a different layer of depth, texture, and nostalgia. 

Get you a person who makes their own dips

It’s a challenge to exercise more control aesthetically. I wanted viewers to feel sentiments of strength, tension, grace, confidence — all these emotions that are nostalgic to me when in their [Charros and their horses] presence.

The one-day shoot took place at a private ranch on the outskirts of San Miguel de Allende. Due to the personal nature of the work, Nicole got a chance to improvise and really interact with her subjects, giving the series a dimension of intimacy rarely called for client-based work. 

It was a day of collaboration of both intentional and spontaneous shooting. Having the Charros run the horses directly in front of me and perform in such close proximity was thrilling. The Charros were very gracious and patient with me. They took the time and effort to make sure I was satisfied with the images we were creating.   

Horse in yo face

Thoughtful compositions are achieved through subject interaction. I wanted to capture movement and skill, quiet moments, structure, texture, and attention to detail to help build a more meaningful narrative.


Charros: Rolando Suarez, Hernan Ríos and daughter Fernanda, and Javier Origel 

Check out more of Nicole's work at nicolefranco.com.

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