For José de Jesús “Chucho” León Hernández, the night is the perfect muse. It’s a mystery, an adventure, and an escape – one in which the Mexican photographer feels innately at ease, despite any terrors it posed.
“I was afraid of ghosts and the devil, but also afraid of the rage of God,” Chucho says. Raised by two devout Catholic aunts who decorated the home with visceral images of the suffering of Christ, martyred saints, and souls in Purgatory, he spent much of his youth thinking about the Apocalypse.
“Daytime was dull and boring, full of noise and mediocrity – especially living in this neighbourhood, people are scared of people who are different,” he says. “The night was by far more interesting and benevolent maybe because I was able to be alone, I was a rebel and a charming little boy, always aware of my sexuality. I guess I was more connected and identified with this fantasy world.”
In 1985, at the age of 14, Chucho began walking the streets of his Mexico City neighbourhood, Colonia Doctores. He soon began going to clubs to dance until 4am, something he compares to discovering a “parallel universe”.
That same year, a magnitude-8.0 earthquake struck Mexico City, resulting in catastrophic death and destruction. Then-President Miguel de la Madrid made the situation worse, ordering a news blackout for the first 39 hours. In the rubble, Chucho began making nude auto portraits among the ruins.
From there, he began walking the streets of the city, in search of “casual sex” and “new friends”. He soon discovered punk music, symbolist poets, expressionist films, and magazine stores in Zona Rosa – the Pink Zone – all of which melded into the original vision that defines Chucho’s photography today.
“I see my work as a movie set, pure imagination. The transformation of a third world neighbourhood into scenarios of an expressionist film, where you can find and can talk about love and loss, or madness and despair.”
“One night back home I found this dead calf in a dump and felt the urge to photograph the scene, so dramatic and strange. Then I found the similarity between that scene and Baudelaire’s poem Une charogne..”
As a photographer, Chucho has become obsessed with the ecstatic beauty of night, finding pleasure in the seductive powers of life after dark. His recent book, Vida (Edition Patrick Frey), offers a peek into another world, one overflowing with the glorious spirit of grit, glamour, and decadence.
“I want to recreate the unique, dangerous, and dark city that only exists in my imagination with some clues that I find along the way: a woman’s gaze, a building, a drowned cat, the reflections of funeral houses on puddles and mix these encounters with portraits of young people at parties to make tales about the night.”
Vida is out now on Edition Patrick Frey.
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