Las Canchas del Inframundo
John Philip Santos
In this unforgettable series of photographs, Dan Borris returns from journeys made over several years through central Mexico like an explorer of old, bearing evidence of remarkable things seen, powerful places entered, and of how he found his way into the sacred center of an ancient world.
But there are no pyramids here, no stelae, temples or walls with faded remnants of brightly painted murals. Instead, Borris reveals a profound continuity of Mexico’s mystical legacy in unlikely, hidden away places. These photographs are saturated with detail in ubiquitous focus, filled with the innumerable quanta of la tierra Mexicana. This is the world of the Inframundo, the mythic underworld of the ancient Mexicans.
Ironically though, these are photographs, pre-eminently, of absence. Borris’s canchas de fútbol can appear as scenes for some unknown rituals; we find them largely empty, vacated by priests and worshippers alike. They are imbued with a strong sense of memory and expectation, the sacred space of human ceremony.
This charismatic absence can connect the viewer to the deepest mysterium of the Mexican landscape, evoked in drawings and photographs of earlier explorers, as well as the paintings of such diverse Mexican artists as José María Velasco and Dr. Atl. Perhaps there are echoes of the American landscape photography of Edward Weston in Death Valley, Ansel Adams in the Pacific/Northwest.
Borris’s eye finds another kind of grandeur and majesty in places we might otherwise pass without noticing. Could there be places any more common?
These Mexican canchas are emblems of devotion to a game that is humanity’s planet-wide obsession, the consummate sport of our age of globalization. Borris discovers a way of seeing them that conjures memories of Mexico’s ball game of antiquity. There are ancient ball courts in the ruins of all of the great cities of the Pre-Columbian world, from Chichén-Itzá to Tula.
The settings of Borris’s images come from another forgotten Mexico---the present-day rural hinterlands and village precincts of Yucatán, Michoacán, Guanajuato, and other states. He brings us to these places through a gaze that assumes a shamanic presence, engulfed in the vast natural world of Mexico, barely marked by the makeshift structures of humans. What are we meant to see? Where are we to aim our vision? The pageant of Mexico’s past seems to emerge in ghostly refractions.
You can count the blades of grass in Cenotillo, Yucatán; the stones in El Batan, Guanajuato. Try to see through the age-old mystical neblina Yucateca of the scenes at Cancha de Grillos or Xocchel. Consider the jagged edges of the half-ruined colonial church steeple just beyond the goal posts at Chan Cenote.
Indeed, these often ramshackle, razcuache goal posts haunt these pictures like the aperture of the camera through which Borris fixes his gaze on the world. But in the extraordinary scene from Santa Rosa, Querétaro, Borris shows us posts that have been surrounded, perfectly mirrored, in the placid water of a flooded cancha. Suspended in a panorama of clouded sky, transected by a narrow swath of Mexican earth, this goal becomes a portal into the Inframundo, an opening bridge into the land of the ancestors through which we are invited to find our way.