JASON SCHELL

CIEN RETRATOS | 100 PORTRAITS

VOLVER | BACK

watch the promotional video by Jimena Velasco Ochoa

How does an artist make a portrait of something as big as a supercity? Is a city its architecture, its location, its inhabitants? Are cities the icons they carry with their name or are they created by their citizens? “Citizens” is my answer, not icons or monuments, so how does one capture a true demographic of a place as big as Mexico City? And when considering who gets the most authentic survey of a gigantic city, I decided, that over anyone else, it had to be taxi drivers. So these are some of the many questions I asked myself while waiting in line all afternoon to apply for a taxi license.

The concept of my project is simple: 100 portraits that work together to form an identity—a portrait of the city at large. I didn’t go into taxi driving with any specific expectations other than wanting good source material for my artwork, and some good stories to go with it. Being an American, I limited myself to 14 days—the average US vacation. And I find it interesting that everyone in this artwork, a piece that will measure roughly 3 x 15 meters when finished, shared at one point 50 x 125 cm space (the size of the back seat of a Nissan Tsuru). What transpired was by no means “taxi driving light”. Some of my passengers have been dentists, film directors, doctors, lawyers, and students while others have been car thieves, prostitutes (both regular and transvestite), drunkards and drug dealers. I’ve taken passengers to classy areas like Condesa and Polanco, as well as notorious neighborhoods such as Tepito, Colonial Industrial, and Santa Lucia (a shanty town on the hills leading up to Santa Fe).

It was my first time driving a taxi, and friend who works for the city’s newspaper told me (after talking to the department of transportation) that I’m the first gringo to get a Mexico City taxi license. It was a first time for most people involved in the project. Having one's portrait rendered is normally a rich man's endeavor. Palaces all over the world are filled to the brim with the portraits of forgotten aristocrats and their families. Street caricatures aside, I can assume that at least 90% of my passengers have never had their faces rendered by an artist.