Lake Patzcuaro from near Tzintzuntzan
When the Spanish arrived in Mexico in 1519 two great empires existed in central Mexico, the Aztecs to the east with their capital, Tenochtitlan, at the site of today's Mexico City, and the Purepecha to the west with their capital, Tzintzuntzan, on the shores of Lake Patzcuaro in what is today the west-central state of Michoacan. Although each group commanded great military and economic empires neither group could conquer the other, and an uneasy fortified boundary lay about midway between the two capital cities. In 1521 the Aztecs fell to the Spanish, and the Purepecha, seeing the brutality of the conquest, quickly capitulated. The arrival of Franciscan missionaries in the Purepecha region in 1525 began the long process of acculturation and conversion to Catholicism. Today the Purepecha still live in the region and maintain their language and elements of their Pre-Columbian culture, but little remains to reflect their historical importance. Their former capital, Tzintzuntzan, is a small village of 1,200 at the foot of the ruined Purepecha pyramids; few of its inhabitants are Purepecha. Difficult economic conditions in Mexico in the last few decades have caused many Purepecha to migrate to the United States where they are an invisible population in many large urban areas.
I first visited the Purepecha region in 1969 and became interested in their history and their culture. On return trips I have made some photographs, but in 2004 I began a project to make a series of portraits of the Purepecha as well as photographs of their landscape, their archaeological sites, their material culture, and their Catholic churches and shrines.