Our presence in the world is mediated by homes and journeys, stations and transits that mutually influence each other and our perspectives and sensibilities. We cannot understand an individual’s intellectual, creative or corporate identity, independent of their experience of home and the journeys they undertake. Photographic images can capture homes and identities, evoke sensibilities and provide a framework for understanding the modulations and expressions of our worlds.
I spent the first eighteen years of my life in Nottinghamshire between the quarries, slag heaps, collieries and railway shunting yards of Kirkby and Sutton-in-Ashfield and Arnold, a suburban outpost on the edge of Nottingham. I loved the industrial cities and market towns of the North and the Midlands and the folk music played by the blazing hearths of pubs that told their stories. I spent my undergraduate years at the University of Hull from where at weekends I hitch-hiked to explore other Yorkshire towns and cities or paced the roads and streets of every part of Hull itself. During summer holidays, I worked at an industrial bakery, a milk bottling plant and on the Humber ferry. Two or three times a year, I took the North Sea ferry to Hamburg, a city that deeply moved me by its scars from the destructiveness of war and the deep tragedy of the 20th century. I was reminded of this tragic history again years later by a huge black and white photograph in the collection store of the Rotterdam Museum of Ethnography which showed the city after it had been destroyed by aerial bombing and on another occasion in Brest, I was similarly haunted by the charred remnants of a statue of Christ on the cross.
After Hull, I departed for the University of Oxford, where I wandered through the south of Britain and across the channel to Paris and Alsace-Lorraine and later to Hong Kong. From Oxford, I left for Mexico where I remained not for the envisaged eighteen months of anthropological fieldwork but for nearly six years until I returned to write my DPhil. In Mexico, I felt a home that coloured all my senses and has never left me. While in Mexico I frequently visited Guatemala during the dictatorship of Rios Mont and went from village to village especially in the Cuchumatanes and Lake Atitlán regions. These were hauntingly beautiful areas where Indigenous peoples suffered poverty, assassinations and massacres. I wrote two papers on state sponsored terrorism in Guatemala, one of which I gave at the University of Hull. I went on, after the fall of Somoza to spend time in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. During this time, I often visited California and Texas and became especially fond of Santa Cruz and the Half Moon Bay area.
After returning to Oxford, I found a job at the British Museum (Museum of Mankind), where I stayed for six years before moving to the Royal Pavilion Art Gallery Museums, Brighton. From there I went to the Horniman Museum in London where my family and I made our first home in a garden apartment in a large Victorian house overlooking Crystal Palace Park. For the first time, surrounded by the many books brought from Mexico, we made a home together. Later, we moved to the peace and gentleness of Portugal and from there we went to Canada. I have travelled back and forth for most of my life between Mexico, my mind’s home of books, gardens and ruins, and all the other places I have since lived. I have gotten to know Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador and although only having visited Brazil once, it immediately reinvigorated me. Brazil and its peoples taught me that Portugal is not only a destination but a point of departure for a whole new world that I had until then only read about but barely imagined.
Despite living in about thirty different rooms, apartments or houses in Europe, Asia and the Americas, the only places that became homes were those with books and gardens – in Atizapán, Mexico; Sussex Square, Brighton; Crystal Palace, London, later in Portugal and now in British Columbia. The affinities these and many other places have created in my memory stubbornly cling to my thoughts, infuse my sensibilities and help shape my writing and my interests.
A Glimpse of Mexico: A conversation between Anthony Shelton and Berenice Diaz Ceballos (Consul General of Mexico in Vancouver)
Anthony recollects his first impressions of Mexico from 1979 to 1983, and talks about the changes and the peoples he has met from then to present times.
"Mexico taught me about values, it taught me how to value life, it taught me that what is really important is a dignified life not just life"
(August 8th, 2020)