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Medford Taylor

Mariposas y Michoacán

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Have you ever heard butterflies?  The first time I stood quietly in a mountain forest in the midst of millions of monarch butterflies, their velvet wings beating like the flutter of little orange angels, was for me a spiritual moment.

I traveled to the mountains of central Mexico (Michoacán state) to photograph the winter sanctuaries of the monarch butterfly.  Intrigued by the people and the culture surrounding these mountain sanctuaries, I have expanded this project to include  the entire state of Michoacán.  It is a work in progress and a labor of love.

The monarchs arrive in Michoacán at the end of their incredible 2,000 mile migration from the US and Canada on November 1st : the day the Mexicans celebrate El Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead).  This and the many other religious festivals, such as Semana Santa (Holy Week), are intrinsic to the color and spirit that is Mexico. Mexico for me is like the biggest box of crayons and I’m a kid again. The warmth and quiet dignity of the Mexican people make me happy that we are neighbors and extended family.

Since I began this project, the monarch sanctuaries have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, yet these oyamel fir forests are being decimated by illegal logging.

Migrant workers from Michoacán are returning home from the United States, where there is no work and the border fence gets higher and longer.  It may be time for me to change direction and refocus, but I know that the soft sounds of the monarchs will never leave my soul.


Music: Danza Espanola, Op. 37, H. 142 – XII. Arabesca


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Medford Taylor


86 thoughts on “medford taylor – mariposas”

  1. I’ve never witnessed so many butterflies or seen them photographed this way. Absolutely beautiful. It makes me feel the gift of earth and nature. And the way that Medford brings us back every few frames with the butterfly imagery really make it the unifying element of this essay. And what an insightful and personal look into a colorful world that is so close. Bravo!

  2. Medford , what do you think about the coincidence of the Monarchs returning on the day of the dead ? do you read anything into that? I mean It seems like a pretty heavy scene when everyone is celebrating lost souls and uncounted hordes of butterflys descend just when you are thinking about the souls of the dead.
    I also loved your stuff on the dog fence from a ways back – is there anywhere we can see more of that story?
    Cheers Glenn

  3. “the eye is valued by the distance
    it covers outside it
    and the light it’s capable of taking in.”
    –Homero Aridjis

    just magnificent, simply magnificent…..as both an essay, a long song, a song of birth, death and recapitulation….

    for the last photograph (which is also the cover photograph), i’d trade every photograph i have ever shot, and then lay down my cameras…….that photograph is worth it’s weight in gold….

    from the Harvey credit card which had been maxed out to this magnificent photograph and brilliant labor-of-love essay, the name Medford is branded now in my skull….may your golden eye never run less luminous….



  4. I too have seen/heard/experienced hundreds of thousands of monarch butterflies on every leaf of every tree, bush and blade of grass, hovering in the air and painting the entire world a vibrating orange & black. I’ve also been fortunate enough to spend a couple of weeks in a poor Mexican neighborhood where the people accepted us Norte Americanos with openhearted grace and generosity. So Medford’s essay touches me on many levels, including the personal.

    But beyond that, I was fascinated by the variety of subjects he included, all of them reflective of life in this region. And speaking simply as a photographer, his images are rich and colorful, vibrant and full of the passion of the people.

    This was an essay I did not want to end.


  5. Medford:

    just a quick brief follow up as Marina and I have both looked at the essays again, as well as your website…

    this final Golden photograph is so so magnificent….and i just wanted to say how special of a photograph it is. Not only is is delirious beautiful, and reminds me of a) Van Gog’s Yellow Room, b) The Sun (she is the sun), c) a character in a novel by Marquez (chronicle of a death foretold), d) paintings by Botero….but also this…

    on saturday, Marina and I took our son again to the Art Gallery of Ontario and there they have a print of Irving Penn’s magnificent Portrait of chilean children, and your picture is a sibling to that photograph….born of color and light and the sun now….so, that too is the photograph i wished to draw other’s attention to as a complement to the magnificence of your essay…



  6. Oh, that comment was by Me (i forgot to change the name)….BUT, IN TRUTH, marina and I had the same thought :)))))….so it is serendipity that her name shows the writing :)))))…we’re the same family :)))


  7. If Mexico is like
    a box of crayons….
    what’s your favorite color?
    what is happening in the photo with the man is shackles?

  8. Nice work, Medford.

    Don’t think there’s one individual image in your set that I don’t like but find the ‘essay’,as a whole,
    somewhat disjointed and without any real flow.
    The Monarch images, which were/are very compelling just seemed to be dropped in randomly.

    I was left wanting more butterfly images and fewer of the more commonly seen Latin American
    daily life pics


  9. Well Chief-my congrats-you have come a very long way-the essay is magnificent-i am proud to call you my friend for so many years-lets put out some more fires!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. We call it penitencia in Spain. Nowadays it’s more of a tradition (as in doesn’t hurt as much as it looks nor as much as it used to) to suffer for one’s sins. I have atheist and agnostic friends in Spain that do take part in Easter for not losing the trade, it’s quite interesting.

  11. I really liked the burnt faces on the edge of the shade in picture 9. Reminds me of the descriptions of Mexico by both Kerouac and Burroughs when they decided to cross the border.

  12. Very nice medford; work in progress and a labour of love – you must be a happy man. The opening photograph (24 in the sequence) is wonderful – makes you smile. As an essay it holds together very well: 24 photographs of butterflies, no matter how beautiful, would have been too many. You say in your introduction that you have expanded your project to include the entire state of Michoacán and I believe that you chose wisely; to show the people of the region living in the land along with the wildlife will be more cohesive.

    This short essay really brought home to me the immense cultural difference between U.S. and Mexico. Crossing a border in Europe brings changes but nothing so glaringly different as what you show. The light looks wonderful – so much brighter than here in England – I envy you!

    It always strikes me as sad that Mexico, a country so rich in culture and family values is saddled with poverty that requires the migration of many of its citizens.

    Good fortune with your work Medford.


  13. Color, color, color! And so beautifully used.

    I’ll leave the poetry to Wendy and Bob… for I, like Marcin, am interested in the tech side. (Sorry!) Fujichrome? D700 with velvia curve? Small things, I know, but if you care to share…

    Thanks for such a moving slideshow.


  14. This is beautiful and intriguing. I love how you’ve punctuated the colour of daily life in Michoacán with the butterflies, blood (the bloodsports), and religion (with the cross/crucifix displayed in a number of shots). The references to religion actually seem, to me, as much of a focal point in this essay as the butterflies. Perhaps the link is the reference in the intro to your experience of the butterflies as a ‘spiritual moment’?

    Also, the music you’ve chosen suits the essay perfectly.

    Only one criticism – I want to see more!

    All the best,


  15. Hi Medford,

    I want to go there! with the butterflies…….Love the hot colors and #15 the shot of the bullfighter is a very strong image for me.

    My best, Valery

  16. What a lesson, which explains in a most poetic manner why so many of us find our real selves in the most humble places, amongst the humblest people, and that one can endow us with as many trillion dollars of money of any color, it’s all wasted if we live constantly with the fear of tomorrow, and forget the most important in life, to open our eyes and with it, our heart. No contest for me: give me a million butterflies over a trillion dollars, and that’s no wishful thinking, quite the talk I have been walking all my life.

    Thanks, Medford!

  17. Hi, my name is Ross Gordon. Was introduced to Burn by my friend Gina Martin. I love it. I do however, have a question. This may be because I’m in Ecuador right now not sure, but it is taking a very long time to view the flash slide show. Even when I turn off the music and try to view individual images it is very slow in downloading. Is there anything I can do about this. I desperately want to get active in the forums but it it very difficult with the amount of time its taking to view the essays.

  18. By the way, the essay Los Mariposas y Michoacán uses color beautifully to illustrate the brilliantly, lively culture of Mexico…

  19. In addition to my comment above, I wanted to include that I feel there is a very gracious sensitivity that Medford brings to these photographs. Before looking up his website, I actually thought that these were shot by a woman, because there is a feminine, almost maternal, sensitivity to these photographs, and to all of Medford’s work. This is not to say that I am judging the work from a sexist standpoint, or that I have a preference for women vs men photographers; it is just interesting to note the standpoint of the photographer and how the connection to their subject comes through. I find that Medford’s images make me feel like I am experiencing what he did when he shot them; these images not only made me feel something, but also touch upon and elude to how he must have felt when capturing them. This is not an easy feat to achieve, and a skill that I think (for most who possess it) comes innately. I simply feel wonderful after watching these images pass from one to the next. And to handle color so eloquently…the ultimate accolade from a die-hard lover of black-and-white. Nothing but praise…

  20. Hi Ross, welcome. I just tried starting the slide show and pressing the stop button – then clicking on a random selection of photographs. This seems to work and speeds up the viewing. Hope this helps. Enjoy Ecuador!


  21. It’s a beautiful work-in-progress. I will be interested to see how Medford expands and integrates the butterfly components into the cultural explorations. Should be fascinating.

  22. Wow, thankyou Medford. I’m in awe.
    Checked out your site, further awed, and maybe a little bummed too.
    It’s like when I go to my yearly flute camp “Boxwood”, Hearing the great players can bring tears to my eyes, partially because the music is so beautiful, and the players chops are so amazing, and partly because the rest of us know we will never play like that in a thousand years.

    But what the hell, it’s not a contest. Thanks again for the inspiration.

  23. … How about if we lock all the bugs at
    the same cage we locked the Fish and the Unicorn???
    Just kidding…!!!!

  24. “To exchange identity with a butterfly is radical. It is to be what you are obviously not. It is to find surprising connections to the world, as well, perhaps, as hidden dimensions, small but powerful, outside your range of perception.” – Sharman Apt Russell as quoted from, An Obsession With Butterflies

    Medford- inspiring use of color, light and composition. I am curious to know what effect a tighter edit might have on this series? I noticed that about half way through, the images began to pack a visual punch, whereas at the start I wasn’t immediately grabbed in such a visceral manner, like I was at the finish. However, this might be intentional on your part, building to a crescendo of light, color and movement, a la Mariposas.

  25. JIM..

    i think there may be a tech problem..this show should run at 4 secs each…if that is too long for you , then that is too long..but, if you are seeing it longer than that, then it is the tech glitch..we will try to fix it…

  26. Beautiful stuff. At first I wasn’t sure about how it held together as an essay (like what the hell is this dog in the surf?) but then about half way through I got it. Yeah, I think as Krissy points out above the first half/third could use some reworking.

    Makes me want to go to Mexico and make some photographs.

  27. LUZZ…

    i do not know why Medford did not jump in here and respond, but i do know there is no Photoshop in this photograph…it was evidently shot in a copper shop or factory and the copper is literally reflecting this natural light…

  28. Dog — unbelievable — we have followed you through this adventure and you have surpassed what anyone could have conceived. — Where is our Lightening Strike?
    Your Arizona friends,
    ML and Tim

  29. Yes, it is running at more like 8 to 10 seconds per slide. I actually had this problem once with a Slideshow Pro slideshow I made and could not figure out why it was happening. I think it was a server side Director problem, though.

  30. The photograph of the little girl (cover) was taken in a copper shop in Santa Clara Del Cobre. The burnt orange color is from outside light bouncing off huge copper pots. I was talking with her mother, the proprietress, when I saw the girl, the rose and the light; and they all came together in a moment of serendipity. This is the heart of Mexico and why I love being there.

    I am humbled and inspired by the gracious comments from all. In 1972 I called David Harvey from the road to mourn the death of Life Magazine and now in 2009 I congratulate him on the birth of BURN Magazine. It’s been one hell of a ride and I suspect you ain’t seen nothin yet. Yee Ha !

    Muchas gracias.

  31. JIM…

    this stuff just ain’t perfect ….some people have no problem, others say it runs slow…we just cannot quite figure it out on this one..but, yes yes, if you are seeing it at 8-10 secs, then that is way way too slow…sorry about that…

    cheers, david

  32. Medford :)))

    so happy to hear about the copper shop :))…really, this photograph is iconic…as i said, van gogh (not the newphew!), Marquez, Botero, Penn and Solei wrapped up in one luminous moment: serendipitious indeed….when i first open Burn on Sunday night, right before bed, and saw that pic, i literally said ‘holly fuck!’….and then, before Marina could jump into bed, “Zi (her nickname), look at this essay!”…..

    the rest as they say, is history :)))

    muchas gracias to you!


  33. medford,

    good to see you on here amigo!

    the work is great. i think i remember seeing some of this a while ago but like always it stops me dead in my tracks. amazing work. how have you been keeping? good to see this!

  34. The Picture of the child and flower is really nice, as are a lot of the images here. Struggling with the essay a bit though. Religious iconography, natgeo/discovery channel super saturated imagery, blurry immpressionistic pieces, all in the pot together.
    [ Have you been using Martin Parrs camera for some of these? :) ]
    I Think I would be more comfortable with these surrounded by a written piece, they seem to be carriers of a story, rather than ‘The Story as a Whole”. Does That make sense? I know there is music to the slideshow and an acompanying statement, but I can see these as a part of a full blown mag article with an in depth ‘written ‘ essay to complement them. In that context I think they would fully realise the power they undoubdtably have in them. Hope to see the whole thing in print one day; there it will really shine i think.

  35. Medford (aka DOG) – this project is stunning! The colors, the feel, the spirit – are beautifully captured. I love this project and can’t wait to see more. My only question is when do I get to join you – we can take the buses and shoot together… ha ha! xo gina (aka Ralph)

  36. Dog ( Medford ) to beautiful for words. I love the sequence, the opener, the music and where you took this since the last time we talked. You passed over from an idea to a surreal reality and married the butterflys to the people, religion and the way of life. Proving what i feel everyday we cannot be seperated from the creatures or the land. If we do we die and we are dying.
    I really love this work and I’m so proud of you for digging so deep


  37. Yes Nick, “we cannot be seperated from the creatures or the land”. We in the West drive around in cars and by doing so we miss so much; including social interchange between ourselves. I’ve been visiting the Magnum in Motion site quite a lot recently and Medford’s essay immediately reminded me of the work of Larry Towel, not because of a similarity of style but because both seem to have a deep sense of their subjects identity being rooted in the land and its inhabitants (human and non-human).

    A good example of what happens when people have no connection with their environment can be seen in Simon Wheatley’s Inner City Youth; both on this page http://inmotion.magnumphotos.com/essays?page=11

    I wonder if the day will ever dawn when the U.S. / Mexico fence will be seen as a way of keeping U.S. citizens out of Mexico?

    I like your work Nick. I know that you Work.

    Best wishes,


  38. Mike R..
    You will be surprised how many UScitizens
    flee towards Mexico every day..
    All kinda criminals looking for a
    “free-out of jail” life..
    Why you think the “HOLLYWOOD”
    business moved from NY( beginning of 20th century)..
    so close to border(LA)????
    for the sunshine only??,
    No, not only..
    Sunshine yes but also quick “exit”..
    In case something would go “wrong”..
    Money have no country..
    Yep.. Many Americans go south , with a pocket
    Full of money and a guilty conciousness…

  39. Yes Panos, everyone needs a bolt-hole. Here in the U.K. we call it alcohol (laughing). My wife and I have reached the stage of asking each other “Why do we live here?” – especially in Winter. It’s like a perpetual traffic-jam gloomy cold wet Big-Brother CCTV no right turn no left turn fuck-up. Apart from that it’s o.k.

    Good to hear that you enjoyed Seattle!



  40. And in a reply that has absolutely nothing to do with Mexico or monarchs, I should smile more. I hadn’t realized that smiling, or the lack thereof, was in any way a problem for me until a few days ago, when a small child came up to my desk and solemnly asked why I didn’t ever smile. My response to the little tatterdemalion, that I smiled all the time, brought forth a huge collective guffaw from my fellow inmates here at the egregious mold pit. When I asked what so funny, my co-workers, none of whom is ever going to get a Christmas card from me ever again, told me that the little urchin was right: I never smiled.

    In fact, I am apparently famous from one end of this our happy little burg to the other, a span that admittedly does not cover much ground when looked at in the overall topographic scheme of things, for being the sort of grim, unsmiling, humorless ogre who could ruin a rich relative’s funeral just by showing up. This, I said, was nothing more or less than a low and contemptible slander—I am a cheerful sort of fellow, always happy and smiling and up for a good laugh. This statement brought forth a further burst of merriment from many of the co-workers and no few stares of wonder from others, especially those interested in seeing just how personally clueless one human being can be if given half a chance.

    I must say that I found the discrepancy between the public’s apparent view of me and my own self-image more than a little disconcerting. I could not, I thought, be the dull, dour, humorless prig that my co-workers think me, and so I resolved to settle the matter by asking the people who know me best, my family, what they thought of the little munchkin’s libelous accusation.

    Asking my family anything about anything is, I now find, a bad idea. Clearly, a virulent strain of idiocy runs through the family tree like Montezuma’s revenge. To a man, to a woman, to a child, the general consensus of amongst this vile assemblage of congenital dolts was that the runt was right: I am as grim, dour, and unsmiling a wretch as you would ever care to meet. Somehow or other, I have managed to go for fifty years without ever learning that I have all the personal charm of Ebenezer Scrooge before he met the spirits, with this small fillip of difference: everyone agrees that I would have told the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come to go kiss my ass. I was stunned. I was shocked. I was mortified to the nth degree. Surely, I thought, there must be someone who sees the happy, smiling me. So I went then to the source of all wisdom and comfort in the Bashmachkin clan: my mom. Surely, my own dear, sweet, beloved mother would protect me from the scummy tide of calumny sweeping about me.

    The interview did not go well, although I must admit that my threatening to have the immigration department deport her if she didn’t see things my way may have contributed to the generally negative tone of the meeting. Mom provoked me, though, what with her agreeing with the rest of the family on the smiling slander. She did do her best to put a positive spin on the bad news—moms are like that—telling me that while I was not the most cheerful person in the world, there were ten of thousands of people even worse than I am, no two ways about it, and there are my many positive qualities: I am kind to children and small animals when I am not actually kicking them, that I am good to the poor when I am not ignoring them, and that I respect the sanctity of other people’s families right up to the point where they want some of my money. Upon hearing my positive qualities stated in what I can only describe as a slightly equivocal manner, almost as if Mom had to rummage through her memory in order to find something nice to say about me, I then threatened the aforementioned deportation proceedings, whereupon my mother told me to go pound salt, an expression most New Yorkers use at least once a day and sometimes twice just for the fun of it.

    So it must be true, after all: I don’t smile. I am a grim and glowering presence who thoroughly frightens small children and depresses anyone who comes in contact with me. I am that little guy in the L’il Abner cartoons, Joe Something or other, who stalked the earth with a perpetually raining storm cloud permanently ensconced over my head. It is official: I am not a happy camper. And then I saw it, I saw opportunity knocking like no one’s business. Yes, I frown more than I smile—from what the family tells me, I last smiled in 1966, but everyone thought I was trying to sneeze and so said, God bless you; I’d always wondered why they did that—but this is not altogether a bad thing, despite the best efforts of modern medical science to convince us otherwise. Modern medical science also tells us that it takes 76 muscles to frown and 14 to smile, and there’s gold in that there difference, folks, gold.

    Yes, my friends, 76 muscles control the human frown, and to this day, no one has come up with a way to frown aerobically. Obviously, it is easier to smile aerobically than it is to frown, but if you spent your day smiling aerobically people would think that you were more than a little strange, and possibly on drugs, whereas aerobic frowning not only works more muscles than smiling, it convinces people that you are a deeply serious and thoughtful person whose opinion about the great issues of the world really matters. I haven’t worked out the details yet, but I’m pretty sure that this one is a moneymaker, even in tough economic times like these. The times may even help me strike it rich; if everyone’s going to be frowning anyway, and they will, they might as well frown and lose weight and feel better about themselves as they stand in the unemployment line. You know, I think I’ve got something there.

  41. nice one medford, really really like it. great use of colour, you’ve made this part of mexico look like a dream world. All the fiesta and colour and butterflies and proud people. makes me wanna go there. A very good unpretentious body of work that wouldnt look out of place in a glossy national geographic. good stuff.


  42. Mike I wish we could see an Akaky
    book soon.. Topic: pure pessimism at it’s best..
    Love the guy..

  43. DAVE, where the hell are those images you took of me and my family, when are we gonna see those pics huh?

  44. Medford “Dog”

    Ernst Haas in Mexico! Brilliant work from a master in his own right. Even after seeing the rough edits from each of your trips to Mexico I feel as though I have just witnessed fresh new work from an avid Lecia M6 shooter. Digital has changed your approach but not your style. Beautiful images, edit and song my friend.

  45. Hello Medford,

    It is magnificent, I would like to be in the photo 18 with these children!! It is so beautiful and unreal, and all these colors are incredible, you gave me the envy to visit this region… thank you!

    all the best, audrey

  46. Hi Medford, this is just “lovely”, as I have learned to express in the British way. Seems like you have added a lot of new work from the last time I have seen this, I guess that was a couple of years ago.

    But why are you hiding from us?

    Hugs, Laura.

  47. Dear Medford,

    I heard of monarch butterflies from the poem … After that I have dreamt of meeting them someday…Now I finally met them… surprise!!!

    I imagine myth of Michoacán along the winds that monarch butterflies bring …
    Very beautiful …very imaginary …

    I’m happy with your works.
    Thank you so much.

  48. Great work Medford! Incredible color….I wish I could have made a trip down there with you.
    Good on ya mate!

  49. your ability to showcase the diverse world we live in never ceases to amaze me. sweet t and i both were moved by this photo essay. that is extremly high praise from your ex nephew in law. we are so very proud of you and are thankful to have you in our lives. your owl print from florida 1990 proudly is displayed in our home. thank you. we hope to see more of your art in the near future. g

  50. How utterly translucent. Sorry I missed this when it went up. Hey have you you ever read Mariposa Obsidiana by Paz? I finally found a translation. Hurts to have this lovely spanish name and so little spanish…anyway see you in June maybe? Miss you!!

  51. I had difficulties in keeping my tears from flowing. This is one of the most amazing set of pictures I have seen in years. The story seems to be perfect as its execution. A beautiful tale around a nature’s wonder, the butterflies, which appear and disappear as they are setting the rhythm for this amazing journey into a different, deep and colourful culture. I have very few words to express my emotions after seen such a piece of work. Please do keep me updated when you finish up the story.
    More-Than-Well Done!!!

  52. Medford: You truly are a master of photography. Thank you so much for sharing your gift with us.
    Betty Cavedo Sherrod

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