San Miguel de Allende

Photos: Priscilla Chang
Words: Adam Johnston


There are certain places where on certain days all you see is a sight to behold. The place provides the content, the day dictates the form. Taking photographs then is simply a process of seeing, pointing, snapping. The frame disappears, or no longer means anything; reality appears so perfect that there is no need to focus or compose. The world around you is not so much photographed as documented, as if you are seeing things as they were intended.


We've all heard Plato's Cave in one form or another: the world we think we see is merely the play of shadows cast by an open fire on the cave wall. To be freed from this cave would force us to see the world as it truly is; but blinded by the daylight, most of us then return to the comfort of the spaces and shadows we know. Reality is a grand illusion, our sensations suspect, our true souls just prisoners to our bodies. The senses absorb a world of things that are mere copies and copies of copies. Even the version you may hear (The Matrix, anyone?) is so far removed from the way Plato told it as to have lost all connection to the original's central metaphor.


On its surface San Miguel de Allende is the Mexican colonial city straight out of central casting, postcard perfect, the platonic ideal. Just a day tripper from D. F., you find it impossible to visualize this place any other way; movies and magazine articles told you so. But San Miguel is that way because it is frozen in amber, a living museum. A foreign invader became host: GIs studying art, beat poets chasing the ecstatic, and well-to-do retirees found it as it was and then went about buying up everything to keep it that way. So you have perfect little tiendas staffed by gringos, authentic cocinas serving chimichangas, globalized craftsmen working in the local vernacular. It is a village of thousands where nobody’s from, a commodified community. Condé Nast tells you to go there to experience the real Mexico.

San Miguel is frozen in amber, a living museum.

So San Miguel de Allende is both what you see in the darkness of the cave and what you experience in the daylight. Walk the streets and you will scratch that surface, but photographs alone will tell you sweet little lies.