Romancing Mexico

Wooing someone can be difficult, but wooing a country is even more hard work. Dive with us into the culture and beauty of Mexico, captured by the world-renowned, Texas-based photographer, Gray Hawn.

By: Danielle Kaplan
Photography By: Gray Hawn

What do Sophia Loren, Farrah Fawcett, Princess Grace, President Jimmy Carter and Tommy Lee Jones have in common besides major star power? They are among the many notables who been photographed by the uber-talented Austinite Gray Hawn. With her talents gracing over forty magazines and numerous “Best of Show” awards, Hawn has been a renowned society photographer since 1978. “Photography is my voice,” Hawn confessed. “It’s my passion and I love it.”

Of all her collections, Hawn’s Romancing Mexico has just recently captured our hearts since we have so many friends in Mexico. Hand selected to photograph for the Mexican Consul as part of the 2010 Bicentennial celebration, Hawn started putting this collection together based on her deep love and passion for the country that started back when she was just a young girl. For Hawn, Mexico is about the people – how gracious, lovely and family-oriented they are. “It’s all about children and family and grandparents,” Hawn mused. “It’s about the food, music, art and murals. It’s so rich in the diversity with all of that, plus the diversity of all the different cultures within Mexico.”

Who loves a lot, forgives a lot.” Amado Nervo (Mexican poet and diplomat, 1870-1919)

With a love like that for a country, Hawn was indeed romanced by Mexico; it was finally her turn to capture and return the romance to Mexico. With a sponsorship and an invitation to capture the Mayan people, Hawn jumped on the chance. “I’m a very adventurous and spiritual, full-of-wonder kind of person. I’m like a butterfly that’s transforming all the time; walking through the different doors of life and to walk into that world in Mexico that was full of mystery and mystic. I had to do it.” To prepare for the journey to go into the Yucatan jungle, Hawn didn’t want to know anything. She had to be spontaneous and let it unveil itself to capture what it is she’s feeling with her individual perspective. “The Mexican works of outstanding foreign photographers have become a constant presence… on this long list of world-class foreign photographers is the precise place where Gray Hawn’s work belongs,” says Juan Carlos Cue-Vega, the Consul General of Mexico.

Deserve your dream.”  Octavio Paz (Mexican poet, writer, and diplomat)

The influences and stories behind the culture stem from one simple, yet unbelievable, memory that Hawn holds. On the first day of her travels, she was walking in the jungle, in a place she knew nothing about, when there was a downpour. Trying to protect her many cameras and materials she was carrying, she wasn’t watching her footing and fell over a stump. She took a terrible fall and her Mayan companions took one look at her blue and black leg with a hole as big as a 50-cent-piece and a blood clot as big as a grapefruit and took her to the local medicine woman. They travelled to the top of a pyramid where the medicine woman, clad in all white, poured medicine herbs from bottles and started praying with the Mayans around her.

“It was just like in Avatar,” Hawn laughs. “They believe in healing in the same way.” With a new experience and a lot of pain, Hawn had no choice but to go with it as a the medicine woman prayed for 30 minutes, moving her arms all around with unbelievable sounds escaping her lips – almost like a choreographed lyrical dance. “I just knew I was going to heal,” Hawn remembers. “You have no other choice than to believe.” By the time she looked down at her leg again, the blood clot went to down in front of her eyes, and all she could think about was missing the opportunity to photograph. “The celebration continued and I experienced a miracle. This was part of their culture, and it was something I needed to understand,” she confided. “The reason I felt like I had this experience was that in order to photograph it, I needed to understand their culture. I trusted them and they trusted me; I think they sensed and felt our bonding with this experience. They knew I wouldn’t misrepresent them”

From there, stemmed the collection of exquisite. “I was in a zone with the whole experience. I was just captivated and doors kept opening, and I was stepping more into their world.” Capturing the beauty and the happiness of the people was the most important part, but Hawn knew it would only be true because she accepted and loved them as a culture. They key to it all, was capturing the celebrations – celebrations of all the different cultures within their culture, celebrating life, and most of all, celebrating God.”

For Hawn, Mexico is one of the most beautiful countries to capture because of its spirituality and faith – the epitome of what she experienced at the top of the pyramid. Experiencing the realness, the joy, the tequila and so much more – it’s a happy. Hearing the way Hawn talks about Mexico, with a lust in eye, makes one realize how deeply passionate, real and connected she is about this country that has influenced her in so many ways.

Coming back from somewhere where you have felt love, compassion and the richness of all the diversity that’s in so many of the dialects – makes you come back a wiser and better person according to Hawn. “You’re more thankful and grateful for all the blessings that you have here. It makes me want to continue to reach out and do the work that I do.” With even more inspiration and excitement about creating since returning home, Hawn is eager to step into that zone behind the camera and delve into another world and into that world of creativity once again. “It actually keeps me young because I’m doing something that I love, and when I’m creating something that I love and that other people love – it’s a wonderful thing.”

 “Respect for the rights of others means peace.”  Benito Juarez (Mexican President,1806 – 1872)

The reaction from the people of Mexico was unanimous; amongst tears and weeping, they were amazed at how Hawn had showcased the beauty and the celebration of their culture. “Because of what Mexico has gone through lately, it’s been hard for them. I was happy to know that I touched their hearts, especially because as an artist we’re all about giving and creating.”

With a book out in 2012 showcasing the collection and the possibility of the exhibit opening the near future, there’s no doubt that we all will be romanced by Mexico sooner or later. For more information on Gray Hawn, visit her work at


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