Janet Schwartz is a native New Yorker who came to Chiapas, Mexico in 1978 on a Fulbright Scholarship Award to study the sculpture surrounding the Bonampak murals. She has gone on to become a clothing designer, a Mexican tour guide, and ultimately a journalist/photographer with thousands of bylines to her credit. She has contributed to local and international news organizations, including the Associated Press (AP), Agence France Press (AFP), The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight Ridder (now Tribune News Service), Miami Herald, San Antonio Express-News, Houston Chronicle, Novedades de Mexico, Tabasco Hoy, Cuarto Poder, and Proceso magazine. She recently began a new documentary project in Israel.
Reflections in a Smoking Mirror
The photo-paintings of Janet Schwartz
By Laurel Bellante, published in Jovel News, January 2006 edition, updated
"At the age of 40, I was reborn as a photographer."
This is how Janet Schwartz, 61, originally from New York but now a dual citizen of the U.S. and Mexico, described her initiation into the world of photography. As a candidate for a Master's degree in Pre-Colombian Art History, Schwartz first came to Mexico with a Fulbright grant in 1978 to study the archaeological sites of the Lacandon Jungle, after traveling extensively throughout Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. In Chiapas, Schwartz lived an adventurous existence as researcher, tour guide and clothes designer, until 1994 when she found her new life calling as a journalist.
Shortly after, photojournalism opened doorways to worlds Schwartz never imagined. Today, she covers all of Mexico for Procesofoto and Knight Ridder Tribune in Mexico. Fluent in both Spanish and English, Schwartz has contributed to The New York Times, The Associated Press, United Press International, El Universal, Agence France Press, The Los Angeles Times, Cuarto Poder and Tabasco Hoy, among others, publishing more than three thousand reports and some one thousand photographs to date.
Over the past decade, Schwartz has created one of the most complete, if not the most complete, photographic collections of Chiapas during the turn of the millennium.
In the past year, Schwartz has taken her photographs a further step, using mixed techniques such as digital filters with watercolors to recreate her images more vividly on 100 percent cotton archival-museum quality paper, hand-molded in France and acid-free.
Through experimentation, Schwartz has developed an artistic technique in continual progression that is unique, leaving the observer questioning whether they are viewing a photograph or a painting.
With her hybrid technique converging photography with watercolor, Schwartz has recuperated hundreds of images, including burial and prayer ceremonies, Zapatistas on horseback, the vivid and colorful dress of indigenous people from all regions of Chiapas, the festivities of Todos Santos (Day of the Dead), and the commemorations of the Acteal Massacre.
While the photographs alone capture the many qualities of both human celebration and suffering, the final touches in watercolor allow Schwartz to accentuate certain elements of each picture to transmit even greater emotion to the viewer and inspire eternal hope. As Schwartz says, "The powerful images of my photography inspired me to take them to the next level."
Her hybrid approach not only preserves the images longer physically, but also adds a timeless quality that impacts each viewer and provokes an emotional response. Her most recent exhibition "Reflexiones en un Espejo Humeante," (Reflections in a Smoking Mirror), on display in San Cristobal de las Casas at the Na Bolom Museum, was followed by two collective shows in France and “Maya in May” at the Lower Eastside Girls Cub Art+Community Gallery in New York City.