Tank in Mexico City

Text by Thomas Roueché

Photography by Sohrab Golsorkhi-Ainslie

Styling by Elizabeth Black


Mexico city, November 2014

Tank arrived in Mexico City in mid-November 2014. There to document the city’s recent cultural explosion we were rapidly drawn into the whirlpool of activity that has come to characterise the largest city in the Americas. We stumbled between design fairs and protests; gallery openings and traffic jams, endlessly amazed by the city’s richness and its generosity. This shoot took place over three days, with street-cast models, in many different streets and corners of Mexico City. The quotations are taken from Francisco Goldman’s forthcoming chronicle of Distrito Federal, The Interior Circuit, which tells the story of his life in the city in the wake of the early death of his young wife, Aura.

Front: MoodTime in Mexico City, at least to me, seems somehow slowed down, so that days feel twice as long there as they do in New York. A mysterious energy seems to silently thrum from the ground, from restless volcanic earth, but it is also produced, I like to think, by the pavement-pounding footsteps of the millions upon millions who labor every day in the city, by their collective breathing and all that mental scheming, life here for most being a steadfastly confronted and often brutal daily challenge, mined with potential treachery but also, in the best cases, opportunity, one sometimes hiding inside the other as in a shell game; also by love, desire and not so secret sexual secretiveness, the air seems to silently jangle with all that, it’s like you breathe it in and feel suddenly enamored or just horny; so much energy that in the late afternoons I don’t even need coffee. p.107,The Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Chronicle (Grove/Atlantic 2014) 

front2Left: Andrés, former Chilean soap star, wears tracksuit by Gosha Rubchinskiy. Ana wears sweatshirt by Vetements and skirt by Prada. Shot in the Jardín del Centenario
Right: The Fuente de Los Coyotes is a reference to the name of the borough, Coyoacán, which is Náhuatl for “place of the coyotes”

During the hot, dry, gritty days of April, when the rainy season is still a month or so away, the water plumes are turned up higher so that anyone walking anywhere near the fountain passes through a cooling misty cloud of spray. Rainbows sometimes hover in the air alongside the statue. There are musical dance-step aerobics classes for elderly people who in their youth may have mamboed to the likes of Peréz Prado in Mexico City’s legendary old dance salons, and who still shuffle their feet and move their hips, if not so lim- berly, with impressive rhythm and grace. p.112 

front3Dress by Peir Wu, shorts by Joseph, bag by Faustine Steinmetz, phone case by Anndra Neen. El Chopo market is home to many of Mexico City's youth cultures. In 2008, it was the site of violent attacks on emos by the city's other, more “authentic” subcultures

He was in no mood to talk, this old Aztec merchant with his festering clumps of jaguar meat. I leaned against the car, drinking water, smoking a cigarette, my back sweaty and prickly with car seat itch, surveying this small bleak territory as if I were its discoverer.  p.144

front4We shot this Anndra Neen ring on the terrace of the Hotel Geneve after we met Phoebe and Annette, the sisters behind the brand. “Something magical happened once we started creating our jewellery pieces,” they said. They come from a family of jewellers. Their latest collection is made up of fine abstract pieces, filled with intricate textures and patterns

But Mexico City, I told them, specifically the DF—which is what most people mean when they say Mexico City—was a different story. The DF had been largely spared the catastrophe of the murderous narco war; in fact its homicide rate was comparable to New York City’s, I told them, and lower than that of many other U.S. cities, such as Chicago and Miami. I’d lived there off and on for twenty years, and had witnessed how the city had evolved. A dozen years of fairly progressive and energetic politi- cal leadership in the DF, among other factors, I told them, had seen the city become a vibrant, relatively prosperous, uniquely tolerant place, however beset with poverty and other problems, a great world city though entirely idiosyncratic, comparable to no other. –p.16

front5Right: Shoes by Calvin Klein Collection

Flowers – daisies and begonias. Mexico City neighbourhoods often have thematically named streets. Polanco has streets named for writers and philosophers, Homer, Schiller, Tolstoy, Lope de Vega, and so on. Monte Everest; Mont Blanc; Cerrada de Monte Líbano, where Nelly Glatt has her office, in Las Lomas. Colonia Nápoles’ streets are named for cities and states in the United States: Chicago; Vermont, which Mexicans pronounce vearrr–mont, accent on the first syllable. Neighbourhoods with streets named for rivers, famous bays, pre-Hispanic nations and tribes, European painters, the metalworking occupations, of course, and so on. Colonia Doctores evokes a melancholy roll call of long-forgotten medical eminences, or a neighbourhood of Pessoa homonyms: Calle Dr. Vélez, Calle Dr. Jiménez, Calle Dr. Miguel Selva, Avenida Dr. José María Vertiz, Cerrada Dr. Norma, Calle Dr. Ricardo Reis. p.104 

front6Left: the gods told men, “Dance and we shall observe.“ La Danza de los Voladores de Papantla (“the dance of the flyers of Papantla”) is an ancient Meso-American ritual that is still performed today. Four dancers descend from the pole, swinging from ropes, while a fifth stays at the top, banging drums and playing the flute

Right: shoes by Dior

front7Andrés jogs across the blue tiles under the flagpole at the front of the UNAM Institute of Engineering, in a tracksuit by Cottweiler. The National University of Mexico was at the heart of Mexico’s 1968 radical student movement

This morning, in the plaza, I saw the elderly man who practices Asian swordplay, and who looks like a grizzled Pablo Picasso, tutoring a student, a girl of about ten, in Kill Bill moves. p.281

front8The Alameda, where we shot this custom-made robe by New York-based The Kimono Kid, is at the heart of the city. When, in 1846, President Santa Anna rode in triumph into the city of Mexico, he ordered that the Alameda's fountains run with sangría

front9Leather jacket by José Sánchez for Mexicouture.mx, trousers from Simple by Trista at the Museo Nacional de Antropología. The museum, inaugurated in 1964, is a masterpiece by Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, one of Mexico’s greatest architects 

front10Nubia wears a dress by Versace, overlooked by El Caballito by sculptor Sebastián, a reference to the classical equestrian statue that used to stand on this spot

You never stop being surprised by the human ecology of improvisation, all the innovative, opportunistic, scamming and desperate professions, some legal and many others not, that blossom endlessly in Mexico City’s underground, or informal, economy. p.48

front11Daniela wears a top and knickers by Faustine Steinmetz and shoes by Superga. On her right arm is a dress by Calvin Klein Collection; on her left is a dress by Dior. Shot among the repair shops on Calle Artículo

front12Bottom, left: statue of Don Vicente Guerrero in La Plaza de San Fernando. Vicente Guerrero was a general in the Mexican Revolution and the second president of Mexico. He was of mestizo and African ancestry. The revolution lasted for almost a decade
Right: Daniela sits by the pools outside the Parroquia de San Fernando Notaria wearing a top by Ellery, trousers by Pleats Please Issey Miyake and shoes by Palomitas by Paloma Barcelò. San Fernando was constructed to train priests for missionary activity amongst the indigenous population of New Spain. The church sits three blocks south of the Alameda, which, during the time of the Mexican Inquisition was the “Burning Place“, where heretics, sodomites and witches were immolated.

This is how, in On the Road, when late in the novel the characters take their ridiculously goofy trip to Mexico, Jack Kerouac describes legendary driver-supreme Dean Moriarty’s encounter with a Mexico City roundabout: “He got on a circular glorietta drive on Reforma Boulevard and rolled around it with its eight spokes shooting cars at us from all directions, left, right, izquierda, dead ahead, and yelled and jumped with joy. ‘This is traffic I’ve always dreamed of. Everybody goes!’” [...] Kerouac visited William Burroughs in Mexico in the late 1940s, long before the city mushroomed into a megalopolis, and though I don’t doubt that drivers did go—Kerouac describes a bus driver as if writing about a contemporary pesero road warrior—nobody ever recalls traffic having been a problem back then. p.136

front13Left: Daniela and Nubia wear jackets by Toogood, in the courtyard of a residential block in Cuauhtémoc, a neighbourhood named after the last Aztec emperor, whose name means “descending eagle”
Right: coat and trousers by Ellery facing the Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City's great nineteenth-century boulevard, constructed by Emperor Maximilian I, as his first great public work in the city

She was a painter, a feline dirty-blonde from an eminent Mexican family who’d grown up in a large colonial house in Coyoacán with her parents and grandmother, a committed Communist who had a mural of Che Guevara over her bed. Paloma now also had a smaller home of her own several blocks away but seemed to divide her time between the two residences. We grew close, and she introduced us into her circle of friends. I remember long weekend afternoons, eight or so of us all gathered on a big bed in her house, smoking pot, drinking beer, slowly sipping tequila, talking, the hours drifting past, and then later going out to walk around the neighbourhood. p.26

front14Ana wears top by Trager Delaney, skirt by Cihuah and clogs stylist’s own. Andrés wears jacket and trousers by Prada and shoes by Gosha Rubchinskiy x Camper. Shot on the street in Coyoacán

Roma and Condesa too, maybe like no other part of Mexico, are magnets for beautiful young people. The island of luscious-skinned tattooed youth, endlessly cycling by on their ecobicis, strolling down the side- walks, hurrying across the Plaza Río de Janeiro with their artwork tubes or rolled yoga mats slung over their shoulders, sitting at the outdoor tables outside mezcal bars and cafés, smoking on the sidewalk outside the Cova. Their music and voices pouring from their apartment windows high above the street at night. p.147

front15Ana wears jacket by Toogood, shirt by MM6, skirt by Jil Sander and shoes from a nearby street market. She stands in the shade of Frida Kalho Park. Coyoacán was a small village on the shore of Lake Texcoco when Hernán Cortés set up the first capital of New Spain there. The chapel he built, La Concepción, on the site of a Meso-American shrine, overlooks this park 

front16Left: Ana stands on Ignacio Allende, Coyoacán, wearing top by Diesel, dress by Bracken and shoes from a nearby street market. Allende was a captain of the Spanish Army and an early proponent of Mexican independence in New Spain. He was executed by firing squad in Chihuahua in 1811
Right: Marni coat in front of the Frida Kahlo museum, also known as La Casa Azul (“The Blue House”). Kahlo was relatively unknown outside the art world until, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Neomexicanismo movement transformed her into a global cult icon

A flash mob of teenage hula hoopers invaded the park one weekend afternoon and stayed for hours, blasting music from speakers, a hundred kids or so twirling and tossing their neon-coloured hoops and dancing inside them, one, two, three hoops at once, up and down their lithe torsos and limbs, and I wandered among them for about an hour, entranced by the sweet joy of that unexpected circus and wishing that I were a father raising a teenager in this neighborhood. p.112

front17This fountain by Frida Kahlo has run dry, so kids from a nearby school throw their American football around in it. Ana wears vest by Pringle of Scotland and skirt by Barbara Casasola, and holds belt by Claire Barrow


Ana wears shirt by Prada and jacket worn as a top by Dries Van Noten, among the fresh fruit and veg, piñatas and Frida Kahlo tote bags in Mercado de Coyoacán

The street was nearly impassable with students; it was like driving into the middle of a rural village on market day. Kids in their late teens and early twenties, almost all of them raven-haired like Aura, in denim and T-shirts, skirts and loose blouses, sweatshirts and hoodies, a backpack over everyone’s shoulder. p.141

front19Andrés wears Raf Simons in front of the UNAM library, designed by Juan O’Gorman

The people going about their days and nights carrying the often silently riotous inner atmosphere of traumatic grief have by now filled much of Mexico, and Central America too, with an army of exhausted, lonely ghosts. They give pertinent new meaning to Bolaño’s phrase about Latin America being a giant manicomio, a lunatic asylum. Little by little the ghosts may again be reconciled to life, in some cases they will even thrive, but many never will. p.50 

front20Left: Andrés wears shirt and trousers by Raf Simons and carries a towel by Cottweiler
Center: Daniela wears top by Belstaff and jewellery by Roberto Sánchez
Right: Daniela wears two layered shirts by Equipment as she sits down for
quesadillas de flor de calabaza, a traditional Oaxacan dish made with squash blossoms 

front21Left: Nubia wears dress by Y Project and the stylists own shoes as she sits on a blanket by Alex Mullins in the plaza outside the Iglesia de San Hipólito. The church was built on the site of the La Noche Triste (“the night of sorrows”), where, in 1521, a large number of Spanish lives were lost in a dramatic retreat from Tenochtitlan. Until the 19th century, this church marked the city’s western limit
Right: Nubia wears dress and jacket by Rosetta Getty and socks and shoes by Prada

My eyeglasses were a cinematographer who’d mastered the noirish expressionism of Mexico City’s nighttime streets, shadows starkly outlined; street lamps like glass flowers instead of spreading haze; the rediscovery of one-point linear perspective in long, receding double files of softly gleaming parked cars; the intermittently illuminated facades of old and sometimes very old buildings like glimpses into individual personalities that are hidden by day, revealing scars but not secrets, battered but proud endurance, psychotic earthquake cracks, the maternal curve of a concrete balcony holding out its row of darkened flowerpots. p.15

front22Left: Kiyomi wears dress by Paul Smith and vest by G-Star Raw among the market stalls that line the avenue between Lago de Chapultepec and the Museo de Arte Moderno in Bosque de Chapultepec
Center: Kiyomi wears dress by Paul Smith and shoes by Phoebe English
Right: Ana wears dress by Sportmax in the Bosque de Chapultepec

front23Left: Ana wears clothes by Claire Barrow by the Lago de Chapultepec
Top, right: Freida (left) wears top by Jil Sander, trousers by Peir Wu and shoes by Bottega Veneta. Ana (right) wears top by Trager Delaney, trousers by Jil Sander and her own shoes. They hold a shirt by Omar Ruiz for Mexicouture.mx in the Bosque de Chapultepec (“the forest of grasshopper hill”). The park is home to Chapultepec Castle, once home to Maximilian I and Carlota, the Emperor and Empress of Mexico from 1864-67. Maximilian’s older brother was Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I; Carlota was the daughter of King Leopold I of Belgium
Bottom, right: The Mercado de Sonora is Mexico City’s witchcraft market. Many of the vendors sell animals and the smell of the livestock intensifies as you go further in. The animals, especially black roosters, are sold for ritual sacrifice, which often occurs in the market itself

People pulled figures or portraits of La Santa Muerte from their bags while others crouched in front and blew marijuana on these images – a rite, I suppose, that I saw repeated several times. We were taken into a roped-off area alongside the altar, at the front of the vecindad where Doña Queta lives. She was finishing her sermon, I caught very little of it. Inside its windowed altar, the life-size Santa Muerte stood in her radiant blue gown, a matching satiny chal draped over her head, which is a human skull, with hollow eyes and a grin of yellow teeth, wearing a shoulder-length brown wig. Her long, brown-boned fingers were also those of a human skeleton. p.210

front24Dress by Shao Yen at the Sonora Market

In the afternoons in the Cova there are always elderly men from the neighbourhood sitting at the tables playing dominoes. They are there at night, too, whether it’s a slow night and they are almost the only customers, the big room nearly silent but for the clacks of dominoes falling like tripped circuit breakers, or whether it’s one of those nights when the place is mobbed and the elderly domino players sit at their scattered tables surrounded by a noisy sea of hipsters, young and not so young art world and literary types, rock ’n’rollers, journalists, newspaper reporters and editors, and so on. On those nights I can go there alone and I will always find someone I know at one of the tables. p.128

front25Left: Nubia (left) wears top by Barbara Casasola. Daniela (right) wears dress by Claire Barrow
Right: Nubia and Daniela sit with a friend who wears a dress by Pleats Please Issey Miyake at Covadongo, a cantina that was a centre for the Spanish community in Mexico during the Civil War and the early years of Franco’s dictatorship

Eventually I stopped exoticising the city like that, less like a photographer following an aesthetic compulsion than like a pretentious tourist. I no longer wanted or needed to frame the city in that way, by distinguishing certain moments or images from all other moments and images as being uniquely characteristic of the city, which they’re not, no more than what I saw while walking down Alvaro Obregón the other day is: two lovely-looking long-haired teenagers, a boy and a girl, standing in the doorway of an apartment building, each lifting a handful of the other’s hair to his or her nose. p.146



Hair: León Downing for Color Wow / Make-up: Ivana Kiss / Photography assistant: Aldo Ayllón / Styling assistant: Madeleine Ruggi / Producer: Mitzi Golsorkhi-Ainslie / Videographer: Kimberley Rabbitt / Casting: Zai Nájera / Models: Ana Paulina Arenas, Andrés Gómez, Daniela at Wanted, Freida Tapia, Kiyomi Alvarado Tanamachi and Nubiaat Paragon




  • Front: Tank in Mexico City