Fear and Loathing in Mexico

Photographer Maxime Ballesteros Brings Us Scenes from San Miguel de Allende

For an editorial feature, SSENSE sent photographer Maxime Ballesteros to San Miguel de Allende, a central Mexican city known for its UNESCO World Heritage architecture, as well as a pink cathedral modeled after a postcard of Gaudí’s Sagrada Família in Barcelona. Along with designer Jen Gilpin and model Masumi Rioja, he spent three days exploring the surrounding area, riding on ATVs with trunks packed full of pieces from Dolce & Gabbana, Alexander McQueen, Balmain, Marni, Junya Watanabe, and Chloé.

“Everything was shot in San Miguel de Allende. We went everywhere around town on an ATV the days before starting, getting super lost in the suburbs, dirt roads, farmer's houses, and nature. Getting chased by determined and surprisingly fast stray dogs. Finding some drug lord's abandoned house. And meeting people like Miguel.”

— Maxime Ballesteros

“We went back to shoot at his house later. Miguel was sentenced to jail for 10 years and when we met him had just gotten out after only 10 months, because of a paperwork mistake. He told us that he wished he had stayed in—he apparently liked it much more than being out. All his family kept laughing and smiling the whole time we were there, cooking delicious-smelling dishes.”

“We were also in the city a lot. Amazed by the views when we went up hills, and the colors at every corner. So many colors. And so much sun. And the smell of gas everywhere.” 

“At the border of the city, next to the highway, we found this Gaudí-inspired house. It was made by uber-talented locals from the 3D designs and plans of a now-local Canadian special effects specialist for movies and TV, who bribed his young "bandidos" neighbors (as he called them) to keep his houses safe at night.”

“We went to the local bar and hairdresser. Full of men only. In the heat of things, coming in with three women, within minutes our table was surrounded by half the bar speaking their hearts out with the girls, their eyes getting wet.” 

“One builder took his shirt off immediately when I asked him if he wanted to be part of some photos. He was proud of his last name tattooed in fat letters on his back above a Virgin Mary along his spine. We talked about his family and kids. How he and his wife were separated but had a great relationship. How he loved his job. And how he loved to be back in the town where he was born and grew up after spending bitter years in the U.S.”

Photography: Maxime Ballesteros
Styling: Jen Gilpin
Model: Masumi Rioja