Child portraits recall a more innocent era

Story highlights

  • Joaquin Trujillo fondly remembers the proud family portraits from his youth in Mexico
  • He has re-created that with his nieces and nephews over a 15-year span

(CNN)There was something about Joaquin Trujillo's childhood that he wanted to immortalize.

"I wanted to have this timeline with faces, and I think of portraits as a way of showing where you come from," said the photographer who grew up in Mexico. "Portraiture was very important to my mother. She always said, 'This is how people will remember you.' "
With those words in mind, Trujillo began his 15-year project photographing children in his family. Shrouding his beloved nieces and nephews in viscose, silk and satin fabrics, he created timeless portraits where the radiance, innocence and dream-like expressions of childhood remained the focus. The photos resemble the family portraits from his youth, when everyone would dress up for the occasion and take great pride in looking their best.
    "I did all my sets," Trujillo said. "I went into fabric stores and spent hours looking at textiles and thinking about how light is going to reflect on them."
    Photographer Joaquin Trujillo
    Trujillo said he was driven by an inexplicable gratitude to his childhood in Mexico with his family. In his project, entitled "Los Ninos," Trujillo expresses nostalgia for a time of innocence in a country that been associated recently with drug violence.
    "My parents were farmers. They grew corn and beans," he said. "I grew up with animals in my house. I am the 11th child. I had a really beautiful, peaceful upbringing running through the streets, going to the river, going from my school back to my home, walking anywhere I wanted."
    But Trujillo, who was born in Los Angeles, said he is not trying to define a country.
    "I am trying to define an era of Mexico -- my hometown, my family, my barrio, which is my house. This dignified, proud, 'love who you are' ... I wouldn't be where I am today if I didn't have these things in my head," he said.
    Today, he said, the place he grew up has fallen prey to the ills of drug trafficking and violence. But his strong family ties are what helped propel his career and give him the strength he needed to survive.

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    "As much as people pay attention to the horrible things that are going on in Mexico -- the cartels, the horrible music that celebrates these narcs and drug dealers -- why not celebrate life?" he said. "Why not celebrate beauty? Why not celebrate love?
    "I hope they will see through this work that with a strong family foundation, they can build on anything and it won't crack. If I didn't have that, I would have gotten lost in my life."
    The family, Trujillo said, is what unites Mexico's intricate social fabric.
    "I hope with these portraits, the kids can see themselves with pride and dignity ... that they can see that they can do with themselves whatever they want," he said.
    "My hometown was affected by this whole drug situation, and I remember a friend who is Colombian who said to me: 'You really need to grab your nieces and nephews and hug them really tight. And tell them how important family is.' "