In the southern region of the Yucatan peninsula, stretching into Belize and Guatemala, is one of the Nature Conservancy's last great places, Calakmul, Mexico. During the peak of its existence, between 900 and 300 B.C., Calakmul was one of the central cities of the Mayan Empire. Today, it is a tropical forest, home to more than 800 plant specimens, 250 bird species and hundreds of animals, its famous temples, pyramids and palaces inundated by the encroaching jungle.
In 1987, the Mexican government declared Calakmul a biosphere reserve, hoping to protect it from man's intrusive presence. While this preserved a great part of the vast landscape, migration continued as people carved out roads and housing. Recently, the Nature Conservancy (which has designated around 200 landscapes as conservation sites throughout the United States, Latin America, Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific) and the Mexican Conservation Organization banded together to protect the biosphere from this rapid growth, educating the local communities about ecological approaches to agriculture and the importance of protecting its Mayan heritage.
Sally Mann, invited by the Nature Conservancy to photograph one of its sites, chose the beaches and forests of this remote section of the Yucatan, encountering it much like the explorers in 1931 who first found this hidden treasure deep within the woods. Like those before her, Mann came upon this sacred place after hours of driving through parched forests, unaware of its powerful presence until the trees parted, revealing pyramid and palace ruins dotting the landscape.
Working with color film, Mann focused her camera on the fragmented pyramids, palaces and stelae which appeared through the haze of the sweltering heat. In her photographs, we feel the oppressive humidity as we wander through dense foliage stumbling upon temples now inhabited by the forest. Through muted colors and an antique camera lens, Sally Mann has captured the energy of the Mayan culture which vanished more than two thousand years ago. Whether standing alone along a shrinking shoreline or next to a tree branch growing through the foundation of a Mayan pyramid, one is
constantly aware of nature's power to consume years of history, reclaiming places of worship, commerce and ambition. Through Mann's images, we witness the transformation of a place once teeming with human presence into an area resonating with ancient history.