Missionary landfall on the Baja peninsula occurred in October of 1697. Having sailed across the Sea of Cortez, ten men led by the Jesuit missionary Padre Juan Marìa de Salvatierra, set foot on the shores near present-day Loreto. This team, referred to by Harry Crosby as, “the least impressive of armies,” found themselves among three different native cultures. These were a people with little agriculture, permanent settlements domestic animals or traditions of pottery. Ripe for conversion by these Christian missionaries from Spain.


For the next 152 years, first the Jesuits, followed by the Franciscans then the Dominicans, churches were built and communities developed throughout the peninsula. These churches varied from small-scaled Baroque style buildings, such as the church at Loreto or the mountain church of Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Biaundó, complete with decorative motifs and interior works of art, to smaller structures build from adobe brick, such as Misión San Vicente Ferrer.


When I worked on this project, with my friend and assistant Shannon Hambleton, the government agency in Mexico, INAH (Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia), charged with overseeing and protecting these structures, granted us permission to photograph these churches. The agency was struggling with looking after these churches. Logistical and financial concerns, as well as issues of land ownership, hampered their efforts. Especially the more remote places in the mountains or further into the desert.


I lived in Ensenada with my wife and children for two years in the early 1980s. It was at that time that I became familiar with the mission churches, as well as the greater political and social networks throughout that part of modern Mexico. I had long planned to photograph as many of these sites as possible. My approach was not to see the churches as isolated objects, architecturally, religiously and aesthetically. Rather, I wanted the project to view these places as a part of an interconnected landscape. As with most of my projects, the photographs, taken with the eye and approach of an artist, would be supported by my research and writing as I am also an art historian. Shannon also thoroughly documented the sites in 35mm slides along with her field notes. The project was completed on the 300-year anniversary of the establishment of the first church at Loreto.

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