Alessandro Bo’s photo book Smail captures the last inhabitants of a Bohemian enclave.
“We came to explore a foreign land that seemed an unknown paradise, the Wild West with gothic cathedrals and Spanish palettes in Indian mountains. We had a pact that no one would write about it. Until 1980 when a parvenu wrote a travel piece for the LA Times, expats could live on $2,500 a year.” It was these words written by former Playboy model Alice Denham in her 2013 memoir Secrets of San Miguel that first set Mexican photographer Alessandro Bo’s imagination aflame. After meeting his now wife and moving closer to the Mexican city of San Miguel de Allende (or “Smail” for short), the photographer stumbled across a hidden enclave that, from the 1950s, had offered immigrant Bohemians a chance to live cheaply and follow their every whim. Digging out archival footage and shooting the last remaining individuals of this community, Alessandro’s book Smail is a portrait of this unorthodox community, which has almost been lost to time and gentrification of the city.
Born and raised in the chaos of Mexico City, moving to Smail was the first time that Alessandro Bo had lived in a place so small. The project gave him the chance to start the slow process of meeting interesting people from the area and scouting out the surroundings.
Bo got to know the community by attending local meetings, parties, and events and soon found a wealth of stories and visual repetitions. One of the most important goals in Bo’s work, which Smail achieves in droves, is to open up more questions, rather than giving everything away at once.