Hidden away in the heart of Xochimilco, one of Mexico City’s most popular tourist areas, famous for its multicolored floating gardens, is a lonely island of mystery, the result of the extraordinary obsession of an eccentric Mexican. It is an island that has come to be known as the Island of the Dolls because of the strange collection of discarded dolls and parts of dolls that seem to lurk like visitors from another world.
Freelance writer Eva Hunter and photographer Jo Brenzo have teamed up to create a fascinating book, part evocative text and part world-class black and white photos of the dolls and their strange island environment. As Hunter writes, “The effect is one of tiny corpses dug from their graves, not alive and not dead, but staring out of some hideous darkness with sunken, glaring eyes.”
It does not sound like a destination for just any tourist, nor is the book for someone who wants a pretty, typical view of a foreign destination.
But for the adventurous traveler, and for the reader who longs to see beyond the ordinary, well beyond the ordinary, this island hidden in the midst of one of the world’s largest and most crowded cities is perfect. The mystery is not just in how it looks today to a visitor, but in how and why it came into being.
Hunter’s excellent text takes the reader on a boat going deep into what feels like backstage at colorful Xochimilco, a slow trip of over an hour, punctuated by the languid rhythm of the boatman’s pole. Is this place a unique example of outsider art? Or a manifestation of a kind of madness? Or something else entirely? Hunter does not really try to answer this question; it can be described, her words suggest, but not completely explained.
As good as Hunter’s writing is, it is Jo Brenzo’s other-wordly black and white photos that burn an impression into the mind of the viewer. It is an impression that will likely reappear in the reader’s dreams—or nightmares—for a long time to come. Brenzo has been an internationally known fine-art photographer for years, and she lives and teaches photography in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. With this book she rises into the ranks of the world’s finest photographers.
Lord of the Dolls is a travel book, an example of fine creative nonfiction writing, a collection of haunting photographs, a trip to a strange place, and a voyage into the mind and the obsession of an old man who saw the world in a unique and disquieting way. To the buyer a warning: read it, look at the photos, and your world will never be the same again.