Jeffrey Becom is a sensational photographer. The images which he offers in Maya Color are almost without exception a feast for the eyes. His talent runs in many directions and so we are presented here with an extraordinary portfolio of work which demonstrates a painterly feel for texture, a highly trained sense of unique and unusual composition, and most importantly, an appreciation for color that is second to none. Were I to try and attempt a comparison, I might liken his artistic sensibility to Rothko who, like Becom, was devoted to the representation and linear juxtaposition of bands of saturated hue in subtle and evocative combination.
By his own account, Becom's emphasis in Maya Color is on the painted wall. Thus he made the decision early in this project to restrict himself to documenting the use of color as an expression of architectural form as opposed to presenting a more varied collection of images. So the Maya people and the landscape they inhabit are only of secondary interest in this study. At least photographically speaking.
The text, on the other hand, devotes considerable attention to what is left out of the selection of photographs. To my way of thinking, this choice was unfortunate. Particularly because the extensive descriptions are terribly over-written and what is being described could have been more easily conveyed by the image than the word. For example, there is a long piece in chapter one which describes a journey through the jungle to reach the ruins of Bonampak in the Mexican State of Chiapas. The writing here relies upon the use of countless adjectives in an ungainly attempt to convey and evoke the feeling of trudging through the fetid, overgrown, swamp-like morass of vegetation. Why not, I wondered to myself, skip all the verbiage and include a choice shot or two of the terrain? Especially given the level of expertise of the photographer!
Sorry to say, this flaw in Maya Color is not insignificant because the space given to the written presentation is considerable. And that space could have been used to flesh out photographically the development of the important themes considered in this book! Like the Maya use of color to express systems of belief and meaning. And the way in which that use of color has provided continuity between the classic Maya culture of two thousand years ago and the life of the Maya descendents living in Mesoamerica today.
But let me say before closing that despite my reservations about this book, it is visually so robust that I can still recommend it with great enthusiasm to anyone with an interest in the use of color as an architectural form in its own right (see the work of Luis Barragan, a Mexican architect, for an example of this intriguing phenomenon of the systematic use of color as a formal element in building construction). Or with a desire to come in contact with the simple beauty of Maya cultural expression in both sacred and secular settings.