I follow John Sevigny on Twitter, and when he announced availability of his “Hymnal” zine, I quickly picked up a copy.


Sevigny made these 12 portraits between 2012 and 2017 in Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador. I cribbed this from the last page of the zine, and don’t really have much else to say about it, if I’m honest.

I believe there’s a narrative of some sort: there’s a street preacher on the cover and a woman who appears to be passed out at a bar on the back cover. In between, there are women and men in bars, prostitutes* and nuns, a man kissing another man (in a brotherly way), and an woman in indigenous dress with her sons on a city bus.

I went hunting on Sevigny’s website, and found a brief statement that “Hymnal” was “dedicated to his friends and other who had died or were in prison,”** and so that makes some more sense I suppose.

Insofar as I bought this to support Sevigny and his work, I’m happy enough. Beyond that, though, the work in “Hymnal” and on his website doesn’t really appeal. He refers to “tenebrist, Caravaggio-esque light” in his bio, and the technique makes the people and environment look dingier than they are in real life. I mean, I haven’t been to El Salvador or any of the other places, but I’ve been to some rougher areas of Costa Rica, and in some back alleys of some border towns in South Texas, and both are cleaner and brighter than in Sevigny’s work. It really tweaks my leftist antennae. Now I’m certain Sevigny is sincere and I don’t question his artistry, and I’m sure not a former newspaper photographer, and for a Miami-born anglo to make the dingier sides of Mexico and Central America the subject of most of his work—and to make the work look the way it does—smacks of something unsavory, in my mind.

All that to say that the work doesn’t really appeal much to me, and ymmv.


Sevigny recently reprinted “Hymnal” and a few other zines and books, and they, along with prints of his work, are available in his shop.

*though maybe adult women of a certain age in that part of the world wear little girl dresses as a fashion and maybe I’m just showing my unconscious colonialist white boy bias.
** https://www.johnsevigny.org/bio

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