Steve McCurry in Mexico: On the Plain of Snakes

03rd March 2023

Paul Theroux is an American travel writer and novelist, and the father of documentary filmmaker Louis Theroux. He has won a number of awards and honours for his writing, most notably the Whitbread Prize for best novel, for his book Picture Palace, in 1978.

In 2019, Theroux travelled the US – Mexican border to learn more about the migrants who risk their lives to cross into the US, and wrote his findings up in his book: ‘On The Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey’ (2019). On his travels, Theroux recounts when he first encountered the US border physically, and discovered his desire to humanise the oft politicised US border debate. He notes that in the past decade “120,000 migrants have disappeared en route, murdered or dead and lost, succumbing to thirst and starvation.”

    In his travels he speaks to a range of communities to get a sense of contemporary Mexican life. He explores tensions between the wealthy expat community in San Miguel de Allende, compared with the impoverished, indigenous populations of Oaxaca and Puebla; he teaches writing workshops to citizens of Mexico City, and works with humanitarian organisations such as No More Deaths, who distribute supplies in the perilous desert, El Comedor.

    These testimonials are given shape through the photographs of Steve McCurry, who accompanied Paul Theroux on his travels. In one photograph, McCurry captures the Oaxaca Day of the Dead procession; in another, a young girl climbing on the vast, rusty edifice of the US-Mexico border – her playful peeping through the fence taking on a far deeper, more political meaning.


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