Updated: Mar 20
Doing a nude male photoshoot in an abandoned waterpark in Mexico was about as sketchy as you'd expect.
A note and disclaimer: If you've read previous posts or if you know me and are familiar with my photography, you may be aware that sometimes my photoshoots involve a bit of risk or an element of danger. Let me just state for the record that any subjects in such photoshoots are willing participants. I always check with the model to assure they are on board and are not doing anything they are not comfortable with. If the model doesn't want to proceed if he feels the situation is too risky, then I absolutely respect that and will not continue. In fact, many times I've been the one to call it quits when the model wants to push things further than I'm comfortable with. Whether it's exploring abandoned places or restricted places, the risks are made clear from the beginning and consent is a must. On to the adventure!
Last summer I spent some time in Mexico City. It was my first trip down there and I was eager to see and do as much as possible. Prior to arriving I had lined up some guys to photograph, and also researched some potential photoshoot locations. Mexico City is a sprawling beast of a city and no doubt had lots of interesting spots to offer, though being so heavily populated it seemed it may be difficult to find more secluded ones that were also accessible. There were a handful of old abandoned or semi-abandoned places I found that looked amazing, but I simply could not get into them. One place that kept popping up on my searches was an old waterpark called Atlantis. The location was vague - I had the name of the public park where it was located, but this park was huge and had different sections - some developed and some just trees and nature. Comparing map locations I found online with some contradictory addresses, I was finally able to narrow the search location down to a specific numbered section, which was still quite large. My final attempt was to search Google satellite images of the area and with that I was able to pin point the location exactly.
Of the guys I had lined up on this trip, I really didn't put much thought into who would be the most appropriate model for this location. It all came down to schedules and timing and on this specific day Manuel was available, so we scheduled a shoot and I asked him if he was up for an adventure. I gave him the details and what I hoped to accomplish and he was all in. In retrospect, I'm glad it was Manuel, as his image and look fit the theme best.
On the day of our shoot, we met in the neighborhood of Condesa, where I was staying. We sat and chatted a bit over iced coffee before catching an Uber to the location. When we arrived at Atlantis, we cautiously scoped out the entrance area and got our bearings. There was a construction crew working in the front area of the park and the only way in we saw would have us walking right by them, so it seemed there wouldn't be any sneaking in. I decided just to walk in and see what happens - worst case they'd tell us to leave. As we walked in the men continued with their work - only a couple of them even bothered to look at us. We walked around the area a bit and checked it out - also to give the workers a chance to stop us if they were going to - or not. A couple months ago I had seen a video on YouTube of a fellow gringo who had ventured here to Atlantis, but could only get into part of the park, as the rest was fenced off and locked up. To check out what was behind the fence he sent his drone up and there in the forbidden area he saw, among other things, a giant, empty wave pool. This is what I wanted to find, so we walked around a bit, but really had no idea where to go looking for it. We stopped and asked one of the workers, who then led us to a different path and told us to follow it. Though the video I'd seen online wasn't that old, there didn't seem to be any restricted or fenced off areas anymore and before long we found the wave pool. The area was huge, empty and just as dusty and dry as everywhere else.
For our first shots I thought it'd be best to explore more of the park and then make our way back towards the wave pool, etc. We headed to the back of the park and like everywhere else it was just empty concrete structures of various sizes, all covered in graffiti. The day was still early, but the sun was only getting higher and more brutal. We used one of the open buildings for shade and as a base to leave our bags and equipment while we did shots in the immediate vicinity. As is my usual routine, we started out doing just some simple shirtless shots and then worked our way down to underwear and then less. We seemed to have the place to ourselves and I had positioned myself in a way that should someone come along, there'd be enough time to have Manuel cover up. Before long, a couple of college-aged guys appeared off in the distance. They seemed harmless - just exploring and taking photos. We acknowledged each other and carried on. Soon they had moved on elsewhere into the park and we did the same, deciding to get some shots now in the wave pool. We tried it out, but by this time I was getting a little bored with all the same colors and tones of the surroundings. Everything was a dusty concrete color with dried out, dead weeds and vegetation. The only break in color was the occasional pop of graffiti, which only a small portion of it was even interesting.
With each spot we used, we made our way back towards the front of the park and I fully intended for the next one to be the last. We had passed these on our way through early on and I was saving them for our final shots - the slides. The green tube slides snaked around and down an embankment that would have dropped people into what was now an empty, graffiti covered concrete pool of nada. It was perfect. We set our stuff down and analyzed the area to determine what the best shots would be. We were now close enough to hear the construction workers nearby and I wanted us to be quick and efficient so as to minimize the chance of getting caught - these afterall were going to be full nude shots. As we were standing there, a family shows up - a mother and father with their small son who was maybe 6 years old. They were walking around, exploring and taking photos. They had their son stand in the empty pool which we were about to use and pose for pictures. They instructed him how to stand and smile and then mom would hop in the frame for some pics as well. This was bizarre - what kind of parents bring their young child sightseeing to such a seedy and dodgy place? They took their sweet ass time hanging about and taking pictures and made occasional looks our way, no doubt wondering what we were doing and why we were just standing there, seeming to wait for them to move on. Finally they did and now there was even more pressure to get these shots as quickly as possible so we could get gone, as I felt by this point we were testing fate and our luck was about to run out.
Manuel climbed up in one of the slides, got in position as I directed and then took off his underwear, stashing it behind him in the slide. I started taking some shots and having him try different positions and poses. Next thing I knew, the annoying sightseeing family was coming back, so I told Manuel to move up in the slide and put his underwear back on. He was just out of sight, so I'm fairly certain they didn't see anything, but they could certainly tell we were taking some sort of photos and were being mischievous about it. As they walked past the slides and up the hill towards the front, the woman glanced our way and gave us a very unpleasant and judgy look. As soon as they were out of sight we continued on just to get a few final shots. I called it a wrap and Manuel climbed down out of the slide and came back to where I was standing with our gear. As he was getting dressed and I'm putting things back in my pack, we're suddenly flanked by 2 uniformed police officers. They stand on either side of us in an effort to corner us and start asking in Spanish what we're doing. Manuel was explaining to them that we were just taking some photos and played the whole thing down as no big deal. My usual method of playing dumb and clueless wasn't working so well and with my mediocre Spanish I wasn't able to catch everything they were saying. We were told that we were trespassing, despite having seen 2 other groups of people doing the same. I'm not sure they even cared that we were taking nude photos, but I was prepared for them to ask to see what was on my camera, which they never did. What they did do was over the next 30 minutes or so aggressively harass us and threaten us with jail as they picked apart our bags and took each and every thing out to inspect, in addition to frisking us. No doubt that being a gringo put a target on my back this day and despite all their bullshit excuses, these corrupt officers were just looking for a little pay day. To avoid jail, they demanded all the cash I had and also wanted my camera. To their great disappointment, all I had on me was 1520 pesos (about $75) and I sure as shit wasn't going to part with my camera. Manuel convinced them to let go of the camera demand, so they asked for jewelry or other items. They didn't want the iPhones and I can only assume it's because they could be traced and locked. Eventually they settled on my watch, which I had bought for $80 a few months prior. Fine with me. They still weren't satisfied and asked if I had jewelry back where I was staying that I could bring to them later. Seriously? These guys were grasping. Finally, with the cash and watch they quite begrudgingly decided to let us go, but first took photos of our IDs (drivers license, as I obviously wasn't going around with my passport on me in Mexico). Rather than lead us or send us out the way we came in, they insisted we walk to the back of the park, beyond the buildings where we were shooting before, down the hill and through the woods. This seemed really sketchy, but we had no choice. As we hurriedly walked away, I felt immensely relieved, but also uneasy about exiting this way. Not much was said at this point, as we were both processing everything and knew that we weren't out of the woods yet, pun intended. The 'woods' were actually burnt out trees and the whole area was just dusty ash and dirt with the smell of smoke from a recent fire heavy in the hot air. We made our way through all of this to the bottom of the hill and found a trail that led us to a small road, which we then followed back up the same damn hill to a main road where we could get an Uber out of there.
The police force in Mexico is infamous for being incredibly corrupt (shocking, no?) and I got off lucky this day. These guys no doubt quite often extort and rob people - regardless of whether they're breaking the law or not. Were we breaking the law by doing a nude photoshoot on private property? Probably. When they were picking apart our things in our bags and inspecting my little bottle of lens cleaning solution, they were looking for drugs. Had they found any what would have happened? A legitimate arrest, or would they confiscate the drugs for their own benefit? I later told my local friends as well as Mexican friends I have who live abroad - all were very angered by this and felt a sense of shame for the unfortunate reality in Mexico. In addition, many of them told me similar stories about foreigners and Mexicans having encounters with police down there and they all had the same thought - I absolutely got off lucky. In fact, some even said I should have called their bluff and insisted to be taken to jail, as most likely it wouldn't have happened. Manuel played it mostly cool, but I could see he was scared, though he also wasn't too surprised by what had happened. I repeatedly apologized for putting him in the situation and he told me not to worry and that he felt shame this happened to us.
We waited for what seemed like an eternity for the Uber to pick us up on the side of the sketchy road next to the burnt out trees. We arrived back in Condesa and had tacos and beer to celebrate our freedom and a successful photoshoot. The incident didn't ruin my trip or my image of Mexico and it didn't even ruin my day. I met so many incredible and friendly, welcoming people in Mexico City on this trip and I have no regrets. Like all countries - the government and the authorities are not the people and many times the people just get shit on or stepped on, unfortunately.
The photos from that day were worth the traumatic experience - which we both agree. We've both been able to use the images and I know for me, it's a sense of pride having them and knowing the story behind them.
If you'd like to see more of my uncensored shoot with Manuel and others, you can subscribe to my patreon: patreon.com/westphillips