Pyramids of Quetzalcoatl & Sun, All Images from Teotihuacán

Introduction by Mark Katzman

How do you translate a feeling of the spirit onto celluloid? This was the task photographer Stephen Collector set out for himself during intensive guided retreats in October 1998 and May 1999 to the Temple Complex at Teotituacán (Nahuatl: "The City of the Gods"). Collector used infrared film which is sensitive to heat. He thought this was the proper medium to convey the feeling of the place. His work has appeared in the likes of The New York Times, Esquire, German Geo and Outside.

I spoke with Stephen Collector, 49, by phone in Boulder, Colorado where he lives with his wife and two sons. He told me about a long period of soul searching whereupon he came face to face with a "wounded mind." His own. In a search for healing he came upon a Toltec Shaman.

"In ancient times," Collector says,"Teotituacán was actually a university. It functioned as a center for the entire continent for learning about energy. My guide told me that Teo was still energetically available to any human being that could try to experience the place not from his mind, his intellect, or his reason but from his heart. And that was the key to unlock the mystery of the place."

He was part of a group that worked through the hierarchical complex in a very structured way over a five-day period. Originally, he told me, you stayed in these compounds in groups, which are particular "classrooms," for years, until you mastered that limitation and could move on. The whole group needed to make the transformation. You couldn't move on as individuals. And a lot of people never made it to the final, 7th, level because there wasn't any faking of the transformation. "Of course," he says, "we were working on an abbreviated level because this place is like a State Park, administered by the federal government. You had to be discrete about performing ceremonies."

Tree and Pyramid

Collector said that the first couple of days were excruciatingly painful because the work is about taking your masks off, going into your shadows and working with fear. And if the guides thought you had the wherewithal to stand it, "they'd push you as deeply into fear as they possibly could, into the stuff that you just don't want to look at in your life. Things you haven't looked at since you were a kid, where a lot of your processes and definitions and beliefs were actually formulated."

He said that by the third day things started to change. "And by the fourth and fifth day your awareness is in a completely different place. It's miraculous... The key, according to my teachers, is that there is information in light. That light isn't what you think it is. Light is alive. There's life in light. And that's what we are as human beings. You do the cleaning and get out of your own way. The cornerstone of the teaching is love, unconditional love. That's what you're attaining. It has nothing to do with the Aztec's ripping people's hearts out, even though they did do that. It's about opening your heart, metaphorically, not with an obsidian knife. Obviously some of them abused the power."

To be inside and outside of a transformative process such as this is walking a tightrope. I'm reminded of William Burroughs attending a Buddhist retreat of several days and agreeing to leave paper and pen behind so he might fully experience the process and not "record" it. As it turned out, Burroughs snuck in a notebook and pencil and recorded some remarkable dreams. He couldn't help himself. And neither could Collector.

All Images and Quotes Courtesy of Stephen Collector

Gallery Design by Mike McCaffrey

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