Day of the Dead: Parades and Costume Creativity

In Oaxaca, the Day of the Dead parades are called comparsas.  On the first day of our seasonal photography expedition, color, sound, and the display of unparalleled costume creativity bombard us.

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Frank Hunter, whose work was just published in the New York Times, and our instructor for this week, starts the workshop by showing photo examples captured using manual camera setting.

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We begin with simple subjects like the ancient fountain at the Quinta Real Hotel, once a Dominican convent.  Take at least five or six frames of each subject, manipulating the shutter speed one or two stops for each, advises Frank.  Then, you can see what the light will do.

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We are to use manual settings with a fixed f-stop of 8 and ISO of 500, and only manipulate the shutter speed to experiment with how might light to let into the lens.   Today is an exercise in light and what a fast or slower shutter speed will produce.

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The idea of moving away from automatic is daunting for most.  So, the idea of using manual and making adjustments based on a greater understanding of how the camera works can be a challenge.

We could practice by shooting landscapes, objects, scenes, and details.  My subject seemed to develop into Maquillaje Mexicano.

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As we approach Alcala from our walk through the city, first to Santo Domingo, then to Plaza de la Danza where the teams are building sand sculptures, we hear the hubbub and band personnel tuning instruments.

We come upon a competition among high schools.  They are to use recycled materials in their costumes for the afternoon Day of the Dead parade starting from the Zocalo.    The whole process of make-up artistry fascinates me and I linger to get as much detail as I can.

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The staging was magnificent.  The groups moved slowly up the walking avenue, Macedonia Alcala, giving the crowd lots of time to take photos, show due appreciation, and dance to the live music.

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There is always love on the street, couples in embrace, stealing kisses and today is no exception, even attired in painted newspaper evening dress.

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The visual frenzy is eye candy, a feast for the senses.  Zapotec and Aztec symbolism is rampant.  Corn goddesses stand straight and mute, careful not to disturb their heavy headdresses, while supplicants dance in circles around them.

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Girlfriends take special care to paint each other and apply make-up that will be the most dramatic and daring.

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A revolutionary war hero on stilts cries the Grito as costumed campesinos accompany him.

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Yellow nail polish and chicken livers provide enough imagination to give me a chill and a thrill.

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