Category Archives: Photography

Out and About in Oaxaca, Mexico

Back in Oaxaca again. How do I know? Well, for one thing I had an 11,000+ step walking day, several days in a row.


There was a procession to honor Our Lady of Juquila in the neighborhood near the zocalo where I stay when I’m in the city.  Men carried her on a palanquin trailed by women, heads covered, each carrying a lit candle with both hands. There were resting stations around the neighborhood, each numbered, to stop for refreshment and to honor the Queen.

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At the corner of Guerrero and Xicotencatl streets, the locals set up a temporary shrine in a vacant lot with chairs set up for the prayerful. Fresh flowers adorned the altar and the Virgin of Guadalupe had her place of honor, too. I asked permission to come in to take a few photos and the two women sentries readily agreed.

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Then, it was off to Omar’s twenty-second birthday party at a local eatery in Colonia Reforma. After lunch, Janet and I stopped at La Pasion, maybe one of the best bakeries in the world, to buy the cake.


It was a lemon cream, whipped cream, sponge cake that didn’t look like much but tasted like heaven. We quickly devoured it at the after party and then settled in to watch a soppy Mexican romantic comedy.

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On the street again, I stopped a young woman with a bundle of flowers — maybe destined for a wedding shower or birthday party. I’m practicing asking random people on the street if I can take their photo. She smiled and agreed. And, then, this street vendor was cutting watermelon to put into snack cups. Oh, the color!

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I was reminded as I passed by Teatro Macedonio Alcala that Verdi’s opera Il Trovatore will be shown this Saturday at noon. And, the Oaxaca Film Festival starts, and the month is filled with chamber music performances, too. We have many cultural riches here!

OmarBDay_Streets-16 Then it was a meander by San Pablo Cultural Center where a new exhibition on growing organic vegetables demonstrates the commitment to local food and herbs, some used for medicine. I just love the life-size portraits of young women with vegetable crowns.

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Street life takes on many forms here, from people watching to the sculptural interest presented by a hand-truck loaded down with fruits and vegetables on their way to someone’s kitchen.

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On Tuesday my destination was La Biznaga for the weekly vegetarian comida corrida, the 110 peso lunch special that includes salad, entree and a mezcal. Before I settled into the restaurant  courtyard and looked up at this magnificent blooming ceiba tree, I rounded the corner along the Alcala side of the Botanical Gardens to see this creeping cactus exploding over the wall.

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Aye, My Aching Back! Keep the DSLR or Opt for Lighter Camera?

For the past three weeks I’ve been traveling in buses, airplanes, vans, taxis and collectivos in Mexico City, and the States of Mexico and Michoacan to discover more of Mexico. I’ve walked a fair piece over cobblestones and uneven pathways. I’ve climbed pre-Hispanic archeological pyramids with steps that are taller than me. All the while, hauling my wonderful Nikon D7000 (now getting a little beat up) and the big honker Nikkor 17-55mm photojournalist lens. I get great photos from this equipment, but I’m tired and can feel the weight in my back and shoulders. Is it time to give up this camera and lens?

I asked Italian photographer Alex (Alessio) Coghe, who lives in Mexico City, why he uses a lighter-weight mirrorless camera. Here is what he said. Perhaps this will interest you as you consider how much you want to schlepp around, too! All advice welcome.

My Choice by Alex Coghe

Many times people ask why I moved to mirrorless and compact cameras for my photography. As a commercial photographer, this has been my choice since 2010. In 2009, I spent two months in Mexico. It was my first visit and during it I never used my Nikon equipment, preferring to use an high-end compact camera: the Panasonic Lumix LX3.


When I returned to Italy with a plan to get back to Mexico, I decided to sell all my Nikon gear to buy an Olympus E-P1 with its 17mm pancake lens which is equivalent to a 34mm in full frame. I can remember many friends saying I was crazy.

Well, now I use one camera and one lens and became a converted professional photographer with no remorse. Today, I see many photographers who decide to switch from DSLRs to mirrorless. In particular, I have colleagues who are choosing Fujifilm X series cameras, mostly X100 and XPRO.

Now I need to clarify that I never particularly loved digital reflex. I come from analog photography and I always preferred point & shoot cameras. I never liked the design and the approach of a DSLR, hiding my face behind a black plastic piece simply doesn’t work for what I do in the street.

Moreover, I always preferred to see what my eyes are seeing and not a reflection of the mirror system through the lens. This is an important part of my choice: I prefer to frame through an optical viewfinder. I do not fear the parallax error: Is it not the way the masters have photographed for almost a century?

As of this moment, I work with a Leica X2, a Fujifilm X100S, a Fujifilm X30 and sometimes I still use film cameras.

I am a commercial photographer, mostly working with models.  I am into fashion and and street photography. Small compact cameras allow me to have visual contact with the subjects. This is very important for my kind of approach and way to work because the psychological aspect is very important.

As a street photographer, I need compact, light cameras that allow me to work all day in the street. I also need the discretion and the “invisibility” offered by a small camera. For this reason I think the new rangefinder cameras are perfect for my work. Most of the cameras like this have a fantastic pre-set focus system, so I usually use full manual and zone focus when it comes to street photography.

A camera should not be an obstacle but something that can be an extension of my arm, just to satisfy my approach and get close to my vision.  My choice with the cameras is perfect for me and my work.

Norma’s Note: Thanks so much, Alex for contributing to Oaxaca Cultural Navigator. Now, I have some direction about what I may choose next. So hard to give up what you are used to. But, that’s true in almost anything that requires change, verdad?

Check out Alex’s website for 2015 Day of the Dead photo workshop in Oaxaca!

 Faces & Festivals Photography Workshop in Chiapas, early January with Denver photographer Matt Nager. Discounts for 2 people. Budget options. 

Sunday Rebozo Market in Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico

Sundays and Thursdays are tianguis open air market days in the ikat rebozo weaving town of Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico. The Sunday market is the biggest and covers over four square blocks in the town center.


Most of the rebozos in the market are sold by the puntadoras, the women who tie the fringes on the hand-woven ikat textile. The cloth, or lienza, is woven by men. The puntadoras usually buy the cloth with the dangling warp thread directly from the weavers. They then spend a month, or two or three to hand-knot the loose warp fringe.


The tighter and longer the fringe, the longer it takes. If it is an intricate design with a long, tight fringe, then the rebozo is even more valuable. Sometimes a puntadora will knot the fringe and then dip it in black dye (or another color) for a uniform color that they think will complement the textile.


A famous master weaver will usually select his own puntadora who will tie the fringes for him. He will then sell the finished rebozo for between 1,600 and 15,000 pesos each. Click to convert to dollars.

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The rebozo market can offer more economical ways to buy. Usually the rebozos there that are knotted with a decent punta can start at 600 pesos and go up to 2,000 pesos. Once in a while, if you take your time and look, you can find a really great rebozo in this price range. That’s why visiting the masters first helps in the education and selection process.

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There is a discussion about the unsung role of the women puntadoras who contribute to at least 30-50% of the beauty of the rebozo, in my opinion.

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These women are unidentified, unnamed and it is the weaver who is recognized rather than sharing honors with the woman who makes the beautiful fringe. An issue about acknowledging women and something worth exploring more, don’t you think?


Edible blue mushrooms at the rebozo market. Go figure.

I had the pleasure of traveling with Los Amigos del Arte Popular de Mexico this month on a rebozo tour of Tenancingo led by collector John Waddell. It was a wonderful experience.


That’s why I’m organizing a textile and folk art study tour set for February 3-11, 2016 — to bring you back and share this with you. In February we will focus on the rebozos of Tenancingo, traditional Taxco silver at the William Spratling jewelry workshop, and the Tree of Life pottery of Metepec. I’ll post details of this trip on Friday on this blog. Stay tuned. Or, send me an email and I’ll send you the program description.


Levine Museum of the New South Features Oaxaca Cultural Navigator Photo

The Levine Museum of the New South opens NUEVOlution! Latinos and the New South on Friday, September 25, 2015, in Charlotte, North Carolina. It can be seen until October 30, 2016. After that, the interactive, bilingual exhibition will travel throughout the United States starting with the Birmingham (AL) Civil Rights Institute and the Atlanta (GA) History Center.  I hope you have a chance to see it.

Oliver Merino, who is coordinating the exhibition, contacted me last year to ask if the museum could include one of my photographs of Oaxaca Day of the Dead practices in the exhibition. Of course, I said, YES! There is nothing I could be more satisfied with than to contribute to the dialog about human rights, personal respect and dignity, and cultural appreciation for every human being in the world, and especially for Latinos in America.

(Note: the photo below is not the one used for the exhibition.) If you would like to volunteer or know more, please contact Oliver.


Latino communities throughout Mexico and the United States are getting ready for the end of October celebration that honors deceased loved ones. The practice is celebratory and filled with magical ritual.  So different from how we mourn and remember in the USA.

In Oaxaca, things are gearing up!

Photography Workshop in Chiapas, January 2016.



Butterflies and Flowers: Tenancingo Backstrap Loom Weaver Jesus Zarate

Jesus Zarate is a talented weaver who works on both the flying shuttle peddle loom and back strap loom in his workshop at Cuauhtemoc Oriente #312 in Tenancingo de Degollado, State of Mexico. His work is an outstanding example and among the best of the ikat weavers or rebozeros. He is more than an innovator. His work is like wearing a Monet painting of water lilies.

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There are 150 butterflies hand-woven onto a black ground in the rebozo I am wearing in the photo on the upper right. This is a one-of-a-kind textile that takes six weeks to weave and another two months to hand-knot the fringe. That’s not including the preparation of the ikat warp threads that I described in the post about Don Evaristo Borboa. If you click on the photo you can see the extraordinary detail.

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Above left, Linda Arroz wears this extraordinary rebozo with an eight inch intricately tied fringe (punta). You can see the full beauty of this rebozo filled with flowers and leaves. The ikat technique requires matching the pattern on the warp and weft threads, a laborious process. This textile, with 5,400 threads across the width, has the feel of silk although it is woven with the finest cotton.

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Linda G. fell in love with this green and white floral pattern on black. The texture created by the ikat in each flower is as if the pattern is an inch below water, shimmering with texture. I think you can tell that Jesus Zarate is a humble man who is not used to the limelight.

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Jesus’ son works with him, concentrating on basic ikat production using the flying shuttle loom. Together, they are building up an inventory but don’t have enough rebozos to show so won’t participate in the Feria del Rebozo this weekend.

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Tragically, Jesus lost two of his four sons and is helping to raise his grandchildren. We felt privileged to support the family by buying rebozos. When we did, tears came to his eyes.

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The rebozo I’m wearing above left is a painting of roses, butterflies and quetzal birds considered sacred in Mesoamerican cultures.

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I’m traveling this week with Los Amigos del Arte Popular de Mexico, a support group for Mexican folk art and artisans. Our gracious hosts here in Tenancingo are Peter Stanziale and his wife Circe Beltran Lopez, owners of El Porton Inn Hotel, an incredibly beautiful oasis on the Tenancingo-Teneria road.

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This experience has been so enrapturing, that I want to bring you here with me. So, I’m going to organize a study tour to learn about and meet the rebozo weavers of Tenancingo. In addition, we will take a day trip to the silver capitol of Mexico, Taxco, explore the Pueblo Magico ceramics village of Metepec and the Pueblo Magico village of Malinalco. We will eat great food, climb ancient pyramids at important though remote archeological sites and immerse ourselves in Mexico’s folk art. We might even have a spa day with massage and facials.

Send me an email if you want to know more!