Category Archives: Photography

Exvotos: Mexico’s Naive Folk Art Painting of Thanksgiving

In the third room of Casa Azul you will see a small sampling of a vast collection of exvotos amassed by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. It is said they had one of the largest collections of these small tributes of thanks to a saint for a miracle, for saving a life, a favor received.

Domera Morales Rojas Milagro con ce vida. Cholula, Puebla. 1940’s.

These are charming, naive paintings on laminate, tin, paper or cardboard, made by the person giving thanks.  It usually includes a personal message below the scene, along with the name of the petitioner, and sometimes a date. You often see misspellings, incomplete sentences. A hammer and nail was all that was needed to attach the ex voto to the shrine in offering.

New ex voto painted by Rafael Rodriguez, collectible, riding a guajalote.

It is now difficult to find antique ex votos.  Many we see are painted on distressed tin or steel to look old.  Buyers can be deceived and pay a higher price than the piece is worth.

A prodigious miracle. Lupema Lora Rosales. Zacatecas. Circa 1940. Vintage.

Yet, my tried and true motto is: If you like it, buy it.  You may never see a piece like the one in front of you again. Meaningful mementos are important.

My other motto, that I learned a long time ago is: There will always be a sale. That is, there will always be something to fall in love with.  If you pass it by, there will be something else, but it won’t be the same!

Saved from octopus strangulation in Baja, California, by Rafael Rodriguez. New.

Back to ex votos.

The day after my visit to Casa Azul last week, I took the Australian group to Bazaar del Sabado in Plaza San Jacinto, San Angel. This is now my favorite place for imaginative, creative shopping in Mexico City. The bazaar, held only on Saturdays, is filled with contemporary art, jewelry, clothing, textiles and artisan designed wares.

Early ex voto, 1931. Saved from pulminary sickness, infinitely grateful.

Adjacent streets are lined with boutiques, galleries, and street artisans selling crafts from all over Mexico. Painters and print makers show their work displayed on easels in the surrounding parks. It is a lively place to meet, eat and spend the day.

Vintage exvoto, giving thanks for safe journey on treacherous mountain road.

My greatest discovery was the small shop operated by Karima Muyaes, whose father was an antique dealer and one of the original founders of Bazaar del Sabado. Karima is a talented painter who is in process of publishing a collection of her vast body of work.

Giving thanks for surviving this train robbery in Chihuahua in 1937. Reproduction.

The shop has a selection of fine contemporary ex voto reproductions and I became enamored with the idea of owning one, a la Frida and Diego. Karima is forthcoming about what is old and what is a reproduction. After I bought a blue six-headed sea monster who, ojala (god willing), did not strangle the supplicant, Karima and I talked about our mutual love for Oaxaca.

You need a magnifying glass to read this old one!

She also told me she had a few vintage ex-votos at her home and invited me to come to visit, which I happily did. The environment is a visual feast in tribute to the work of her father, his collections, and her amazing paintings.

Galley proofs of Karima’s new book, The Color of Spirit

She is in process of putting together a photo book of her life’s work. I had a chance to look at the early galleys and meet the graphic designer from Chicago who is working with her on her project.

Portrait of me and Karima in her living room, Mexico City; her paintings

Painting on ceramic, by Karima Muyaes

I am thinking of purchasing a few ex votos for resale. If you are interested, please let me know. norma.schafer@icloud.com

Painting on canvas, unframed, by Karima Muyaes

Tabletop still life, home of Karima Muyaes

It is likely I will meet Karima again before I leave Mexico City to return to North Carolina on this trip. We will probably visit her studio, where I will take more photos to share with you.

Paint brushes, home of Karima Muyaes

Vintage sterling silver milagros –folk charms, a father’s collection

 

 

Follow Me Photo Study Tour: Christmas Posadas in Teotitlan del Valle

Christmas in Oaxaca is magical. In ancient villages throughout the central valleys, indigenous Zapotec people celebrate with a mix of pre-Hispanic mystical ritual blended with Spanish-European Catholic practice.

A moment’s rest. Christmas Posada, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, 2015

They retrace the Census pilgrimage (Roman command to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem for Cesar’s census) of Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem. The posadas in Teotitlan del Valle are held for nine nights, culminating with the last posada on Christmas Eve. Each host family serves as innkeeper for the night, throwing a big party, and welcoming guests into the home.

Cradling Baby Jesus at the altar, Teotitlan del Valle

The procession is elaborate and takes the pilgrims and the litter carrying Mary and Joseph from one inn to the next, through the winding cobblestone streets of the village, touching each neighborhood. Women carrying beeswax candles and children with sparklers guide the way. Altar boys illuminate the streets with candle-topped stanchions.

The last posada, Christmas Eve, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Copal incense leaves an aroma trail. Church officials send firecrackers skyward to announce the coming of the pilgrims to the next neighborhood. It is solemn, festive and spiritual.

Wishing you season’s greeting with health and joy always.

What could be better than to experience one day of this celebration through the eyes of your camera, with those who lives here? This is a walking study tour, so be prepared to walk, and then walk some more!

  •      When:  Friday, December 22 — One Day ONLY
  •      Time:  1 p.m. to 9 p.m. (approximate end time)
  •      Where: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico
  •      Cost:  $125 per person includes late afternoon supper

Who is this one-day study tour for? Amateur photographers who have a range of skill, from no experience to mid-level experience, and anyone interested in photo tourism and who wants a more personal travel experience.

Group Size Limited to 8 People: We welcome children and young adults ages 12 and over.

Parking lot, Tlacolula market sky, Sunday before Christmas

You will follow me into the homes of Zapotec families to talk about and observe the celebrations and decorations. You will have plenty of photo opportunities to capture images of people and place. You will take home memories that cannot be duplicated, to be treasured and shared for a lifetime.

Nochebuena flower or poinsettia, native to Mexico, Christmas full-bloom

What You Will See:

  • Behind the gates, behind the walls, honest village life
  • Food preparation for special occasions
  • Homes and altar rooms elaborately decorated for Christmas
  • Candlelit processions, complete with incense and mysticism

During the day, we will visit several family homes to see how they celebrate Christmas. We will bring chocolate and bread to the altar in greeting, a tradition.

Blessings before the altar at the home of the Patron.

After dark, we will take part in the procession that will carry Mary and Joseph on litters from one home to the next on their recreated journey to Bethlehem.

Photography Opportunities–What You Will Do:

  • Attend to natural and artificial lighting to get the best shot
  • Practice street photography on-the-hoof
  • Request permission from people to take their photos
  • Discuss photo-taking etiquette, When to ask or not?
  • Create portrait opportunities with the people you meet
  • Gain access to family compounds
  • Point out great photo opportunities
  • Explore night photography challenges and opportunities
  • Go home with a portfolio of your experiences

The pilgrims entering the altar room, Teotitlan del Valle

We DO NOT give instruction on how to use your camera. This will not be about camera settings or technical information. You will want to know your camera before you arrive. We will not offer an editing session or instructions on how to edit.

Food preparation area for posada participants

We DO provide a rich, cultural immersion experience, with all types of cameras welcome: mobile phone cameras, film, DSLR and mirrorless, instant, Poloroid, etc.

What to Bring:

  • Your spirit of discovery and adventure
  • Your camera
  • Extra batteries and charger
  • Extra storage disks
  • Optional tripod, if you wish
  • Notepad and pen

Lodging Options: You may wish to make this a day trip and return to Oaxaca city on the same night. Or you may wish to spend the night in Teotitlan del Valle (or perhaps several). Choose Casa Elena, Las Granadas B&B guesthouse, or La Cupula. Make your own reservations and pay your hosts directly.

Watching the procession go by, Teotitlan del Valle

About Your Photo Walking Tour Leader: Norma Schafer is an experienced amateur photographer who enjoys taking portraits as much as capturing the pulsating world of Oaxaca village life. Her photographs have been exhibited at Duke University, The Levine Museum of the American South, and featured in two chapters of the award-winning book, Textile Fiestas of Mexico (Thrums). She is most interested in the aesthetic of photography, rather than the technical details, acknowledging that to get a good photo, one must know how the camera works first!

The musicians always lead the way, announcing the coming of the procession

How to Book Your Reservation: Send Norma an email to let her know you want to participate. We will send you an invoice to make a PayPal payment to secure your place.

Cancellations: If, once you make your 100% prepaid reservation, and you find you are unable to attend, you may cancel up to 30 days in advance and receive a 50% refund. After that, refunds are not possible. You are always welcome to send a substitute in your place.

Even a blurry photo evokes mood and sense of place

Trip Insurance: We strongly encourage you to take out trip cancellation and medical evacuation insurance. We cannot emphasize enough how important this is when traveling in any foreign country. Since this is a one-day excursion, trip insurance is not mandatory, but highly advisable.

 

 

 

 

Yagul Archeological Site: Oaxaca’s Hidden Treasure

Yagul is one of those magical places in Oaxaca that not many people visit. When I first went there in 2005, it was mostly rubble, secreted away up a hill beyond Tlacolula, on the way to Mitla. Access was (and still is) a narrow, cracked, pot-holed macadam pavement.

Stunning view of the Tlacolula valley and beyond

In those intervening years, there has been progressive archeological restoration, with good signage, uncovered tombs, and vistas of the Tlacolula valley that are unparalleled.

Over the rock wall, the valley below

I guess I love this site most because of the caves where the remnants of early corn (maize) was carbon-dated to 8,000 years ago. It tells the story of human kind in Mesoamerica, the resourceful people who developed the edible kernel from teosintle.

Yagul has a ball court, too. About the same size as Monte Alban.

There are cave paintings here, but they are not open to the public. One can only enter by arrangement with INAH and go accompanied with an archeologist.

How old is this cactus? Others, the size of trees, dot hillsides.

I also love it because of the peace, tranquility, the wind on the mountain top, the open spaces with extraordinary views, the ability to walk and climb unfettered by masses of visitors piling out of tour vans, unbothered by vendors selling replicates and fake jewelry.

Judy and Gail descend from the highest platform

Climb to the top of the mountain to discover another tomb. Imagine that you are standing sentry, guarding the trade route between north and south, protecting your Zapotec territory.  Once a foot path, the road is now called the Pan-American Highway.

A recently uncovered passageway beneath a mound

Yagul is only about seven miles from where I live. I take friends there who come and visit. In June, Judy and Gail went with me. As I roamed the land, I realized that there has been more unearthed there in recent months: Two entry ways at the top of one of the mounds.

Where recent dig uncovered an entrance

There are lots of mounds in this valley. Most of them are said to be archeological sites waiting to be unearthed.  They have been covered for centuries by dirt, rocks, weeds. The Mexican federal government does not have the resources to uncover them all.

Original limestone plaster walls of Yagul

There are a handful of small sites under restoration along this route from Oaxaca to Mitla.  Near Macquixochitl is Dainzu, a significant site undergoing restoration.

Wild flowers in rock outcroppings, rainy season

Close to Tlacolula is Lambiteyco with a small museum. When I drive along the road, I see foundations of platforms that could once have been temples.

Courtyard of one of the ancient residences, Yagul

Few stop at these sites. Why? Perhaps because they are not as fully developed as Mitla or Monte Alban. Perhaps because they are not as famous or promoted as heavily. They offer tourists an opportunity to explore and imagine what lies below.

Frog sculpture near the tomb, where you can climb down and enter

Yagul is a great destination for families where most of the area is accessible to walking, hiking and climbing.  If you are so inclined, bring a picnic or a snack. Sit under the shade and think about life here centuries ago.

Cactus trunk, woody, strong enough for shelter

It’s worth it to come out here and stay a few days to explore the region — a nice contrast to the city. Stay in Teotitlan del Valle, at either Casa Elena or Las Granadas B&B. Both offer posada-style hospitality at reasonable cost. Hosts can arrange local taxi drivers to take you around to visit the archeological sites.

Taking a break under the shade

Jumping for Joy at Oaxaca’s Jardin Etnobotanico — Ethnobotanical Garden

North Carolina State University students and faculty jump for joy, a tradition

While I edit and process over 1,500 photos from last weekend’s WARP textile conference in Oaxaca, I thought I’d share with you the last set of photos from the May 2017 study abroad program with North Carolina State University Department of Horticultural Sciences from Oaxaca’s Ethnobotanical Garden. 

Tuna, the fruit of the nopal cactus, is rich in Vitamin C, makes a delicious drink

The garden was rescued from the hands of developers. In the last century, it was a military horse stable, a shooting range and a garbage dump. The plan was to build a luxury hotel on the site. But, through the efforts of Maestro Francisco Toledo and Alejandro de Avila, and others, the area next to Santo Domingo Church and monastery became the beautiful garden that we know and enjoy today. It opened to the public in 1998.

Cactus trees, over 20 feet tall, offer shade; Santo Domingo backdrop

Our bilingual guide, Georgina Rosas, was exceptionally knowledgeable, explaining that the gardens are divided into the diverse ecosystems that reflect Oaxaca’s desert, mountainous and tropical landscape. One can only enter the garden and explore it through an organized tour.

Guide Georgina Rosas explains botanicals to NCSU student Matt

The English language tours are on Thursday and Saturday mornings, starting at 11:00 a.m.  Tickets are a modest 100 pesos per person — well worth the two-hour walk through the plot. It is off-season and we were lucky.

Reflecting pools and organ cactus fences frame the space

There was our group of sixteen people, plus another four visitors on the public tour. A small gathering in comparison to winters when there can be 30 to 40 people participating.

Flor de Mayo in full bloom hot pink and yellow

It was delightful to be in the garden during the spring blooming season. The Flor de Mayo,  as it is known here in Oaxaca, was resplendent in color. We know it as plumeria rubia or frangipani. Of course, the landscape design students loved seeing it, picked up the dropped petals, and the young women attached them to their hair behind their ears.

300-year-old Biznaga cactus, rare and endangered, an unusual, mature specimen

The tropical section of the Jardin Etnobotanico is a lush oasis filled with palms, fruit trees and a dampness that mimics the climate of Oaxaca’s Pacific coast. Tucked into the far corner of the garden, beyond the plant propagation area, is a two-story glass greenhouse.

A metal bridge at the top of the greenhouse for long views

The greenhouse was designed by Mexican architect Francisco Gonzalez-Pulido. It is a transparent structure with a center staircase that we could climb for a second-story view of the city and adjoining countryside. Georgina says on a clear day you can see the distant village of San Pablo Villa de Mitla.

Looking down through the glass to earth below

We came to find out that Professor Ricardo Hernandez from NCSU is one of the world’s leading experts on greenhouse lighting. He took a special interest in this structure.

Orchids, bromeliads, moss cling to branches, drip in humidity

I think what the garden does best is connect the dots between past and present, and gives us an outlook to conserve the future of our planet. The plants are intimately connected with the indigenous people of this region. We get a perspective for this listening to Georgina.

The Garden is a teaching laboratory for Mexicans and visitors alike.

We hear about agave as a beverage and fiber source. How the leaves are pounded, washed and then the fibers woven into clothing and field bags.

Professor Anne Spafford explains something she sees to student Ricky

We see the stand of corn, growing with squash and beans — all native to Mexico, her gift to the world — and the agricultural system of milpas.  This is the interdependent chemistry exchange between these three plants that give sustenance for the people, and when grown together, nutrients for the soil.

Beneath the walkway, an ancient aqueduct

Sourcing and conserving water has always been a key part of living in Oaxaca. Georgina explains that there was a water capture system and that water came to the city center from San Felipe del Agua in the foothills above the town.

Maize crop, native to Oaxaca, non-GMO, higher fiber and nutrients

When the Jardin Etnobotanico was first conceived of, the space was barren, bare. It needed to be excavated and prepared with raised beds.  In the process, they discovered an ancient water system and well here, as well as a path that led to what we now know as the Pan-American Highway MEX 190.

Cactus flower, another beauty in the Jardin Etnobotanico, nestled among pulque

Today, rainwater is collected in cisterns beneath the patio of the garden as one of the many conservation measures.

Amazing place for reflection and photos

I’d like to personally thank Jardin Etnobotanico founder and curator Alejandro de Avila B. for permission to publish the photos I took in the garden. The space is unique, featuring only Oaxaca plants. It gives us remarkable perspective into the diversity of people and regions in this magnificent Mexican state, and the interdependence of plants to people as source of food and shelter.

This is definitely a space for meditation and contemplation

I also want to thank Professors Ricardo Hernandez and Juliet Sherk for putting their trust in me to organize this study abroad program for North Carolina State University. It was a pleasure to work with them and to know their very talented students.

Nopal cactus flower

This tropical tree produces fluffy seed pods that indigenous people harvested and spun for clothing fiber.

Seed pods emit fluffy tufts

Oaxaca is textiles, culture, history, people and plants. If you want to know all of Oaxaca, please take time out to visit the Jardin Etnobotanico, at the corner of Reforma and Constitucion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

NCSU in Oaxaca: Saving Sea Turtles

Oaxaca is one of the most diverse states in Mexico. It’s Pacific coast is rugged, rocky, with swirling turquoise water, warmed by ocean currents. Our group from North Carolina State University Department of Horticultural Science has been based in Puerto Escondido, a favorite spot for world-class surfing, too.

NCSU students take part in sea turtle release

This is a global sea-turtle nesting area, among the top five in the world. Preservation efforts to protect the eggs are a priority by volunteers and wildlife preservation group.  Several species have been on the brink of extinction.

Amanda and Ricky’s expressions of delight, fascination say it all

Harvesting sea turtle eggs has been banned by the Mexican government since the early 1990’s, but ancient cultural traditions are powerful. Coastal indigenous communities have depended on turtles and turtle eggs for food long before the conquest. It is difficult to change ingrained habits.

Green sea turtles, just born, ready to go to the ocean

Poachers still roam the beaches in the midnight hours to find nesting sites and steal eggs.

Sunset illumination on Oaxaca’s Pacific coast

One of the most incredible experiences of this journey with students and faculty was to take part in a baby turtle release on the coast just north of Puerto Escondido. We arranged this through our wonderful hosts at Hotel Santa Fe.

John couldn’t be happier — he’s about to release a baby turtle

The gender of a sea turtle depends on the warmth of the sand and where the eggs are laid in the nest. Climate change has a huge impact on future populations and reproduction.

Students hear environmental protection practices from volunteer

I remember visiting the coast village of San Mateo del Mar in 2008 to meet the Palafox family weavers. Located on the coast, surrounded by lagoons, the fishermen of the village depended on sea turtles for food.

Nearby luxury beach homes at water’s edge

A huge pile of turtle eggs graced the center of the dining table at the lunch prepared for us. I couldn’t eat, and I know it was rude to pass the bowl without taking one.

Watching the turtles move toward the sea — fascinating

This week, there were faces filled with delight as each student scooped up a tiny baby turtle with a coconut shell bowl to carry it from the nest to the edge of the sand, where it would make its way into the ocean.

Wolfpack tribute on the beach near Puerto Escondido

The group left Oaxaca yesterday. They are an amazing set of young people, smart, curious, sensitive and courteous — a tribute to North Carolina State University. I am impressed by their intelligence and caring, and I will miss them.

It was a privilege to work with the faculty at NCSU to develop this program.

A big, brilliant Oaxaca sky over the Pacific Ocean.

Our donations to participate in this activity help to fund the on-going preservations efforts of the sea turtles along Oaxaca’s Pacific coast.

Baby turtle before release

Volunteers patrol stretches of beach throughout the night. If a volunteer encounters a poacher who finds a nest before s/he does, the volunteer can offer money or most likely backs away to avoid confrontation.

Another view, sea turtle release