Category Archives: Photography

Uriel and Rosalia’s Zapotec Wedding, Oaxaca, Mexico

The church wedding is an important part of Zapotec community life. Often, a couple will have a civil marriage ceremony and begin their family as Rosalia and Uriel did three years ago.  Their dream will be to save enough to hold a religious service that recognizes their marriage in the eyes of God.  Their young children are baptized as part of the celebratory mass.  This is common practice.

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As a by-product of the Mexican Revolution and its sweeping reforms, the state eradicated church political power and confiscated lands, so it is the civil ceremony that takes legal precedents.  Yet, the traditional church wedding holds strong emotional appeal for many couples, their parents and extended family.

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Uriel and Rosalia’s wedding began with a twelve o’clock noon mass at the Teotitlan del Valle church and included the baptism of their two young sons, Emilio and Cristian.

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There were about two hundred people attending, a fraction of the six hundred who would later join the fiesta and meal at the home of Uriel’s uncle and aunt, who hosted the event.

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In Zapotec tradition, it is the groom’s family who hosts and pays for everything:  the two large bulls slaughtered to become barbacoa (barbecue) to serve the multitude, the beer and mezcal, the band, the tortillas, fresh flowers, decorations, gifts for guests, ample takeaway containers, and an elaborate, multi-level wedding cake filled with strawberry cream.

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There is not usually a cash outlay for these expenses.  It is part of the elaborate mutual support, bartering, give-and-take system called guelaguetza in Oaxaca’s usos y costumbres pueblos.  Extended family comes together to do what it takes to host.  For example, I give you a pig one year for a baptism.  In six years, when my son gets married, I ask you to return the pig to me.  Maybe it weighs a little more than the one I gave to you.  That’s how it works and the cycle continues.

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Wedding preparations began weeks before.  The women of the family gathered to plan the food and make decorations.  They ordered large yellow corn tortillas handmade in a neighboring village.  

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Men conferred to determine how many tables and chairs, cases of beer, and bottles of mezcal would be required.  Together, they all determined the collective resources needed to mount this significant event.  Then, on the wedding day, they served the hearty festival dish offering greeting of buen provecho to each guest.

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On the wedding day, Uriel’s extended family pitched in to cook and serve:  aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews.  As guests arrived, more tables and chairs unfolded.  Their arms held extended in greeting, offering gifts, adding their tribute to honor the couple and their families, an ancient practice modernized.

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In addition to bottles of mezcal and cases of beer, guests brought cookware sets, utensils, toys for the boys, dinnerware, drinking glasses. and other household items.  There was even a new washing machine and bedroom closet on display outside the altar room.  Inside was barely passable. The line to greet the newlyweds and family snaked through the courtyard and out onto the sidewalk.  We all waited patiently to offer personal congratulations.

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In the back of the family compound an army of 60 women were on hand to measure out the meat and broth so that everyone would have their portion.  They had been tending the stew pot for days.  Platters of fresh tortillas, lime wedges, shredded cabbage, diced onions, and cilantro were set on each table to add as condiments to the  spicy meat.

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After the meal, the plates were cleared, the tables folded and stacked in a corner, and the chairs arranged in a circle.  Let the dancing begin.  First, the band from Yalalag played as the couple came out, she adorned in traditional dress from her native Zapotec village.

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Then, Teotitecos welcomed their band to play the traditional Jarabe del Valle.  Paco served as master of ceremonies, inviting family members to dance with the couple in honor of their emotional, financial and in-kind support.  Celebrants carry fragrant herbs gathered from nearby mountains.  On the bride’s arm is a basket filled with flowers, bread and chocolate — essential for sustaining life.

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The party continued through the next several days, and I could hear the band and firecrackers each morning and evening.  These celebrations are rooted deeply in a pre-Hispanic past, embedded in memory.  It is a wonderful experience to share.

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Day of the Dead Photography, Oaxaca, Workshop Tour 2014 with Frank Hunter

Oaxaca, Mexico, is famous for its Day of the Dead celebrations.  You experience it and capture it for a lifetime of memories!  This is cultural immersion travel photography at its best!  Arrive Monday, October 27, depart Tuesday, November 4— 9 days, 8 nights, $2,295 base price.

  • Limited to 8 participants. Small Group. Personal Attention.
  • Beginners and more experienced photographers welcome.
  • Trailing spouse and cooking class options.
  • Registration is now open!

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This is our Fifth Day of the Dead Expedition in Oaxaca, Mexico.  More than a tour, this is a hands-on photography workshop for learning and improving technique while you experience Oaxaca’s famed Day of the Dead rituals.  By the end of the week, you will better use your digital SLR camera for visual storytelling and cultural discovery.

Your workshop leader is Frank Hunter, whose photographs are published in the New York Times, and are part of museum collections worldwide. For over ten years, Frank taught at the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies in Durham, North Carolina.  He now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and is represented by Thomas Deans Fine Arts gallery in Atlanta, Georgia.

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This cultural immersion workshop tour offers you a deeper appreciation for the food, religious symbols, rituals, family celebrations both in the city and in the rural Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle.  We take you into cemeteries, local homes, markets and cultural sites.

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During our week together, we will review each other’s work, give feedback, and offer supportive critiques.  The workshop includes a mix of class instruction and being out on the streets to capture the action.   We offer structured group discussion and opportunities for daily coaching sessions with Frank.

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Technical topics covered include using Lightroom photo editing software, natural light, exposure, manual camera settings, and night photography. Frank says he uses just enough technique to help you express a visual idea. 

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We emphasize documentary-style photography, an organic, spontaneous form of understanding the culture and people you are photographing.

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About Frank Hunter

Frank grew up in the American southwest and spent his early years photographing people and landscapes of Mexico.  He has taught at the university level for more than 20 years.  Frank is a virtuoso photographer, as adept at digital photography as he is with creating 19th century style platinum/palladium prints.  

Don’t be intimated! Frank also taught fundamentals of photography at Duke University. You can read more about him here:

And, if you want more, just Google Frank Hunter.  You will get pages of citations!

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Preliminary Itinerary (subject to change) and Optional Add-Ons

Day of the Dead Workshop Expedition 2014

Day 1, Monday, October 27:  Arrive and check-in to our colonial-style hotel near the Zocalo and main walking street of Macedonio Alcala.  Dinner on your own.  Overnight Oaxaca.

Day 2: Tuesday, October 28:  After breakfast, welcome and learning session on camera settings and exposure, we will go on a city orientation walk, visit markets, gilded in gold Santo Domingo Church, and enjoy a welcome lunch at one of Oaxaca’s slow-food restaurants.   After  a gala welcome lunch we will meet for a Lightroom tutorial to review the workflow that will get your images edited and moved to Dropbox.  Overnight Oaxaca.  (B, L) Dinner on your own.

Day 3, Wednesday, October 29: After breakfast and workshop session, we will tour Monte Alban archeological site and the pottery village of Santa Maria Atzompa. After lunch, you will have the afternoon to roam and capture Oaxaca street parades, and market vendors selling wild marigold, special breads, candies, and other Day of the Dead ritual necessities. We’ll meet in early evening to review our best of day work. Overnight Oaxaca.  (B, L).   Dinner on your own.

Day 4, Thursday, October 30:  After breakfast and learning, session you will have the day on your own.   Today the streets are abuzz with Day of the Dead revelers.  Shops and galleries have extraordinary altars on display.  The sand paintings in the Zocalo and Plaza de la Danza are not to be missed.  Optional afternoon technical coaching session with Frank. We meet again in early evening before dinner to review best of day work. (B) Lunch and dinner on your own.

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Day 5, Friday, October 31:  After breakfast and a learning session on night photography, you will have the rest of the morning and early afternoon on your own.  At 2:30 p.m. we depart for the famed Xoxocotlan cemetery for an extraordinary Day of the Dead extravaganza, with a stop first to visit an extraordinary, off-the-beaten-path Arrazola wood carver. Frank is with us every step of the way for coaching and technical support. This could be a late night, so be prepared!  We will stay until at least 10 p.m., maybe later! Overnight Oaxaca. (B) Lunch and dinner on your own.)

Day 6, Saturday, November 1:  After a late breakfast and a debriefing session to review your experiences at Xoxo, you will have the afternoon on your own.  We depart later for the Zapotec weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle.  Overnight Teotitlan del Valle.  Includes breakfast, dinner.  (B, D)

Day 6, Sunday, November 2:  After breakfast and learning session you will share your best photos from the Xoxo cemeteries.  Then, we will pair you with another workshop participant to share a traditional meal with a local host family and go with them to the village cemetery.   This is an amazing cultural immersion experience to learn more about indigenous customs and traditions.  We’ll see you back at our B&B after nightfall.  Overnight Teotitlan del Valle.  Includes breakfast, lunch and dinner. (B, L, D)

Day 7, Monday,  November 3:  After breakfast we will share experiences and photos of the day before in our last learning session. You’ll have the rest of the day on your own to meander and prepare your Best of Week photo presentation.  We get together with a celebratory fiesta with invitations to our host families to join us.  Overnight Teotitlan del Valle.   Includes breakfast and dinner. (B,D)

Day 8, Tuesday, November 4:  After breakfast, depart for your home countries. (B)

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What You Should Bring

  1.  Digital SLR camera with lens(es) — wide angle, zoom, and/or fixed focal point 50mm
  2. Tripod for night photography
  3.  Laptop computer
  4.  Lightroom software installed for organizing and presenting images (Note: If you are an experienced Photoshop user, you are welcome to use this software for photo editing)
  5. External hard drive
  6. External card reader
  7. Batteries (2) and battery charger
  8. Memory cards (at least 2) and data sticks
  9. Pen and notepad
  10. Sturdy, comfortable walking shoes, sun protection, sun hat

(Before the workshop starts, we will send you a complete packet and information guide with suggested packing list, and other useful information.)

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Cost:  The base cost for the Expedition is $2,295. USD. This includes:

  • All instruction and coaching
  • 8 nights lodging, shared room with shared bath
  • 8 breakfasts
  • 3 lunches as specified in the itinerary
  • 3 dinners as specified in the itinerary
  • Transportation to villages and archeological sites included in the itinerary
  • Entry fees to museums and sites specified in itinerary
  • Gift to local Teotitlan del Valle host family
  • Comprehensive pre-trip planning packet (via email)

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Not Included:

The expedition does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips/gratuities, travel insurance, liquor/alcoholic beverages, breakfasts and other meals not specified in the itinerary, and optional transportation.

Please indicate your preference.

[  ]  Option 1–Base Cost: Double room with shared bath; $2,295. Deposit to reserve: $1,150.

[  ] Option 2: Shared room with private bath; $2,495. Deposit to reserve: $1,250.

[  ] Option 3:  Single Supplement, private room with private bath;  $2,695.  Deposit to reserve: $1,350.

[  ] Option 4:  Trailing partner/spouse.  Bring them along. Even when they don’t participate in the workshop, they can enjoy all the group activities we have planned.  $1,795

[  ] Option 4:  Add-on Tuesday, November 4 Traditional Zapotec Cooking Class.  Learn how to prepare Oaxaca’s famed mole sauce.  $125, includes one night lodging on November 4, breakfast, lunch, dinner, all recipes.

[  ] Option 5:  Add-on nights in Oaxaca, City at $145 per night per person.

[  ]  Option 6:  Add-on nights in Teotitlan del Valle at $55 per night per person.

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About Our Accommodations

In Oaxaca City, we will stay in a lovely, highly rated intimate colonial-style hotel close to the Zocalo and all the major activities of the season.  In Teotitlan del Valle, we stay in a family owned and operated guest house/posada where the meals are home-cooked and delicious.

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Reservations and Cancellations

A 50% deposit will reserve your space.   The final payment for the balance due (including any supplemental costs) shall be made on or before August 1, 2014.  We accept PayPal for payment only.  We will send you an invoice for your deposit to reserve when you tell us you are ready to register with your lodging and option preferences.

Please understand that we make lodging and transportation arrangements months in advance of the program.  Deposits or payments in full are often required by our hosts.  If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email.   After August 1, no refunds are possible; however, we will make every effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute.  If you cancel on or before August 1, we will refund 50% of your deposit.  We strongly recommend that you take out trip cancellation, baggage, emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip, since unforeseen circumstances are possible.

To register, email us at oaxacaculture@me.com or  normahawthorne@mac.com.  We accept payment with PayPal only. Thank you.

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This workshop is produced by Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  We reserve the right to alter the itinerary and substitute instructors without notice.

Don’t let this workshop pass you by!

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Special thanks to 2013 workshop participants Barbara Szombatfalvy, Donna Howard, Steve Dank, Luvia Lazo, Starr Sariego, Ron Thompson, Kate Kingston, and instructor Frank Hunter for contributing photographs posted here.

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Color Intensity of Natural Dyes from Oaxaca Sources

Today I changed the banner of the blog to give you a picture of the range of intense colors we got from the natural dye workshop we just completed with Eric Chavez Santiago.  Eric is one of Mexico’s most knowledgeable dye masters and his techniques include how to extract the color without wasting it.

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We started with three colors only — cochineal, indigo and fustic — red, blue and yellow.  By over-dyeing and using various shades of natural wool, plus the chemistry of using an acid or a base with the color, we were able to get the amazing, rich colors that you see in the banner photo. They are all colorfast.

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I will be writing more about this in the next few days and publishing more photos.  But in the meantime, I wanted you to see what our group accomplished during this three-day workshop.

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The next natural dye workshop is in March 2014. Let me know if you want to participate.

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Social Justice and Migrant Stories: I Have a Name

I Have a Name has a website.  Writer Robert Adler and photographer Tom Feher have embarked on a project to document and personalize the stories of people who seek a better life in the United States.

ed107cf648aa759d21b5d52c8b6240b1These are the invisible, the undocumented, the nameless, the ones who hide in the shadows, are fearful of discovery.  Some don’t make it across the border alive.  Others are brutalized and raped.  Most are afraid to tell their story.

They are statistics that distance us from their humanity and ours.  And hinder the United States from passing immigration reform legislation.

Robert and Tom’s project, with the help of  COMI, El Centro de Orientación de Migrantes de Oaxaca, connects us visually through the power of photography and personal narrative to come face-to-face with those who have made or attempted the journey.

More funding is needed to complete the project.  If you are part of or know about an organization that can help, or would like to host or help arrange an exhibition in your city, please contact Tom Feher. Gracias.

Christmas in Oaxaca: Three Wise Men and Rosca de Reyes

It feels like springtime here in Oaxaca, although we are still celebrating Christmas.  Yesterday was downright warm, with temperatures rising to the low 80′s, though nights can be a chilly 45 or 50 degrees.  Christmas here is an elaborate and lengthy celebration, starting on December 12 to celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe and officially ending with Dia de la Candelaria on February 2.   The Three Magi, or Wise Men, arrive on January 6, for Day of the Three Kings or Dia de los Tres Reyes.

Celebrated and tasty Rosca de Reyes

Celebrated and tasty Rosca de Reyes

You have probably figured out that food motivates me almost as much as textiles.  So, this morning I was off again to the wondrous, expansive Sunday tianguis — portable street market — in Tlacolula de Matamoros, ten minutes from where I live.  I wanted to see what was in store for food preparations.

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Front and center is Rosca de Reyes, a round or oval fruit-studded sweet bread, a traditional delight.  Most Oaxaca celebrations are home and family centric, with a children’s gift exchange and a spin the top gambling game with whole nuts.  When you go visiting, it is customary to bring a small gift for children and one of these bread loaves.

Tucked inside the loaves are one or several little plastic dolls that symbolize the baby Jesus.  Whomever gets one of these dolls embedded in their slice of Rosca is obliged to host a tamale party on Candlemas.  Corn and tamales, symbols of sustenance, are interwoven into this and other Mexican celebrations.

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Today in the Tlacolula market the bread section was piled high with pan de yema, a sweet egg bread, shaped in the round.   The vendors were doing a brisk business. This year, bakers added decoration of sliced, canned peaches to accompany the candied dates, prunes, pineapple bits and cherries.

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Live poultry, like guajolotes and chickens, are a big item, too.  Add to that roses ($1 USD a dozen), huge papaya (10 cents each), mangoes, melon, strawberries, watermelon, avocado (5 cents each USD), and any number of types of other fresh fruits and vegetables at everyday bargain prices. For those who forget to bring their shopping baskets or buy more than they planned, there are specialty vendors who sell these, too.

ThreeKingsDay-15 ThreeKingsDay-12            I like to arrive at the market by 10 a.m. to take a leisurely stroll through the streets.  Before noon, there are not a lot of people and there is no line at the bank ATM located on church side street.  Later, it’s packed and it’s like bumper cars with people.

Chicken meatballs in spicy broth at Comedor Mary

Chicken meatballs in spicy broth at Comedor Mary

Lunch is a special treat at Comedor Mary, located on the opposite side of the church on the street that borders the permanent market. Today’s special was albondigas con pollo — a picante broth with fresh ground and spiced chicken meatballs.  Amazingly delicious.

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This is the season to come to Oaxaca and stay a while.  It is a feast for all your senses.  And it is senseless to stay wrapped up in frigid northern weather if you don’t have to!  Feliz Año Nuevo.

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