Category Archives: Workshops and Retreats

Making Mexico Color Photos into B&W: Chapel Hill Camera Club

Last night the Chapel Hill (North Carolina) Camera Club held a free workshop using Silver Efex  Pro2 taught by Mark Lipton. It was fun to select a few of my color photos and work with the (free) Google program that then becomes an editing option in Lightroom.

smile

I want to share these with you.

Ocotlan Market Woman, 2013

Ocotlan Market Woman, 2013

Mark first recommended that we watch the video Seeing in Black and White by Eileen Rafferty. It’s almost two hours long, but well worth it to understand that color can be a huge distraction from seeing the texture, composition and artistic quality of a photograph.

Tlacolula market scene. 2015. Color.

White sombrero. Tlacolula market scene.

Color evokes emotion. Our eye goes directly to the intense red, blue, orange or green and fools us into thinking that a photograph may be better than it really is.

White sombrero. Tlacolula market, post-processing with Silver Efex

White sombrero. Tlacolula market, post-processing with Silver Efex

Mark says that with B&W photography we can see the layout, the diagonals, the triangles, the textures. But, there are times when color has much more of an impact than black and white, is more effective. It’s up to us to decide!

Bird cage, Cuetzalan del Progreso, Puebla

Bird cage, Cuetzalan del Progreso, Puebla

The questions to ask are: Can a black and white photo serve me more artistically? Can an unremarkable color photo have greater impact as a B&W image? Does this image need/want a sense of history or timelessness — enough to choose B&W over color? Does it offer an aspect of artistic abstraction in shape and structure?

Bird cage. Cuetzalan del Progreso, Puebla. Silver Efex post-processing

Bird cage. Cuetzalan del Progreso, Puebla. Silver Efex post-processing

Color is information. The stronger the color image, the more the brain loses the detail of texture and shadow.

Lila Downs in concert, Oaxaca, Mexico

Lila Downs in concert, Oaxaca, Mexico

In using B&W and to convert from color to B&W, we have to begin to think in hues and tones. Is there enough tonal differentiation in the photograph or will greens, reds, blues just blend into the same shade of grey when it’s converted?  Is there enough contrast? Which filters do I want to use? What b&w film and speed do I want to simulate?

Lila Downs in concert, Oaxaca, Mexico. Post-processing with Silver Efex

Lila Downs in concert, Oaxaca, Mexico. Post-processing with Silver Efex

Photographers must be aware of light, dark, shadow. There is no saturation in B&W photography. There is glow. Using the sliders in Silver Efex can enhance the glow, says Mark, but we must be aware of keeping a photo natural.

Compare these photos I’ve worked with today and let me know which you prefer — the color or B&W version? Why?

I’m just learning Silver Efex so experimenting with the post-processing software is more about getting a feel for what it can do.

 

A Day in Xochistlan de Vicente Suarez, Puebla with Merry Foss and Friends

Xochitl is the Nahuatl word for flower and Tlan de Totonaco is the literal meaning for beautiful place. Xochistlan is the beautiful place between the flowers. (You can tell if a word has a Nahuatl origin if it ends in tl.)

Ducks parade across the embroidered bodice of this blouse made by Radegundis

Ducks parade across the embroidered bodice of this blouse made by Radegundis

Here in the Sierra Norte of Puebla state, a lush landscape of rugged mountains, tall grasses, bamboo, canna lilies, orchids, bromeliad varieties, fruit trees and daisies cling to stony hillsides. Waterfalls flow like abundant rivers. The region is a puzzle of caves. Humidity seeps into everything.

Xochistlan is nestled at the base of a steep valley in the Sierra Norte, Puebla State

Xochistlan is nestled at the base of a steep valley in the Sierra Norte, Puebla State

We spent the day with Merry Elizabeth Foss who took us to Xochistlan, the village she stumbled upon seven years ago in search of artisan women who work in fine beading.

The corn crib. The chicken got away before the shot.

The corn crib. The chicken got away before the shot.

When she met the women of Xochistlan, she knew this was the place for her. She started a cooperative, created patterns to fit American women (yes, we are mostly taller and broader), and invested in relationships that have provided friendship and mutual support.

Radegundis with me and Merry. Yes, I bought this blouse!

Radegundis with me and Merry. Yes, I bought this blouse!

It’s not surprising that the embroidered and beaded images here mimic the landscape, filled with birds, barnyard animals, flowers of every variety, trailing vines, in subdued and rainbow colors.

Bedroom and sewing room combo. Nothing more needed!

Bedroom and sewing room combo. Nothing more needed!

Xochistlan is not easy to get to. It’s about an hour outside of Cuetzalan del Progreso, Puebla. First you take the winding mountain road along the spine, looking down and beyond at villages tucked into the valleys below.

A 30 year old blouse with exquisite embroidery, still fine after all these years.

A 30 year old blouse with exquisite embroidery, still fine after all these years.

Then, you divert and start descending on a road that was likely once a switch back donkey trail. You have to know where you are going! Turn right, continue straight, now turn left, straight again, Merry instructs the taxi driver.

Ducks, chickens and cat wander underfoot, peck at the corncrib.

Ducks, chickens and cat wander underfoot, peck at the corncrib.

We pull into the driveway of a humble home, filled with family, love, joy and beautiful beaded blouses. Radegundis Casilda Teresa greets us with a huge smile, warm hugs and invitation to come in for atole enriched with Mexican chocolate and milk.

Making it last! Sipping atole with a spoon.

Making it last! Sipping atole with a spoon.

She runs out with a bag of whole kernels, telling us to take a seat, she’s going to the molina (mill) to grind the corn.

Hot, delicious atole with chocolate, a favorite drink.

Hot, delicious atole with chocolate, a favorite drink, made in clay over a wood fire.

We meet her husband and grandchildren, sit down by the cooking fire to sip the delicious hot drink, sing and play games, watch the ducks and chickens peck at dried corn.

Playing a singing game with the grandchildren!

Playing a singing game with the grandchildren!

After lunch at Comedor Betty where we had perhaps the best chicken mole in the state of Puebla (Betty won a prize last year), we stopped to visit Martha and her family.

Sewing the beaded panels to the blouse fabric.

Sewing the beaded panels to the blouse fabric.

They sew the beaded panels to the cotton cloth that makes up the entire blouse. Martha, her husband and daughter are master tailors who are very particular about their finish work.

Martha shows us a fine finished blouse, ready for the expoventa the next day.

Martha shows us a fine finished blouse, ready for the expoventa the next day.

Merry also helped the cooperative open a retail shop to sell beads and fabric to other artisans in the village, and created a plan to help market the blouses in the USA.  Merry honors and recognizes the work of each woman by asking her to embroider her name on the inside of each blouse. Personalized. Meaningful.

Poster in Betty's comedor recognizing her cooking talents.

Poster in Doña Betty’s comedor recognizing her cooking talents.

Merry wholesales these finely beaded blouses, known as the China Poblana style, to upscale shops in the United States whose customers appreciate fine Mexican textiles.

Barbara and Rade with finely embroidered V-neck blouse.

Barbara and Rade with finely embroidered V-neck blouse.

Radegundis and Merry Foss, dear friends

Radegundis and Merry Foss, dear friends.

The Altar Room. Most rural homes in Mexico have one.

The Altar Room. Most rural homes in Mexico have one.

I’ve discovered that sometimes the most wonderful experiences are those when you can meet talented people where they live and work. In Mexico, there is extraordinary talent hidden in often isolated, rural villages.

La Abuela Radegundis. Grandmother love.

La Abuela Radegundis. Grandmother love.

One has to be willing to be open, explore and appreciate people for who they are, what they do, and how they live. I’m grateful to Merry for introducing us to her friends and for helping bring their talent to the world.

Brightly colored beaded bodice in Radegundis' sewing room.

Brightly colored beaded bodice in Radegundis’ sewing room.

The tradition of beadwork came to Mexico from Europe with the Spanish conquest. Most were trade beads from Venice and Africa, used for ballast on the Spanish galleons that landed in the port of Veracruz. The beads were traded for food and raw materials. Women learned to embellish their garments and the these fantastic blouses were born!

A bodice strip of black and white daisies before the dressmaking begins.

A bodice strip of black and white daisies before the dressmaking begins.

 

Mazahua Textile Artisan Added to Tenancingo Rebozo Study Tour

We are adding a nice detail to the already textile extensive — and intensive — Mexico Textiles and Folk Art Study Tour: Tenancingo Rebozos and More!

Mazahua embroidered bodice with fine detail of animal figures

Mazahua embroidered bodice with fine detail of animal figures

We have invited two indigenous Mexican artisans, one is Nahuatl who lives on the volcano side of Orizaba and the other is Mazahua from Estado de Mexico (State of Mexico) to come to our hotel for a needlework demonstration and sale.  Their work is among the finest of this type in the region.

Fine cross-stitch needlework, called punto de cruz, examples of Mazahua work

Fine cross-stitch needlework, called punto de cruz, examples of Mazahua work

Cross-stitch embroidery embellishes small handbags

Cross-stitch embroidery embellishes small cotton handbags, called bolsas

The study tour meets in Mexico City on February 2. We travel for a week together and return to Mexico City on February 10. Departure day is February 11.

4 spaces open! Will one be yours?

No Plan to Live in Mexico: How I Got Here

The best plan might be NOT to have a plan.

I spent my working life doing goals and objectives, setting annual plans and then evaluating whether I met those targets. They became part of my annual performance review. Yet, the serendipity of how my personal life progressed was never a conscious decision. Sometimes I felt bad about that. I should have had more direction.

But I couldn’t have planned it better. How I came to live in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, was pure accident.

Many I meet ask, How did you get here? Here’s a condensed answer.

Church of the Precious Blood, Teotitlan del Valle, built on top of Zapotec Temple, archeological ruins

Church of the Precious Blood, Teotitlan del Valle, built atop Zapotec temple ruins

My friend, Annie Burns, moved to Teotitlan from Pittsboro, North Carolina, in the early 2000’s.  She would return to visit with wonderful textiles to show and sell. At the time, there were probably three or four gueros living here. She kept inviting me to visit. Finally, I did, in 2005 with the wasband.

Teotitecas, parade of the canastas

Teotitecas, Parade of the Canastas each year in July

Annie introduced us to Josefina Ruiz Vazquez and her mother-in-law Magdalena. They had both lost husbands to illness that same year, son and father. Josefina and Magda are great cooks. Josefina, mother of three youngsters, was left with no means of support. Annie thought, maybe they could start a B&B. We were the first experiment in hospitality for gringos.

That’s how Las Granadas B& B in Teotitlan del Valle got started. Today, it is a shadow of its former self. Another friend, Roberta Christie, stepped in to make a huge difference by creating the infrastructure to make it happen. But I digress.

Rooftop View of Teotitlan del Valle from Las Granadas

Rooftop View of Teotitlan del Valle from Las Granadas

Years ago in San Francisco, I was a beginning weaver and experimented in natural dyes. My love of textiles informed my adulthood and as I traveled, I collected. During that first visit to Teotitlan del Valle, I thought I had landed in heaven. Teotitlan was filled with talented weavers and stunning textiles.

Federico Chavez Sosa at his loom in Teotitlan del Valle

Federico Chavez Sosa at his loom in Teotitlan del Valle

I was on a quest to find a family that worked only in natural dyes. I did research in advance and knew that while it was not widespread, there were a few working with plant dyes and cochineal. I set out to find them. It wasn’t easy. And, of course, I loved all those bright aniline dye colors, too.

Yet, it was a time when we were talking more about sustainability and consuming what was healthy, organic. Making a commitment to buying an organic textile was important to me and I didn’t want to compromise.

Dye demonstration with cochineal bug, acid and base

Dye demonstration with cochineal bug, acid and base

For the first few days in Teotitlan del Valle, I walked around meeting and talking with weavers in their workshops to learn more. There were many beautiful textiles and I was smitten. But I restrained myself from buying.

Everyone could give me a natural dye demonstration, crushing the cochineal bug in my palm, squeezing lime juice, adding baking soda. I watched the color change from orange to red to pink to purple, depending on proportions and chemistry. I wasn’t certain who was actually using the process to dye the wool.

Eric Chavez Santiago giving dyeing wool with wild marigold

Eric Chavez Santiago dyeing wool with wild marigold

Then, the only Internet connection in town was at the pharmacy across from the church. One day, as we left, we decided to make a right turn instead of our usual left to wander through the rug market.

I hear a voice say in perfect English, “Do you want to see my rugs?” Looking down to manage my steps on the cobblestones, I waved my hand and shook my head, no. The English was too perfect. Too slick, I thought. Then I looked up, saw these magnificent rugs and stepped into the space.

Chavez Family Weavers, portrait by Norma Schafer, 2012

Chavez Family Weavers, portrait by Norma Schafer, 2012

That’s when I met Eric Chavez Santiago and his sister, Janet. Both were university students, selling rugs in the market during Christmas vacation. Janet was huddled in the corner with a book on her lap, studying. I went to their family home and studio to see the complete collection, meet dad Federico Chavez Sosa and mom, Dolores Santiago Arrellenas.

Being a Teotiteco Danzante for Dance of the Feather requires incredible concentration

Being a Teotiteco Danzante for Dance of the Feather requires incredible concentration

I saw the actual wool dyeing and weaving process. Eric explained how difficult the economy was. The market demand had softened since the 90’s when Santa Fe Style sent thousands of Zapotec rugs out of Oaxaca to the American southwest.

Of course, I bought rugs. Eric later told me, many came to visit them, said they would help and were never heard from.

Caracol rug design, communication symbol

Caracol rug design, communication symbol by color master Federico

Then, I went home to North Carolina, gave thought to how I might help this family. I wrote an arts education grant with the Carrboro Arts Center to the NC Arts Council. We got funding to bring Eric and Federico to North Carolina for workshops, expoventas (show and sale) and give a master class at NC State University College of Textiles. I helped get 10 year visas with assist from Congressman David Price‘s staff.

It was never the plan to live here. The idea was to visit once a year … maybe. Living in Oaxaca City was not considered. I fell in love with Teotitlan del Valle, her people and textiles.

The casita where I live in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

The casita where I live in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

The next year, Federico and Dolores invited us to build a casita on their land. It was a surprise and a gift. Because no foreigners (even people born in other pueblos) can own property in Teotitlan del Valle, we knew that this would be a vacation home that would always be owned by the family. This relationship is based on trust, respect and good will.

Because of this unique arrangement, this is not for everyone. Many immigrants who live in Teotitlan and other usos y costumbres pueblos rent.

But plans have a way of changing and nothing is for certain. The wasband and I had our differences. Our divorce was final in 2014. For now, this is where I live and this is how I got here. I never planned it this way.

Cane bobbins wrapped with red wool dyed cochineal

Cane bobbins wrapped with red wool dyed cochineal

Eric, who thought he might work in a bank after graduation, went on to become the founding director of education at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, with our coaching help and his innate intelligence. This year, Eric is starting a new entrepreneurial venture at the Alfredo Harp Helu Foundation. Janet is a linguist educator at the Biblioteca Juan de Cordova. Youngest brother, Omar, will finish university in December and wants to take the family business to the next level. Federico and Dolores run Galeria Fe y Lola in Oaxaca City and continue to weave.

Goals? I have no idea what’s next.

Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat, March 2017

Natural dyes have strong color, as strong as synthetic dyes

With a great dye master, natural dyes have strong color, as strong as commercial dyes

Will you share your story? If you live in Mexico, how did you get here?

 

 

 

Everyday Life in the Campo, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

Those of us who live here in Mexico probably do much the same things that you do every day. Food shop, clean house, exercise, visit friends, read, write, take naps, volunteer, etc. Most of the immigrants I know are retired and live here either part or full-time. We’re from Canada and the U.S.A. for the most part, but Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans are among us, too.

Oaxaca Red casita color. With Gar Bii Dauu. Local endangered succulent.

Oaxaca Red casita color. With Gar Bii Dauu. Local endangered succulent.

Living in Teotitlan del Valle is different from being a city dweller. This village of indigenous Zapotec people holds to a strong, powerful and ancient culture. Many work at weaving wool rugs. Some are musicians. Others are shopkeepers or run comedors. Some are bakers and butchers. A few sew clothing. Many are farmers. In times when there are fewer tourists, many weavers supplement their income by growing and harvesting food.

Plowing my neighbors corn field, a five-hour project

Plowing my neighbor’s corn field, five plus hours of labor

I live in the campo. Out beyond the hubbub of town, amid the traditional milpas of corn, beans and squash. I’m surrounded on three sides by maize fields. Some are tasseling now. Here, the tradition is to plow the furrows when the corn is waist-high to break the crust and allow rain to penetrate earth. This is living close to the soil. Organic. Honorable.

It’s rainy season. Green stretches for miles. Today I awakened to whistling. Out my window was a young man driving a team of bulls plowing the field next to the casita I live in.

Rene's Volkswagen van. Can you guess it's vintage?

Rene’s Volkswagen van. Can you guess it’s vintage?

I grew up in Los Angeles. Miles of freeways. Concrete. Tiny lots separated by six-foot block walls. School yards paved with asphalt. I remember scraped knees and elbows. The hum of car engines passing. We were all jammed together, a jam of humanity. Even more now. Gridlock. I think I’ve become a country girl.

The crop was planted in July. There wasn’t much rain in June and farmers worried about another year of drought. In my absence over the last five weeks, seems that weather has played catch up and everything is growing.

Two teams of bulls on two days, one white, the other black. Take a rest.

Two teams of bulls on two days, one white, the other black. Take a rest.

The young man plowing the field rents out his services. His two bulls are tethered with a hand-hewn yoke that supports a wood plow. He guides the curved stick deep into the earth with one hand to keep the furrow straight. In the other, he holds a switch that gently prods the animals to keep on the straight and narrow. Farm machinery cannot do this job well enough.

A perfect day for plowing the fields.

A perfect day for plowing the fields. From my living room window.

This is his second day at it. Both days, he started at eight in the morning, ended around two o-clock in the afternoon, just before lunch. People work hard here. Five plus hours plowing the field with no break in the heat of the day. The monotony of walking back and forth. The patience of walking back and forth.

Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat, March 2017

My friend, plumber and handy-man extraordinaire René asks me if I know what the greca (Greek key) symbol means that is woven on village rugs.  It’s the step-fret carved into the Mitla temple walls, I answer.

Grecas, Mitla archeological site

Grecas, Mitla archeological site, post-classical Monte Alban

Yes, and more, he says. The ancient Zapotecs believe the two interlocking hands that form the pre-Hispanic greca represent the serpent deity duality and the life-giving connection between earth and sky, water and fire.  

The transformation. Beige to red. Another symbol.

Rene executing the transformation. Beige to red. Symbol of change.

We are eating lunch and the thunder is rolling in. The sky darkens. Earth gives off the aroma of on-coming rain.  The just plowed field next door will soon drink its fill. René packs up his painting supplies. Paint does not do well with humidity.

Handwoven indigo rug with greca design

Handwoven indigo rug with greca design, Teotitlan del Valle

The exterior walls of the casita I live in are getting a makeover. The wasband liked beige. I’m in the mood for Oaxaca Red.

From rooftop terrace, a 360 degree view of Tlacolula valley

From rooftop terrace, a 360 degree view of Tlacolula valley