Tag Archives: Chiapas

Antiques in San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Tlacolula, Oaxaca

There is a tall, inconspicuous door on a San Pablo Villa de Mitla side street. Open it and discover a home gallery filled with antique treasures. The inventory is small and includes ancient stone metates, glass vases hand-painted with flowers and edged in gold, reliquaries and ex votos. Señor Epifanio knows his stuff.

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Scott Roth holding an old Mitla hand-woven textile

Upstairs via a narrow, concrete passageway painted in brilliant blue is a gallery filled with blown glass mezcal bottles, remnants of the time when this was how the agave liquor was stored. They are hard to find and very expensive.

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Dolls, old photos, books, chachkeh from Mitla, Oaxaca

Occasionally, there is a jewelry find, like the Mexican silver coin earrings from the early part of the 20th century. I returned a month later to buy them and they were gone. Rule for Shopping in Mexico: buy it when you see it. Usually, these things are one-of-a-kind.

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Hand-blown mezcal and water bottles, most from Oaxaca, 1950’s-1960’s

I’m reluctant to share the address and contact information. Only because I haven’t asked permission to cite the location, plus these things are getting scarce, and with scarcity comes higher prices. As demand rises, prices do, too. So, why am I publishing this?

So you can see the photos, of course.

Faces and Festivals Chiapas Photography Workshop

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Portrait of Scott Roth with old Zapotec textile from Teotitlan del Valle


Photography: Cartier-Bresson Exhibition in Mexico City

The Mexico City exhibition featuring 398 pieces by French photographer-filmmaker Henri Cartier-Bresson closes May 17, 2015 at Palacio Bellas Artes. Please don’t miss it. Considered the founder of photojournalism, this is the first major retrospective since his death in 2004.

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An hour is not long enough to absorb the emotional intensity of Cartier-Bresson’s work. If you love political history, photojournalism, the decades leading up to World War II and the beginning of photography as an important artistic and cultural vehicle for storytelling, you will love this exhibition. I needed more than two hours to do it justice.

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It represents Cartier-Bresson’s interest in painting, drawing, photography and filmmaking. It is an in-depth view of pre and post-World War Europe, of poverty and racism, of what happens on the street among the people. There are also amazing portraits of notables who he was commissioned to photograph.

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Oaxaca Day of the Dead Photography Workshop, October 2015

Chiapas Festivals and Faces Photography Workshop, January 2016

For example, the exhibit features photographs taken during the coronation of King George II of England. But Cartier-Bresson concentrates on the expressions of people in the crowd and not the regal procession. Some are using raised mirrors to watch the parade, and to do so, they must turn their backs to the King.


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Cartier-Bresson uses this as a metaphor for how the people must turn away from monarchy and embrace a republican government.

Program Notes: Impressions of Africa. “He took little interest in local customs or ritual feasts, as he did not want to get drawn into “Exoticism” or what he called “detestable local colour.”  In a style very much influenced by the European New Vision (high angle shots, geometrical compositions, repeating motifs) he tended to photograph subjects like children playing in the street, dockers at work or the effort of rowers in a boat: in other words, the rhythm of African life.

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Aligned with the intellectuals and artists of the time, he was a powerful voice in support of Communism, active in the Spanish Civil War and the French Resistance.

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As a contemporary of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Cartier-Bresson came to Mexico to photograph, and many of the images shown capture the poor and disenfranchised, including children and prostitutes.

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As I moved through the exhibition, I learned more about photography by seeing this work. Cartier-Bresson shunned fiestas and processions, the formalities of organized life. He concentrated on what was messy and spontaneous.

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His technique was to find a backdrop with texture and interest that he liked and then wait for people to pass through the space.

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As we walked from Palacio Bellas Artes to see the Diego Rivera mural Dream of a Sunday Afternoon on the Alameda, I stopped to take photos of young men practicing their skateboard moves a la Henri Cartier-Bresson — perhaps — and a man sitting on a steel post mid-sidewalk, waiting, surrounded by passersby who paid no attention.

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The Decisive Moment, an essay by Cartier-Bresson, describes his philosophical approach to photography and is considered a foundation for all photographers.

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Chiapas Festivals and Faces: Photography Workshop

Arrive January 18 and depart January 25, 2016.

To make this workshop tour affordable, we are organizing it to include only instruction, on-the-hoof, coaching, feedback and photo review sessions, bi-lingual tour guide and all transportation. It does not include lodging or meals.

Cost is $1,295 per person. We need 6 people to hold this workshop. Bring a friend and you both get a 10% discount.

There are many wonderful places to stay in San Cristobal — our base. They range from luxurious to budget. We can recommend a few, including La Joya Hotel, Bela’s B&B, Posada del Abuelito and Na Bolom. You can find them on Trip Advisor. 

The historic 16th Century colonial mountain town, San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, is our base for making great photographs. Here in southern Mexico close to the Guatemala border, the Maya people hold on to a strong, proud and ancient past. Many on-going rituals and celebrations combine Spanish Catholicism with pre-conquest indigenous mysticism. Traditional hand-woven and embroidered Maya dress is still daily street wear. Before too long, you, too can name villages that people call home by the traje they wear.


During the week we will take part in village festivals that happen only this time of year, meet indigenous Maya families who are back strap loom weavers and embroiderers, visit historic sites, markets, folk healers and mystics. We offer you an amazing ethnographic travel photography experience that is centered in this compact, magical town where wide avenues are for pedestrians only. Our out-of-town travels take us to San Lorenzo Zinacantan, Chiapa de Corso for the Parachicos Festival and San Juan Chamula.

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We are on location with photographer/instructor Matt Nager to create powerful photographs.  You are welcome to use any camera you are comfortable with: basic point-and-shoot, mirrorless, iPhone or DSLR. Our emphasis is on the photographer-subject relationship and good composition, finding the best subject and knowing how to interact with them, capturing a sense of place with interest and an innovative eye. We also cover some DSLR camera basics, how to use manual settings, and offer optional coaching on photo editing using Lightroom.

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Who should attend?  The workshop is for all levels of photographers including beginners. We strip down often overly complicated conditions to bring the photographer face-to-face with the subject. We practice both impromptu street photography and classic pre-arranged portrait sessions. We will also cover landscape, architecture and general travel photography.

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The Workshop Covers:

  • Using natural light and responding to different lighting situations
  • Moving from automatic to manual settings (for DSLR cameras)
  • Directing your subject through varying body positions
  • Identifying your own photographic style
  • Finding and executing photographs “on the fly”
  • Night photography and using a tripod
  • Capturing a scene or historical site
  • Learning more with one-on-one coaching sessions with Matt

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Each day we will discuss different techniques and review best of day images. There will be plenty of time for discussion, feedback, and sharing.  We will address topics such as: How do you stay inspired?  How and when do you ask permission to take a stranger’s photograph? How do you get people to relax, be natural, and not be afraid of the camera? How do you transform the mundane into an interesting photo?

At the end of our week together, we will select our best photographs of the week and hold a group show followed by a celebratory supper, included in the fee.

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About Your Instructor Matt Nager

Matt Nager is a Denver, Colorado, based portrait and editorial photographer. We invited him back to teach this workshop after rave reviews for teaching the People of Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop.

This is going to be a fantastic workshop and I encourage any level photographer to sign up.  I recently had a class with Matt Nager and he is an excellent teacher and a fun person. You will not get a class this good for twice the price!  –Barbara Szombatfalvy, Durham, NC

His love for nature and the outdoors, as well as his interest in people and culture, is central to his photography. Before starting his own photography business, Matt worked with the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News.

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In addition to photography, Matt also regularly shoots video and recently completed his first documentary titled: Campania In-Felix (Unhappy Country) which looks into the rise of health issues in Southern Italy as a result of illegal waste disposal.

His clients include: DISCOVER Magazine, Fast Company Magazine, Mother Jones Magazine, The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, and the Wall Street Journal.

Matt speaks English and Spanish, and is learning Italian.  His work is at: www.mattnager.com

Equipment:  Please bring your camera, your computer or tablet, a cable to connect your camera to your device to upload and edit your photos, a jump drive, extra batteries, battery charger, memory cards, optional tripod for night photography. If you use a DSLR camera, you may wish to bring a portrait lens (50mm) and a longer zoom lens. We will send a complete list of “what to bring” after you register!

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Preliminary Itinerary (subject to change)

Mon. Jan. 18 – Arrive and check-in to your hotel/hostal. (D on your own)

Tues. Jan. 19 – We will meet in a historic center location. Our workshop starts with a learning session, welcome and orientation. We’ll go on a town walkabout, market stroll, capture photos on the fly, and end with a portrait session with well-known humanitarian folk healer. We will have lunch and dinner together as a group, at your own expense.

Wed. Jan. 20 – Learning session and photo review. Depart for Zinacantan for Dia de San Sebastian. This is the most important celebration for this community, with rituals, ceremonies, a horse race, masses, traditional native dances and processions. We have arranged a private portrait session with Zinacantan family. We will have lunch  together as a group, at your own expense. (Dinner on your own.)

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Thurs. Jan. 21 – Learning session and photo review. Portrait session with women’s weaving cooperative who come from their village wearing traditional Maya dress. We’ll have an exposition of their textiles, too.  We will have lunch and together as a group, at your own expense. (Dinner on your own.)

Fri. Jan. 22 – Learning session and photo review. Today it’s all about food. We go to the local food market to meet and photograph vendors and see all the locally grown food. Then we meet one of San Cristobal’s great chefs for a photo shoot in the restaurant kitchen followed by lunch. We will have lunch together as a group, at your own expense. (Dinner on your own.)

Sat. Jan. 23 – Learning session and photo review. Parachicos of Chiapa de Corzo, The Great Feast celebration that honors the patron saints Our Lord of Esquipulas, Saint Anthony Abbot and Saint Sebastian includes fabulous masked dancers, rattles, parades, a carnival, and opportunity for night photography.  We will have lunch and dinner together as a group, at your own expense.

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Sun. Jan. 24 – On our last day, we will visit the church at San Juan Chamula, then prepare for the last presentation and Best of Week Show. We will have lunch and celebratory group dinner together.  Lunch will be at your own expense. Dinner is included in your workshop fee.

Jan. 25 – Depart

You are welcome to come early and stay later. You might want to go on to Tonina, Palenque, Bonampak or Yaxchilan to explore Maya archeology, or go further and cross the border into Guatemala or Villahermosa, Tabasco. We can recommend archeologist-led tour guides who can help facilitate customized travel plans at your own expense.  We can also recommend where you can enroll in a San Cristobal de Las Casas cooking class that features local indigenous meals.


The workshop includes all instruction and personal coaching, transportation to three villages, cultural guide services and celebratory buffet supper at the end of our Best of Week Show. Plus you receive a comprehensive packet of information about our location, shopping, restaurants, and itinerary sent by email before the workshop begins.

The workshop does not include airfare, lodging, meals, admission to museums and archeological sites, alcoholic beverages, tips, travel insurance, optional transportation and incidentals.

Accommodations: You can check TripAdvisor and BookingDotCom or other online resources for best prices and levels of accommodations. All reservations for lodging will be made and paid for by you directly with the lodging provider.  You are free to choose any accommodation you prefer, from luxury to basic hostel.

Reservations and Cancellations: A 50% deposit will reserve your space. The final payment for the balance due shall be made on or before November 1, 2015. We accept PayPal for payment only. We will send you an invoice for your deposit to reserve when you tell us by email that you are ready to register.

If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email. After November 1, 2015, no refunds are possible. However, we will make every effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute. If you cancel before November 1, 2015, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

About Travel to San Cristobal de Las Casas: The Tuxtla Gutierrez (TGZ) airport is the gateway city, about one-hour from San Cris. You can fly there from Mexico City on Aeromexico or Interjet. From the USA, Delta Airlines has a codeshare with Aeromexico. Both airlines are located in Mexico City Terminal 2. United Airlines flies between Houston and Oaxaca and does not serve TGZ. UA is located in Mexico City Terminal 1. There is taxi and shuttle van service from TGZ airport to San Cris starting at about 700 pesos. You can also take an ADO overnight bus from Oaxaca to San Cristobal. If you book your stay at La Joya Hotel, we will arrange taxi airport pick-up and delivery for you at your own expense.

International Travel Insurance Required. We require that you purchase trip cancellation, baggage loss and at least $50,000 of emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip. We will ask for documentation. We know unforeseen circumstances are possible.

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

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Tonina, Hidden Chiapas Archeology Gem: The Road Less Traveled


Few people make Tonina, the classic Maya archeological site just beyond Ocosingo, Chiapas, a travel destination. Instead, they choose to go between San Cristobal de Las Casas and Palenque directly, bypassing the most vertical site of the ancient Maya world. It’s another three hours by road to reach Palenque, which demands at least one overnight stay. (Do you see us at the top?)

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From San Cris, Tonina can be navigated in about a day-long round-trip, giving you several hours at the site.  We left at seven-thirty in the morning and planned to return to San Cris by seven in the evening, including a one-hour stopover in Oxchuc to stretch and see textiles.

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It’s a long and winding road. We traveled from seven thousand foot mountains studded with pines to lowlands bordering the Lancandon rain forest filled with tropical vegetation, banana palms and adobe huts with thatch roofs.  The mountains fall fast to almost sea-level over this almost three-hour journey, so the road curves sharply. Ginger is a great antidote.

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This is EZLN territory, and Zapatista politics for and by the people prevail here. It is not unusual to come across an occasional roadblock demonstration. This is a common method for anti-government protest in both Chiapas and Oaxaca. There are grievances here. Sometimes for a donation, vehicles may pass. Other times, it’s important to know alternate secondary routes and have a full tank of gas when passage on the main highway isn’t possible.

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At Tonina, we had an on-site Maya guide who participated in site excavations ten years ago. He played here as a child.  Our multi-lingual guide who traveled with us from San Cristobal, anthropologist Mayari (meaning Maya princess), fluidly translated between Spanish, English and Tzeltal, the regional Mayan dialect.


There were at most ten other people at Tonina. From the top of the Pyramid of the Sun there is a spectacular view of the Ocosingo valley. Mayari tells us that Frans and Trudy Blom would fly in a single engine Cessna to Palenque and the Lancandon rainforest in the early 1950’s.  She made that trip, too, with her archeology father as a child.

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After most of us climbed to the top (not me this time, because of my new knee), we enjoyed a picnic lunch back at the site entrance, where a small, excellent museum hold pieces excavated from the site.  When I was in Mexico City recently, a huge exhibition (now closed) on the Maya world at the Palacio Nacional prominently featured treasures from Tonina.

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Then we back-tracked to Oxchuk.

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Oxchuk weavers work on a back strap loom and then embroider the textiles by hand.  If you turn off the main highway and venture onto the town’s main streets, you will find family run shops supplying huipils to the women of the local community.  The quality is first-rate and the price is about half of the cost as in San Cristobal.  Definitely worth a deviation. We were a curiosity since I suspect not many tourists make a stop there.

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By now it was dusk and as we approached the intersection beyond Huixtan to turn onto the highway just about fifteen miles from San Cristobal, there was a roadblock demonstration. We turned around, bought two five liter jugs of gas at a roadside stand, asked a local man and his son to go with us (for a fee), and set off on an alternative back road through the mountains that would take us into San Cristobal.  They carried official local papers authorizing travel across mountain communities.


We arrived back at our hotel only an hour later than we had planned. For reassurance at the outset, I called our hotel to tell them our whereabouts and route while our very competent guide Mayari notified ATC Tours to track us on GPS.  Risk of danger? Little to none.


One of our participants said this was definitely an adventure story worth retelling! It was the last day of our two week Oaxaca and Chiapas art and archeology study tour. What a grand finale, wouldn’t you say?

San Juan Chamula, Chiapas: No Photographs, Please

It’s impossible to take a photograph inside the once-Catholic church of San Juan Chamula.  It is a Sunday haven of pre-Hispanic mysticism, with folk practices that go way back in indigenous history.  Tourists are warned to tread lightly.


My body aches to take a photograph of the family crouched on pine needles in front of a sainted altar surrounded by a pile of eggs, a live chicken, and dozens of burning candles affixed to the tiled floor where the pine needles have been swept aside.

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Taking photos in the church is verboten.  Forbidden.  In years past I have seen village officials who mind the church protocol confiscate the cameras and memory cards of those who sneak a pic.  Impossible to be sneaky here. Sometimes, if a tourist resists, s/he is put in the local jail.

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Our group from Penland School of Crafts is compliant.  We tuck camera’s away into shoulder bags and backpacks. We are not going to tempt the fates or the village fathers.


A woman kneels in prayer singing in an ancient tongue, a melody pitched so that the gods will hear her.  Another keens.  Another weeps.  A shaman makes a blessing with an offering of coca-cola and mezcal.  Burping the fizzy drink is believed to cleanse the soul. Sunlight streams through the high side window and beneath the glow the people are bathed in shadow and light.  The space is illuminated.  Smells like piney forest, smokey candles, the burst of lilies and roses.

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Feet are bare and worn.  Feet are brown and calloused. Women’s furry black sheep wool skirts are tied at the waist with glittery cummerbunds.  Their blouses, silky polyester, are embroidered with intricate diamonds, birds, flowers, zig-zags and snap at the throat. It’s cold at 7,000 feet elevation.


This is sacred space, like being in a cave.  Here the human and divine spirit are one and belief is powerful. I guess no photographs are necessary to remember.


Beyond the church courtyard is a lively market place to buy hand spun and embroidered wool from the town, strange fruit, clothing from surrounding villages, meat, poultry, vegetables tortillas and bread. Amber and jade vendors hawk their wares. Little old ladies whose garments are beyond wearing, peddle purses, bracelets and keychains.

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Today, the plaza is lined with indigenous women and children from outlying hamlets, hundreds of them.  They sit on the edge waiting.  What are you waiting for? I ask one of them. She replies, we wait to receive an every-two-month stipend of 850 pesos. Soon, they form a line and hurry to the back of the government building. Their support is equivalent to $45USD per month.  Of course, she doesn’t want her picture taken.

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We organize arts workshop study tours with an educational focus. Contact us to bring a group!