First stop is the small village of San Juan Guelavia for the last day of the Feria del Carrizo. This pueblo, just across the highway from Teotitlan del Valle, is famous for its finely woven baskets made from strips of bamboo. We spent about an hour here before going on to the bigger regional Tlacolula Sunday tianguis.
San Juan Guelavia is a friendly town. If you ask, Podria tomarle su foto?Would you agree to have me take your picture? most people will respond positively. Of course, we always ask first because otherwise how would one get consent to take a portrait with eye contact from the subject when he or she is no more than two feet away?
At the Tlacolula market, when we asked, the response was predominantly NO. Some people wanted a fifty peso propina (tip). Others asked us to buy something and then they would consent.
One group of men said they didn’t want to be taken advantage of, to have their photos used in a magazine, even when we explained that we were amateurs taking a workshop to learn photographic techniques.
What do you think about paying someone to take their photo?
I managed to get some people to agree based on engaging them in conversation, admiring their work, and just trying to figure out who might be receptive. It’s important not to take rejection personally!
After lunch at Comedor Mary, on the edge of the permanent market facing the side of the Tlacolula church, we decided to return to Teotitlan del Valle where we settled in to Drupa’s Cafe. They are so generous here. With excellent WiFi, hot chocolate, pannini sandwiches, coffee and chai latte, we met here with Matt for a learning session on lighting and reviewed each of our ten best photos from Day One, that included feedback for improvement.
These photos here represent my person eleven best of almost two hundred photos I took today. And, finally, below, a husband and wife of many years, separated by their hand-woven baskets, wait for customers in San Juan Guelavia.
Matt Nager came to Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, from Denver, Colorado, to teach a portrait photography workshop through Oaxaca Cultural Navigator two years ago. He left with some stunning images of people, the weaving process, and a sense of place.
Matt’s photographs of Teotitlan appear in The Week, an on-line news source.
I would like to complain about the story’s headline. Some editor probably thought a “hit ’em between the eyes” headline would get the attention of more readers. Even if it isn’t true. The weaving culture of Teotitlan del Valle goes back centuries, even before the conquest, when women were weaving using back-strap looms. With the 1521 conquest, the Spanish introduced the fixed frame pedal loom and taught men to weave in the European tradition. They say there are 2,000 looms in the village of 6,000 people. That means there is plenty of competition, which also drives quality and price. I’d say the competition is robust, not the other word the headline uses!
If you are interested in taking Oaxaca portrait photography workshop with Matt in late 2014 or 2015, please contact me.
A photo that I took during Matt’s portrait photography workshop was selected for publication in the Minerva Rising Literary Journal issue on Mothers. My photography skills improved immensely as a result of trailing Matt during the weeklong workshop.
Bill has organized the experience so that participants can identify a theme on which to concentrate. You can choose to focus on food, religious icons, housing, cemeteries, local artisans, family life, music, farming and agriculture, or whatever suits you. By the end of the workshop, we will have collectively created a range of personal portfolios that reflect the diversity of life in the region.
Our daily workshop sessions will be a mix of presentations and technical demonstrations. We will look at the examples of select regional photographers or those whose documentary style will help us expand our vision. You have the option to bring a sample portfolio to share at the start of the workshop and show what you’ve captured throughout the week. The program will culminate with a final celebration and group show.
We expect that photographic experience will vary widely from participant to participant and we welcome all levels — from beginners to more experienced — who want to come with us on this remarkable learning adventure.
You can choose however deeply you would like to participate in the workshop. If your principal goal is to have fun and enjoy the journey, we will work with each of you according to your interests and needs.
Saturday, October 29 — Gather and check in at our Oaxaca city hotel.
Sunday, October 30 — After breakfast and a brief orientation, we’ll explore the city. Later that afternoon, we will gather to talk about your photography experience and present the portfolio you brought with you to share. Presentation: Bill Bamberger will share photographs from Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory and Boys Will Be Men. He will talk about photographing in communities away from home.
Q and A: A brief question and answer period about technical concerns and or logistical questions about photographing in Oaxaca.
Monday, October 31 — morning discussion and photography review. Presentation:Revealing Mexico, Photographs by John Mack (Powerhouse Books, 2010) Gertrud Blom: Bearing Witness (UNC Press, 1985) Discussion: Photographing at the Day of the Dead: approach and technical considerations. At 2:30 p.m. we will meet at our hotel to travel together to the famed Xoxocotlan cemetery for an afternoon and night-time shoot.
Tuesday, November 1 — After a leisurely morning, travel by van to Teotitlan del Valle and check-in to bed and breakfast. After lunch, visit Federico Chavez Santiago Family Weavers. Rest of the day on your own to wander and shoot before dinner.
Wednesday, November 2 — After breakfast Discussion: Talk through project ideas for photographing in Teotitlan. Discuss issues related to working with hosts and photographing in the homes of local families. Brief discussion about using natural light and/or flash. Q and A: Question and answer session about photographing in the community and at the Teotitlan cemetery with host families.
Thursday, November 3 — After breakfast, Discussion: Experiences photographing in Teotitlan. Presentation: As a group, edit and sequence the work of one or two participants. Brief demonstration using Adobe Lightroom and/or Photoshop to edit images. Assignment: Prepare a final portfolio of about 10-20 images to share with the class at the evening session. Bill will be available during the day for optional individual meetings to help edit your work. 7 pm. Evening Presentations: Final projects or portfolios shared with class. Discussion about ways we might share our projects with the host families and the larger community of Teotitlan. We may want to invite our host families to a viewing of the final projects (we can discuss and decide this earlier in the week).
*We will organize photographs as jpegs, numbered sequentially, and loaded on a memory stick or external drive. We will project digital images via Bill’s MacBook Pro. Please contact Bill in advance if you would prefer to show images on your laptop.
What you bring to photograph with is a personal choice and, in great part, dependent on your way of working. Some of the most accomplished photographers work with a single lens using the uniformity of the fixed focal length to unify their approach, while others select a variety of lenses allowing them the option of shooting tight to focus on details or loose to capture a wide-angle scene. This equipment checklist is a suggested starting place. What you bring is ultimately up to you. Your budget and your choice about how much gear you will want to carry will also influence your choice of gear. Sometimes less is more.
Suggested photo equipment:
Lenses, bring the lens(es) you with which you are most comfortable working. Some of you will bring a single lens (fixed focal length or zoom) while others will bring a variety of lenses (wide angle and telephoto).
Memory cards, at least two, 2 GB or larger
DSLR batteries (two)
Tripod, for shooting at night
Cable release (allows you to use slow shutter speeds on the tripod)
Laptop or system for downloading and previewing images
Flash drive or portable external hard drive for backing up images
Software loaded on laptop (optional): Adobe Photoshop CS4, Adobe Bridge CS4 (or similar for editing images), Adobe Lightroom for processing RAW files
Extra DSLR camera body (optional, but it is nice to have an extra camera body when traveling).
If you have questions about the optional equipment, please contact Bill or Norma. We will have some personal items, like tripods, available to share and experiment with.
**Let Bill know if you plan to bring a film camera or something other than a DSLR. He tends to travel with my DSLR and a medium format film camera.
Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC has offered programs in Mexico since 2006. We have over 30 years of experience developing and delivering award-winning programs for Indiana University, University of Virginia, George Washington University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Study tours are personally curated and introduce you to Mexico's most stunning artisans. They are off-the-beaten path, internationally recognized, live and work at home where it is safe and secure to travel. Groups are limited to 12 people for the most personal experience.
Workshops are scheduled according to your travel plans. Send us your available dates.
Designers, retailers, wholesalers, universities and other organizations come to us to develop customized itineraries, meetings and conferences. It's our pleasure to make arrangements.