The small villages in the Tlacolula Valley outside of Oaxaca, Mexico, are rich in culture and tradition. Perhaps nothing is more sacred here than the Day of the Dead celebrations. This ancient pre-Hispanic ritual to honor ancestors is thousands of years old, as are the indigenous Mexican people who observe it.
Offerings on the altar. Favorite foods, beverages.
Out here in the countryside, observances are elemental. They rarely feature glitzy parades, masquerades, endless firecrackers and Ranchera music that now defines the experience of city celebrations. That’s not to say, don’t celebrate Dia de los Muertos in Oaxaca City. It is to say, give yourself the added experience of participating in a more contemplative introduction to Oaxaca village practices beyond the city.
Teotitlan del Valle, Dia de los Muertos
Day of the Dead Study Tour: 5 days, November 1-5, 2017
I’m inviting you to come along with me to personally explore the small towns off the Panamerican Highway, where we will meet local families, join them in meals, pay tribute at their altars, welcome the spirits of the dead (difuntos) back to earth, accompany them to the cemeteries where difuntos return to their resting places. We sit with them at the graveside to ease their return.
Sand paintings, part of the tradition, Muertos
Here, off the beaten path, you will gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the meaning of Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico.
For several years now, I’ve thought about bringing a group together to discuss the cultural rituals of life and death, differences and similarities. How do we integrate and observe death, dying, grief, mourning and the celebration of life in our own traditions?
How do we understand the practices here in Mexico? What can we learn from this mystical and spiritual culture? What are our shared and divergent experiences? On reflection, how will this Day of the Dead study tour alter our own feelings about death and loss?
So, this will be a small group experience of no more than 10 people. We want to have a very low impact in homes and cemeteries where we visit. You are invited to bring your journals, notebooks, cameras, iPhones, sketchpads, or anything else you need to document this personal experience.
Dia de los Muertos Altar, San Pablo Villa de Mitla
I will invite resource experts to accompany us on our journey to help guide the conversation, and give you historical and cultural perspectives.
There will be some pre-workshop readings that I will send to you to prepare for the trip and the conversations we will have along the way.
Itinerary, Day of the Dead Study Tour: Rituals and Traditions
Wednesday, November 1: Visit San Pablo Villa de Mitla and San Juan Guelavia (Arrive to Teotitlan del Valle on your own by 9:00 a.m. We will designate a meeting place.)
Thursday, November 2: Visit a local market, then Tlacochuaya de Morelos and Teotitlan del Valle
Friday, November 3: Meet the artisans who bake bread, make beeswax candles, prepare tamales
Saturday, November 4: Participate in a cooking class that features ritual foods with a mezcal tasting
November 5: Depart on your own to Oaxaca any time after breakfast
What the Study Tour Includes:
4 nights lodging in Teotitlan del Valle at a local guesthouse, starting November 1
Cooking class and mezcal tasting
All daily transportation from Teotitlan del Valle to the villages
Bread and chocolate to present at family altars
Honoraria to village hosts, artisans, invited speakers and resource experts
Packet of materials to prepare you for the study tour (via email)
Cost: $1,195. per person for double occupancy, shared room and bath. $1,495. per person single occupancy, private room and bath.
At the Mitla cemetery, Arturo Hernandez decorates his mother’s grave
The study tour does not include airfare to Mexico, round-trip taxi from Oaxaca city to Teotitlan del Valle, some meals as noted in the itinerary, admission to museums and archeological sites, alcoholic beverages, snacks, travel insurance, optional transportation and incidentals.
Reservations and Cancellations: A 50% deposit will reserve your space. The final payment for the balance due shall be made on or before 45 days before the study tour begins. 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 the 45-day cut-off date, 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 the 45-day deadline, we will refund 50% of your deposit.
This Oaxaca Faces Portrait Photography Workshop with Matt Nager was much more than taking candid photos of people we might see on the street. We depended on Teotiteca Luvia Lazo Gutierrez, who assisted me at the last photo workshop, to help connect us with local families. She speaks Spanish, Zapotec and English, so Luvia could talk to elders in their native language, since so many only know a smattering of Español. An English teacher, Luvia hopes to go to graduate school in photography — maybe in the USA.
A talented photographer in her own right, Luvia’s portrait of her grandmother Candelaria is part of a Oaxaca exhibition at 411 Espacio Fotographia that opened on Saturday night. The show will be up for a month. The gallery is at Eduardo Vasconcelos #411, close to the baseball stadium.
Luvia Lazo Gutierrez, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca
The portrait photography workshop gave us an intimate experience with local people who were so generous with their time. This cultural immersion offered an unparalleled, in-depth approach to photography. You can see the results for yourself! Thank you, Luvia!
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, starting at $1,895 per person.
Limited to 8 participants. Small Group. Personal Attention.
Beginners and more experienced photographers welcome.
Trailing spouse and cooking class options.
Registration is now open!
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.
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.
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.
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.
We emphasize documentary-style photography, an organic, spontaneous form of understanding the culture and people you are photographing.
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!
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.
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)
What You Should Bring
Digital SLR camera with lens(es) — wide angle, zoom, and/or fixed focal point 50mm
Tripod for night photography
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)
External hard drive
External card reader
Batteries (2) and battery charger
Memory cards (at least 2) and data sticks
Pen and notepad
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.)
Cost: The base cost for the Expedition is $1,895. USD. This includes:
All instruction and coaching
8 nights lodging, shared room with shared bath
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
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; $1,895. Deposit to reserve: $950.
[ ] Option 2: Single Supplement, private room with private bath; $2,295. Deposit to reserve: $1,150.
[ ] 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. $1,595
[ ] 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.
About Our Accommodations
In Oaxaca City, we will stay in a lovely, highly rated intimate colonial-style hotel within a short walk to Santo Domingo Church, 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.
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.
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!
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.
7 Nights and 8 Days, Sunday, October 28 to Sunday, November 4, 2012. Bill Bamberger returns in 2012 to lead this very popular expedition that gives you an intimate view of Oaxaca’s extraordinary Day of the Dead celebrations.
You get a taste of how the city and a smaller village celebrate. Bill teaches in the Folklore Program in the College of Arts and Sciences at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and in the renown Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. His approach is both creative and technical.
Travel with us to Oaxaca, Mexico where you will explore the magic and mystery of Day of the Dead through photography– a feast for the visual senses. This seven-night, eight-day expedition is a cultural immersion experience. Come with us to document the food, religious symbols, people, cemeteries and family celebrations both in the city and in the rural Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle. By the end of the week, you will better use your digital SLR camera for visual storytelling and cultural discovery.
We will accept 10 participants. Last year we filled quickly. If this is something you’ve always dreamed of doing, don’t hesitate!
This workshop is for beginning and intermediate-level amateur photographers who want to learn more about their digital SLR cameras and move more comfortably beyond the automatic setting. Technical topics covered include using natural light, aperture and shutter speed, using a tripod for night-time photography, using bounce flash, focusing on details, photographing people and taking the time to set up your shot.
The workshop features documentary-style photography, which involves some degree of assimilation and a greater understanding of the culture and people you are photographing. On this journey you will photograph people in their natural settings, experience local rituals, visit family environments, all as you immerse yourself in both the city and rural life of Oaxaca.
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 individual feedback with Bill during privately scheduled coaching sessions.
You will have the option to undertake an independent project during the week to document Day of the Dead family observances and rituals. Here is what 2011 participant, photographer Nick Eckert, created:
About Photographer and Educator Bill Bamberger
For two decades Bill Bamberger has been photographing people around the world and their daily lives. His photographs have appeared in Aperture, Doubletake, Harper’s and the New York Times Magazine. He has appeared as a featured guest on CBS Sunday Morning, About Books (CSPAN2), and North Carolina People with William Friday. His first book, Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory (DoubleTakeBooks/Norton, 1998), won the Mayflower Prize in Nonfiction and was a semifinalist for the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award.
Bamberger’s work explores large social issues of our time: the demise of the American factory, housing in America, adolescents coming of age. A trademark of Bamberger’s exhibitions is that they are first shown in the community where he has chosen to photograph prior to their museum exhibition. Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory premiered in an abandoned department store a block from the closed furniture factory, while Stories of Home was first shown in a custom-designed 1,000 square foot mobile art gallery on San Antonio’s Mexican-American West Side.
Bamberger has had one-person exhibitions at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Yale University Art Gallery and the National Building Museum. He was one of fifty-six American artists to take part in Artists and Communities: America Creates for the Millennium, the National Endowment for the Arts millennium project where he produced part II in an ongoing series about teenage boys coming of age.
Bill lives in Durham, North Carolina, and teaches photography at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and at Duke University. He has lectured at museums and universities, and has taught classes and workshops for the public good in underserved communities across the country. His ability to relate to people to draw them into the photographic experience as a subject is why he makes an outstanding instructor. Website: billbamberger.com
Preliminary Itinerary (subject to change)
Day 1, Sunday, October 28: Travel to Oaxaca and check-in to our lovely bed and breakfast close to the Zocalo. Dinner on your own. Overnight in Oaxaca.
Day 2, Monday, October 29: After breakfast and a brief orientation, we’ll embark on a group walking expedition around the city, visit markets selling wild marigold, special breads, candies, and holiday ritual necessities. After lunch we will meet for class, then enjoy free time to capture the “magic hour” before dinner. Options to explore churches, street parades, public altars. Overnight Oaxaca. Includes breakfast, lunch.
Day 3, Tuesday, October 30: After breakfast and class, we will arrange an optional guided visit to Monte Alban and the Atzompa pottery village. Otherwise, you will have the day on your own. We’ll meet in late afternoon to review our best of day work. Overnight Oaxaca. Includes breakfast.
Day 4, Wednesday, October 31: After breakfast and class, you will have the afternoon free. At 3:30 p.m. we will go together to the famed Xoxocotlan cemetery for an extraordinary Day of the Dead extravaganza. This is a VERY late night, so be prepared! We will stay until at least 12 a.m. Overnight Oaxaca. Includes breakfast.
Day 5, Thursday, November 1: After breakfast and a debriefing session, we will leave for the Zapotec weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle. After lunch and check-in at our bed and breakfast posada, we’ll enjoy a village walkabout orientation. Overnight Teotitlan del Valle. Includes breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 6, Friday, November 2: After breakfast and a briefing session, we will pair you with another participant and introduce you to a local host family for a cultural immersion experience. This gives you the opportunity to meet people and share in their customs and traditions. The families welcome you into their homes where you will share the traditional meal and go with them to the village cemetery. We’ll see you back at our B&B after nightfall. Overnight Teotitlan del Valle. Breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Day 7, Saturday, November 3: After breakfast we will share experiences and photos of the day before in our last class session. You’ll have the rest of the day on your own to meander or prepare your Best of Week photo exhibition and celebration supper. Includes breakfast and dinner.
Day 8, Sunday, November 4: After breakfast leave for your home countries.
What You Should Bring
1) Your energy and enthusiasm
2) Digital SLR camera
3) Laptop computer
4) Software for organizing and presenting images (such as Lightroom)
5) Batteries and battery charger
6) Camera Memory card(s) and data sticks
7) Pen and notepad
Plus, sturdy, comfortable walking shoes, sun protection, sun hat
(Upon registration, you will receive a complete packet and information guide with suggested packing list and other useful information.)
Lodging/Accommodations. To keep this experience affordable, we have selected accommodations that are clean and basic. We will spend three nights in Oaxaca at a bed and breakfast featured in the New York Times, and three nights at a posada/hostel in Teotitlan del Valle. If you prefer luxury accommodations, please consider a different program.
Cost: The basic cost for the trip is $1,395. USD. This includes seven nights lodging shared occupancy with shared bath, seven breakfasts, three lunches, three dinners, transportation to the villages included in the itinerary, and all instruction. Most travel workshops of this type and length cost more than twice as much! It does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips/gratuities, travel insurance, liquor/alcoholic beverages, some meals as specified in the itinerary, site entry fees, and transportation.
You will have the option of sharing a double room with shared bath for the base price of the trip. Please indicate your preference.
Option 1: Double room with shared bath; $1,395. Deposit to reserve: $700.
Option 2: Double room with private bath; $1,595. Deposit to reserve: $800.
Option 3: Single Supplement, private room with private bath; $1,795. Deposit to reserve: $900.
Option 4: Add one night lodging in Oaxaca on Saturday, October 27, +$125 each.
Option 5: Add guided visit to Monte Alban and Atzompa pottery village, $65 per person (minimum of 2 people needed). We will arrange for one of the most knowledgeable English-speaking local guides to take you to this famed archeological site, explain its history and then take you to a great ceramics family of Atzompa.
Reservations and Cancellations
A 50% deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The final payment for the balance due (including any supplemental costs) shall be postmarked by August 1, 2011. Payment may be made by check or PayPal. We will be happy to send you an itemized invoice.
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 possible 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, contact: email@example.com or call (919) 274-6194. We accept payment with PayPal only. Thank you.
This workshop is produced by Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We reserve the right to alter the itinerary and substitute instructors without notice.
Hand-colored sand becomes sculpture depicting Day of the Dead scenes at gravesites and public spaces; by Nick Eckert.
Postponed until Summer 2013: Oaxaca Cultural Navigator collaborates with Australia’s Desert Traditions to bring you Beyond Santa Fe. Join textile artist and group leader Carole Douglas from Sydney, Australia, Santa Fe textile expert Sheri Brautigam, and Norma Hawthorne for a cultural immersion experience of a lifetime.
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.