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Guelaguetza Photography Workshop in Oaxaca, Mexico

7 nights, 8 days, July 26-August 2, 2013.  Our Guelaguetza Photography Workshop gives you an opportunity to capture indigenous folkloric traditions and build upon your photography skills.  Guelaguetza is a magical time in Oaxaca when indigenous people come to the city from throughout the rural areas of the state adorned in their finest handmade traje (indigenous dress). On Monday, July 29, we will take you to an extraordinary dance production of Guelaguetza where you can see the extravagant costumes, hear local music, and gain an understanding of the customs.

For all levels, beginners and beyond!  Limited to 10 participants.

At the end of July and early August are the famed Mezcal Fair and a tribute to Oaxaca’s seven moles.  We’ll introduce you to both.

Your guides and instructors are published art photographers Tom and Sam Robbins, our husband-wife team from Columbus, Ohio.  The Robbins’ are versatile and experienced, whose work is featured in national photography magazines.  This will be their fourth year to teach in Oaxaca with us.

  • Tom and Sam are excellent teachers and photographers. They have an incredible passion for photography and showed great care for each participant, taking time to understand each of our needs and looking through our photos with us.

 

  • Sam and Tom are the ideal instructors.  Any experience with them is one that is worthwhile.  I would recommend this program to others.  It is life changing and breathtaking.  — Emily Moore, The Ohio State University

The program focuses on the use of  digital SLR photography to capture, record and document indigenous life, the Guelaguetza festival, local markets, famed Mesoamerica archeological sites, folk art and artisans, landscapes, and people.  This is cultural immersion at its best!

We include all lodging, most meals, tickets to the Guelaguetza performance, and local transportation associated with the workshop in the cost of registration!

 

The colonial city of Oaxaca de Juarez is located 375 miles south of Mexico City.  It is safe, warm and inviting, and can be reached directly from the U.S. by United Airlines from Houston, TX or via Mexico City connections.

  • Every experience with Sam and Tom is one for the books, every minute in their company a gem. The order of places we went was excellent, very well planned and executed workshop.
  • The workshop was inspiring. Not only did it open up my world to a new culture, I gained a new passion for photography.

We will stay in Oaxaca City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in the family friendly Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle.  Throughout the week, we will take you to private homes and artist studios to enrich and personalize your photography learning experience.

  • The instructors are exceptional, and there are endless picture subjects here. -Kellie Fitzgerald, The Ohio State University

   

We’ll visit San Pablo Villa de Mitla archeological site, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and stop to photograph the 3,000 year old cypress tree that is 160 feet in diameter in nearby Santa Maria del Tule.

 

  • With very little formal background in photography, the most valuable aspects of this workshop were the technical ones, as well as the time to practice and think about my work.
  • The most valuable part for me was being immersed in a completely different culture.
  • The whole experience of being in Mexico was very eye-opening and getting the chance to capture that with photography was fun!

Topics Covered:

  • Using manual camera settings
  • Understanding composition
  • Capturing light, shadow and reflection
  • Knowing more about aperture and shutter speed
  • Determining when to use flash, night photography
  • Experimenting with black and white, and sepia
  • Exploring the essentials of landscape and portraiture
  • Getting feedback for steady improvement

During the workshop, we will review each other’s work, give and receive feedback, and receive expert guidance and coaching from Tom and Sam.  A group presentation at the end of the week will give you an opportunity to showcase your best work and select a theme, if you choose.

  • Being immersed in the culture by sleeping in a local bed and breakfast with very kind, generous villagers helped make the cultural immersion a life-changing visit.  My direct experience of Teotitlan, Oaxaca and surrounding artisan villages is so far removed from any concern of personal safety it’s almost laughable.  Thank you for the opportunity to learn of more beautiful people and places in the world in a safe and inviting workshop atmosphere

Sam (behind the camera) and Tom Robbins lead summer 2013 Oaxaca Photography Expedition.

About Husband and Wife Photographers Tom and Sam Robbins, Your Expedition Guides and Workshop Leaders

Tom Robbins, a photographer for more than 40 years, recently retired as professor of architecture at Columbus (Ohio) State Community College.  His careers in architecture and education have deepened his love for,  and understanding of design, composition and visual impact.  Tom and his wife, Sam, have exhibited widely and their work has been published in “Black and White Magazine.”  Tom has photographed extensively in rural Ohio, New Orleans, and Southern Mexico where he finds the landscapes, the architecture and the people wonderfully photogenic. In the last five years, Tom and Sam have made Mexico the primary subject of their photography and have visited Oaxaca and the surrounding villages many times.  Most of Tom’s work has been with 35 mm SLR and medium format cameras.

A serious photographer for over 20 years, Sam Robbins considers herself to be a “photographic hunter.”  Like her husband, Tom, she is most comfortable walking and wandering with her camera at the ready. While she has done studio portrait work, she is happiest allowing photographs to present themselves.  Sam is an award-winning New Albany (Ohio) High School teacher of art, English and photography.  She sees sharing her passion for photography with students as one of the most rewarding experiences of her life.  Sam is also a quilter, and believes that her work with color and design have contributed to her photographic eye.  Though most of her work has been with a 35 mm SLR, she also has shot with medium format and really enjoys using a plastic toy camera.  Recently, Sam taught and exhibited at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, where English and Spanish-speaking participants applauded her thoughtful, supportive style.

Tom holds the Bachelor’s in Architecture from the University of Illinois.  Sam holds the B.A. in political science from Ohio University and the M.A. in English Education from The Ohio State University with an art minor from Otterbein University.

See their work at   www.robbinsx2.com

  

Preliminary Itinerary (subject to change): 72 hours of instruction

Day One,  Friday, July 26:  Travel to Oaxaca. Arrive and settle in to our bed and breakfast. (D) Overnight Oaxaca.

Day Two, Saturday, July 27: Breakfast and learning session. A walking orientation to explore Oaxaca’s churches, museums, Zocalo.  Group lunch.  Afternoon market visit.  Best of the Day show.  (B,L).  Overnight Oaxaca.

Day Three, Sunday, July 28:  Visit Monte Alban archeological site and Atzompa pottery village after the morning learning session.  Best of the Day show. Group dinner.  (B, D). Overnight Oaxaca.

Day Four, Monday, July 29: After the morning learning session, we will travel to the afternoon Guelaguetza Folkloric Performance in the El Fortin Auditorium.    Then prepare for Best of Day show. (B, L)

Day Five, Tuesday, July 30: After breakfast and the morning learning session, we will pack and travel to Teotitlan del Valle, the Zapotec weaving village, making a stop at El Tule.  (B, D) Overnight in Teotitlan.

Day Six, Wednesday,  July 31:  After breakfast and the morning learning session, we’ll travel to San Pablo Villa de Mitla to photograph this famed archeological site then visit a master weaver for a weaving/natural dyeing demonstration.  Best of Day show at end of day.   Group dinner (B, D)

Day Seven, Thursday, August 1: After breakfast and the morning learning session, you will begin to prepare your final presentation for Best of Week Show with Gala Grand Finale Dinner.  (B, D)

Day Eight, Friday, August 2:   Departure.

What You Should Bring
  •  Your energy and enthusiasm
  • Digital SLR camera
  • Laptop computer and editing software (such as Lightroom or Photoshop
  • Batteries and battery charger
  • Memory card(s) and card reader
  • Pen and notepad
  • Memory stick–jump drive

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

In Oaxaca City we will stay at a delightful, safe and upscale bed and breakfast that is highly rated by Trip Advisor.  In Teotitlan del Valle, we stay in a local bed and breakfast operated by three generations of women — grandmother, mother, daughter — all great cooks! The food is all handcrafted and delicious.  Vegetarian options are available.

Cost:  The base cost for the trip is $1395.00 USD double occupancy per person.  This includes 7 nights lodging in a shared room, 7 breakfasts, 2 lunches, 4 dinners, transportation to villages and archeological sites, Guelaguetza performance ticket, and all instruction.  Most travel programs of this type and length cost more than twice as much!

Optional Add-ons:

  • Single occupancy with private bath, $1,595.
  • Come early or stay later, add $135 per night lodging in Oaxaca City and add $55 per night lodging in Teotitlan del Valle
  • Include travel health insurance, ask for quote based on age and length of stay
  • Cooking Class with noted Oaxaca chef, $85 per person

It does NOT include airfare, taxes, admissions to museums and archeological sites, tips/gratuities, and some meals.

Reservations,  and Cancellations

A 50% deposit ($700) is required to guarantee your spot.  The final payment for the balance due (including any supplemental costs) shall be postmarked by May 1,  2013.  We only accept Payment with PayPal.  We will be happy to send you an  invoice.

Note: Last year filled quickly. Don’t hesitate if you want to attend!

If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email.   After June 1, no refunds are possible; however, we will make every possible effort to fill your reserved space.  If you cancel before June 1, we will refund 50% of your deposit.  We strongly recommend that you take out trip cancellation, baggage, emergency evacuation insurance before you begin your trip, since unforeseen circumstances are possible.

Comments About Safety

  • I can’t recall one instance the entire time where I felt threatened.  Almost everyone we encountered was very receptive and endearing – only adding to the beauty of this wonderful place.
  • I never felt unsafe during the workshop, including getting to it by flying to Mexico City and taking buses to Puebla and then Oaxaca.  The organizers helped us by providing useful tips. 
  • I always felt safe in Teotitlan and Oaxaca, the people are so warm and welcoming. 
  • I felt completely 100% safe all of the time.  Perhaps more safe than in my hometown, if that’s possible!

To register or for questions, contact:  normahawthorne@mac.com

This workshop is produced by Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  For more information, see:  http://oaxacaculture.com

Let the Parade Begin: Zapotec Weddings in Teotitlan

The preparation begins days, even months ahead. A few days before, the party truck pulls up to deliver hundreds of chairs and raise the huge red and blue striped tent that will cover the courtyard. The wedding celebration is about to begin. On the morning of the wedding, the couple welcomes their relatives in the altar room of the groom’s parent’s house. First, the men from the two families line up and, one by one, walk in to give their blessings to the couple, any advice they have for a good marriage, and any regrets about their relationship that they want to express. Then, the women line up and take their turn. After this, all assemble and form a parade walking around the streets of the village before going to church for the wedding mass, the band leading the way, the priest following, then the couple and their parents, and then all the guests – stringing out for several blocks.

The woman’s relatives do not pay for the wedding. In Zapotec tradition, the man’s side of the family covers all the costs: the mass, the band, the food and drinks, everything. People never rent a party house or hotel for the reception like we do in the U.S. Teotitlan del Valle families use their own house, rent the tent, hundreds of chairs, and provide food to feed all the guests. Everyone is invited (or so it seems) — all the close and distant relatives, aunts, uncles, godparents, cousins, nieces, close friends, and MORE. Anyone who has ever had an association the family is included on the guest list. You will see town folk lingering at the tall entry gates to the family compound where a wedding is taking place, waiting for an invitation to come in – which will always be extended. A wedding celebration could include hundreds of people. For example, Eric’s parents were recently invited to the wedding of the daughter of the man who delivers their drinking water. The man didn’t know Eric’s parents very well, but liked the way they acknowledged him when he delivered the water, so they were sent an invitation.

The woman’s family is responsible for giving the presents and money to the couple. The man’s relatives would customarily take a bottle of mezcal and flowers, but nothing more. Gifts could include major and small appliances, the size depending upon the closeness of the relationship. In wealthy families, gifts could be a car, a washing machine, a chest filled with gold coins, refrigerators, stoves, television, closets, and dishes. These are delivered to the girl’s house to store until the wedding day. At the end of the mass, the guests form the second parade of the day, the band plays and all promenade to the boy’s house for the reception. A truck or two, filled with the gifts, bring up the rear. Guests will take seats and watch as the trucks are unloaded and the gifts displayed in the center of the patio for all to see. Before cars and television, Eric thinks his people probably gave gifts of rugs, blankets, food and clothing, plus goods traded with other villages.

Guelaguetza: A System of Mutual Support

Weddings cost upwards of $15-20,000 USD. The groom’s family pays for about 60 to 70 percent of the expenses. This is a substantial sum for a weaver, whose annual income might be about $10,000 USD. The bride’s godparents always buy her wedding dress. That is the expectation when agreeing to become a godparent. Many families cannot afford to give a wedding but they feel an obligation to do it according to custom regardless of one’s means. A wedding party can last up to three or four days. When a family doesn’t have enough money, they will ask a relative or close friend to help them cover the costs, and promise to repay it later. This loan is known as the guelaguetza. There is no contract or written agreement. The spoken promise is honored regardless of how long the time passes. It could be one, five or 10 years later before repaying the guelaguetza. The man who made the original gift might say, “my son is getting married now and I would like you to provide the (fill in the blank …. music, barbeque, beer, mezcal, money). The repayment is always in the same form that was given. This is the Zapotec custom and Eric believes this is how his people have learned to honor their traditions, be mutually supportive and get along with each other over the centuries. Every time there is a dance of the feathers, a quince anos (Sweet 15), a wedding, a Christmas posada, or a baptism, there is a guelaguetza – the obligation of giving and paying back.

Eric believes that the women never enjoy the parties. Yet the social fabric of women’s lives are knit together in the camaraderie of life cycle events. Together, they make the fresh tortillas from scratch, starting two days before the event. They are cleaning the chickens, washing dishes, preparing the kitchen, chopping fruits and vegetables. The men are busy, too, trying to get the bull slaughtered to prepare for the barbacoa (goat barbeque), bringing in tanks of propane gas for the cooking stoves, buying the beer and soda, setting up the tent, and also cleaning the house. If the house is small and more space is needed, the men will dismantle the looms and take them out. They might clear out a bedroom or storage room to make more seating and dining space. There are weeks of chores in preparation for these events. Eric feels the women have harder work because they are in the kitchen constantly. That’s the primary reason why he doesn’t want a big traditional party — he is not eager for his mother to work that hard. He is sympathetic to the role of traditional women who prepare and serve the food, give first to the guests and the men, and eat last. And, he also knows that traditions are important to keeping a culture vibrant.

He notes, “When my cousins, the doctors, got married, they rented a party house in Oaxaca. But I saw that the women were bored, they didn’t have anything to do. They waited to be served but were very uncomfortable and didn’t understand this non-traditional practice. There were place cards for seating but in our culture everyone is used to sitting where they want. So, everyone got up and sat where they wanted to. The wedding reception ended after only a few hours, compared with a traditional Teotitlan wedding celebration that continues until 5 or 6 a.m. the next day.”

Some families are leaving the village because they cannot afford to participate in the guelaguetza system. Young people see that there are other choices for courtship and marriage via television and exposure to living in the city or working for a time in El Norte. Family expectations are powerful. Because so much depends upon extended family interaction, acceptance and interdependency, one wonders how these courtship and marriage customs will continue or be shaped by the pressure of external forces that all societies are challenged by.

Posadas in Teotitlan del Valle

christmas-posada-2.jpg

Christmas in Teotitlan del Valle starts nine days before with posadas (procession) every night. The nine days represents nine months of Mary’s pregnancy, according to my Zapotec friends. On the first night, the baby Jesus is taken out of the creche in the church along with Mary and Joseph and carried through the streets under a tented portable altar, led by a group of musicians, many elderly, playing flutes, trumpets, trombones, clarinets and drums. A lay priest swings silver vessel filled with copal incense in front of the altar. They pass along a route that covers every neighborhood so that villagers can join in the procession, which often extends several blocks, and they march to the first home to host a posada. The next day, the posada will leave this house at dusk and move to the next house and so on and so on until December 23, when there is the posada ultima, a grand affair with prayers in the altar room of the home that is filled with copal incense and a greater feast than all the others. The village committee asks a household to host a posada and it is a great honor, but very expensive. It can cost $15-20,000 USD to host a posada because the entire village is invited to the feast. The term “guelaguetza”, which is Zapotec, in actuality means something like “obligation, pay back, exchange, mutual support.” So, families and extended families come together to lend money, provide beer and mezcal, contribute tamales (dulce, amarillo, pollo negro), turkey and guacalotes, and/or the labor to prepare them. To say “no” requires an explanation to the village committee, that not many want to have, and a “no” can trigger shame and isolation.

christmas-posada.jpg

On December 24, families gather for a big Christmas dinner in their homes around 7 p.m. that includes three or four different kinds of tamales, chicken, nopal salad, fresh vegetables, fruits and pastries, accompanied by beer, wine and mezcal. We gathered, too, and after the dinner out came the gift exchange. It wasn’t until three or four years ago that the Chavez family started having a decorated tree and exchanging gifts. Zapotecs in the village tend to adhere more to a lower key gift exchange, but we are noticing now a stronger influence of American culture on the indigenous people and the overlay of the commercialization of the holiday season. After the gift exchange, we hear the sounds of the coming posada that will reach the corner of our street. Some run out to see the passing parade, and others in the family will join it as it continues on to the church, to reinstall the baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph in their permanent altars for another year. A midnight mass celebrates this and the close of the Christmas posadas.