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Day of the Dead Photography, Oaxaca, Workshop Tour 2014 with Frank Hunter

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, $2,295 base price.

  • Limited to 8 participants. Small Group. Personal Attention.
  • Beginners and more experienced photographers welcome.
  • Trailing spouse and cooking class options.
  • Registration is now open!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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We emphasize documentary-style photography, an organic, spontaneous form of understanding the culture and people you are photographing.

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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!

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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.

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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)

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What You Should Bring

  1.  Digital SLR camera with lens(es) — wide angle, zoom, and/or fixed focal point 50mm
  2. Tripod for night photography
  3.  Laptop computer
  4.  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)
  5. External hard drive
  6. External card reader
  7. Batteries (2) and battery charger
  8. Memory cards (at least 2) and data sticks
  9. Pen and notepad
  10. 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.)

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Cost:  The base cost for the Expedition is $2,295. USD. This includes:

  • All instruction and coaching
  • 8 nights lodging, shared room with shared bath
  • 8 breakfasts
  • 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
  • Gift to local Teotitlan del Valle host family
  • Comprehensive pre-trip planning packet (via email)

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Not Included:

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; $2,295. Deposit to reserve: $1,150.

[  ] Option 2: Shared room with private bath; $2,495. Deposit to reserve: $1,250.

[  ] Option 3:  Single Supplement, private room with private bath;  $2,695.  Deposit to reserve: $1,350.

[  ] 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.  $1,795

[  ] 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.

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About Our Accommodations

In Oaxaca City, we will stay in a lovely, highly rated intimate colonial-style hotel close to 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.

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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.

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

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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!

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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.

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Social Justice and Migrant Stories: I Have a Name

I Have a Name has a website.  Writer Robert Adler and photographer Tom Feher have embarked on a project to document and personalize the stories of people who seek a better life in the United States.

ed107cf648aa759d21b5d52c8b6240b1These are the invisible, the undocumented, the nameless, the ones who hide in the shadows, are fearful of discovery.  Some don’t make it across the border alive.  Others are brutalized and raped.  Most are afraid to tell their story.

They are statistics that distance us from their humanity and ours.  And hinder the United States from passing immigration reform legislation.

Robert and Tom’s project, with the help of  COMI, El Centro de Orientación de Migrantes de Oaxaca, connects us visually through the power of photography and personal narrative to come face-to-face with those who have made or attempted the journey.

More funding is needed to complete the project.  If you are part of or know about an organization that can help, or would like to host or help arrange an exhibition in your city, please contact Tom Feher. Gracias.

Christmas Collage: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Martha, Marianne, and Judy arrive from the city for dinner on December 23 and then we gather at the house of the eighth posada.  Earlier, I go to the local morning market and find a fish vendor from the coast.  We eat organic and fresh talapia, squash, potatoes, carrots, onions seasoned with kumquats, candied ginger, carrots, prunes, dates, and raisins all cooked together in the tagine.  Later, I use the head and bones for stock.

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The posadas continue through December 24, when baby Jesus appears on Christmas Eve at La Ultima Posada, the last posada, which is the grandest and most magnificent of all.

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On the street we meet a young woman and her mother who are originally from Teotitlan del Valle, and now live in Chicago.  She tells us she and her family put their name on the list to host La Ultima Posada ten years ago.  They will welcome baby Jesus in 2014.  The cost to host is about $50,000 USD, which includes a magnificent array of food for three days — enough to serve hundreds, two bands, drinks and refreshments, candles, lanterns, decorations.  She explains to us that it is an honor and a commitment to community and God to be able to do this. They meet with the church committee twice during the year to review details that will ensure a traditional celebration.  Service and community cohesiveness is essential for Zapotec life.  They have lived in this valley for 8,000 years.

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On December 24, I make a last minute run to the village market once more to discover it packed with shoppers and sellers at eight-thirty in the morning.  This is likely the biggest market of the year! Every one presses up to buy fresh moss and flowers from the Sierra Norte to make the creche that will bring baby Jesus to their home, too.

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There is fresh pineapple, bananas, papaya, mandarin oranges, apples, and spiced guayaba (guava). Lilies, roses, and flowering cactus lay on tables ready for plucking. Live chickens and turkeys, feet secure to keep them from flying away, lay subdued, waiting.

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Children hide under their mother’s aprons or eat fresh morning bread or sip a horchata. Who can resist the blue corn tortillas?  Not me.

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Piñatas are an integral part of the baby Jesus birthday celebration.  The market is filled with them on December 24.  Children adore the rain of candy.  Me, I adore the perfectly ripe avocados, organic lettuces and eggs.

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I bump into Janet and Jan, expats from France and Holland who winter here. They eat breakfast at the stand set up in the middle of the market, quesdadillas fresh off the griddle.

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Later, I join my family for the traditional dinner at eight.  Elsa brings homemade bacalhau, there is organic salad, roasted pork leg infused with bacon, garlic and prunes, pinto beans, with plenty of beer, mezcal and wine.  Dessert?  Why tiramisu cake from Quemen bakery, of course!

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Omar entertains Christian.  Lupita entertains Christian.  The children kick the soccer ball and jump on the piles of wool waiting for the loom.  We sip spiced ponche (hot fruit punch) made with guayaba fruit sweetened with sugar cane.  Some will go to the church for midnight mass.  Others will go on to aanother supper at midnight.

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Christmas day presents another dinner feast on Roberta’s terrace, this time a potluck with organic lettuces, Annie’s garden arugula, enchiladas with green salsa, roasted chicken, red wine, fruit salad and Susanna Trilling‘s Mexican Chocolate Bread Pudding that Jan prepares.  The patio is filled with flowering cactus and the sunset can’t be better.

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All is well with our world.  I hope your holiday season is spectacular, too.  Feliz Navidad! Gracias a todos.

XmasCollage-37              Our next photography workshop is this summer 2014 for Dance of the Feather.  Find out more!

 

Christmas in Oaxaca: Teotitlan del Valle Posadas

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For nine days and nights leading up to Christmas eve, the Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico recreates the journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem.  Each night they sleep on the road, which means they arrive at the home of a host family who welcomes them to their courtyard, then altar room, filled with copal incense and prayers.

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There is a huge feast for invited guests:  tamales, roasted beef or pork, homemade tortillas, wild turkey called guacalote.  I can smell the charcoal cook fires from a distance.

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The villagers gather at the front gate.  Hosts distribute tamales and atole (women have been cooking for days), men sip beer and mezcal, children blow whistles. The celebration is grand, festive.  Then, at around 6:30 p.m. the procession leaves the host home and passes through the streets of village, up hills, through narrow alleyways, from one side to the other,  until they come to the home of the next night’s host family and the celebration continues.

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It is both solemn and celebratory.  Women, men and children are selected by each host family to do the honors of leading the procession and light the way with handmade beeswax candles decorated with beeswax flowers, birds, and glittering pendants.  Followers cover their heads in scarves as if in church. 

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The men who handle the fireworks and shooting rockets are out in front to guide the way with sight and sound.  From all corners of the village we can hear them until late at night, and then again in the morning as a wake up call.  I arise at six to the blast of a rocket. Behind the fireworks are the altar boys carrying crosses, then four young women carry the palanquin of Mary and Joseph.

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On this night, our procession must have picked up more than 300 people along the way as the route passed through every corner of the village and ended at a home not more than two blocks from the one we had left.

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Up hill and down, across cobbled streets, we picked our, way careful of potholes and uneven stones and construction materials.  The streets were swept clean and watered so there would be no dust for us.  We must have walked three miles at a steady shuffle.

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Those who didn’t process waited in doorways.  The older people who had difficulty walking made it part of the way and then dropped off, as did the parents carrying sleeping babes on their shoulders, and holding toddlers by their hands.

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On the night of December 24, the baby Jesus appears in the altar room of the host family for La Ultima Posada — the last procession.  This is the biggest party of them all and it will continue through the night and into the morning.

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Visitors are welcome to join the procession.  You can spend the night at Las Granadas B&B or at Casa Elena, both excellent establishments.  You can start out having comida at Las Granadas prepared by Josefina and then end the night with a glass of wine or a cup of mezcal!

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A Word About Night Photography

It is difficult!  In the ideal world, one would use a tripod to hold the camera steady, avoid flash, use manual settings on your camera to manipulate the shutter speed, aperture, and film speed/ISO.  That means constantly changing settings for various lighting situations.  In very dark situations, like during this posada on streets barely illuminated, one gets a golden glow.  I also turned off the automatic focus setting on my camera and lens and used manual focus.  The lens has a hard time reading light and will not focus otherwise.  With my bad eyes and very low light, that meant guessing, which is why many of my photos were blurry.  Those you see here have a warm, golden glow typical of low light, night photography using a hand-held camera.  I was able to adjust some of the photos using Lightroom photo editing software.  We teach all this in our Oaxaca Cultural Navigator photography workshops.  We learn about the camera and immerse ourselves in the indigenous culture, too.

Adentro: A Glimpse Inside Puebla, Mexico

The Franciscans created Puebla as the first true (ha, ha) Spanish city in Mexico, building it from the ground up, not on top of destroyed indigenous religious sites as they had a habit of doing.  The Paseo Viejo de San Francisco is a cobblestone walking promenade that connects the church named in honor of St. Francis of Assisi where Hernan Cortes worshipped with upscale shopping, restaurants and hotels.  This is a renovated historic area — the oldest part of the city where Puebla was founded. It’s the neighborhood I’m staying in on this visit.

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I’m back in Puebla for an overnight before heading to Mexico City and then on to San Francisco for Thanksgiving with my family.  I’ve been here so many times in recent years that I can negotiate the avenues by foot and not get lost, returning to some of my favorite spots.  It was an all-day walkabout — eight hours total.

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Today as I meander, I decide to take a different approach.  I look into courtyards where tall, heavy wood gates open slightly give me a glimpse of an interior life.  I peer into obscurely lit stores.  I see shadows and light, profiles and outlines of figures.  I look inside instead of at the stunning Talavera tile and wedding cake plaster facades that captivate visitors.

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Still life hides behind high plaster walls through the cracks of gated doors, between the bars of gated churches at altars where no one worships, down alleyways where laundry dries, through windows into storage rooms.

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Before I leave Puebla, I treat myself to a lunch at what I undoubtedly believe is the best restaurant in the city, El Mural de los Poblanos.  Don’t miss it. Spectacular service and perfectly prepared food.

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It was a mezcal kind of day for me: first a tamarind mezcal margarita, then a shot glass of Puebla origin mezcal (with worm salt and orange slices) compliments of the manager (that I managed to nurse throughout the 2-1/2 hour meal), a sunflower sprout salad, and shrimps sauteed in mezcal.  I finished with a small scoop of house made pumpkin ice cream and a raisin liqueur. Who’s hungry? Did anyone say bed time?