Tag Archives: San Juan Guelavia

Day 2: Portrait Photography in the Markets

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.

Hanging Out Two, San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca, Mexico

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?

Guajolote, San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca, Mexico   Huevos Criollos, San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca

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.

Rug Vendor, Tlacolula Market, Oaxaca, Mexico Selling Chorizo, Tlacolula Market, Oaxaca, Mexico

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?

Herb Seller, Tlacolula Market, Oaxaca, Mexico From Tlapazola, Tlacolula Market, Oaxaca, Mexico

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!

Best Turnovers, Tlacolula Market, Oaxaca, Mexico Waiting for the Collectivo, Tlacolula Market, Oaxaca, Mexico

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.

Mixtec Basketweaver, Tlacolula Market, Oaxaca, Mexico

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.

Waiting, San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca, Mexico

Handwoven Basket Fair: San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca

Today was the first of two Sundays when the Zapotec village of San Juan Guelavia holds its annual basket fair.  Next Sunday, February 2, is the last day.  They open in the compact zocalo at 9 a.m.  By the time we got there, close to noon, there wasn’t much left.  Before I could say basket, two that caught my eye were snatched up from under my outstretched arm.


The bamboo used to make the baskets is picked young and green, much easier to manipulate.  Then, it is washed and stripped.  After the basket is complete, the sturdy handles are wrapped with palm leaves. Most of the Zapotec women in the central valleys of Oaxaca prefer these baskets for daily shopping use.  The handle fits easily over the crook of the elbow, is smooth and comfortable.  


Both men and women are basket weavers.  They are also makers of corn husk flowers, lamp shades, bird cages, decorative woven bottle coverings, and traditional storage baskets for maize.

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Some of the workmanship is so fine, one wonders how fingers can weave the course strips of bamboo, let alone strip the cane and prepare it for the weaving process.  The basket I bought is above, left, held by the weaver who made it.  He was happy and so was I.

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Basketmaking in San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca is a craft in decline and I have included this link to an academic paper that references San Juan Guelavia and their struggle to keep this craft tradition alive.

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I hope you get to the Feria (fair) next Sunday.  I paid 140 pesos for a beautiful handmade basket, quite large.  That’s about $11 USD.  A day’s wage here in Oaxaca.  Who knows how long it took to make!  Looks like more than a day to me.  A basket this size for sale at the Tlacolula market would cost double the price, maybe more, and still a bargain at that!

Boys play while parents shop

Boys at play while parents shop

In addition to the baskets, there is lots of home-style cooked food like quesadillas, tamales, and hot steamed corn-on-the-cob.  Come and linger.

Where to Find San Juan Guelavia:  From Oaxaca City, take any bus or colectivo taxi heading to Tlacolula or Mitla.  Get off at the San Juan Guelavia crossroads (which is about 1/2 mile before you get to Teotitlan del Valle, and maybe five miles beyond El Tule).  There are village taxis and tuk-tuks that will take you along the beautiful curving road that leads to the village, set about three miles off the Panamerican Highway 190, nestled in the rolling foothills of the Sierra Madre del Sur.