People in the Oaxaca valley have eaten locally grown corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, poultry and fruit for centuries, long before the term locavore came into existence. The farm-to-table movement in the United States is one example of eating fresh food produced within 100 miles.
Weighing beans, Teotitlan del Valle Market
During the years I lived on an organic farm in Pittsboro, North Carolina, and shopped at farmer’s markets (a habit I formed early in my adulthood), we learned to eat around the seasons. I read somewhere that this is one of the healthiest things we can do for our bodies.
One by-product of the CNTE Section 22 Teacher’s Union strike in Oaxaca is the intended or unintended consequences of returning to locally grown food. The blockades are preventing the big box, semi-trailers filled with imported goods from entering Oaxaca to deliver their loads to Walmart, Soriana and other giant retailers like Coca-Cola.
Magdalena with corn husks to prepare tamales
I’m reminded of the signs in Pittsboro, NC when I visit: Shop Local. I’m sure you see this where you live, too.
In conversations around town, I’m hearing a mixed bag of blessings and complaints. Everyone loves Walmart, yes?, because of low prices. Others say local Oaxaca city markets like Benito Juarez, Abastos, Sanchez Pascuas, Merced stock everything they need and it’s important to support local merchants so they stay in business.
Organic corn, dried on the cob, ready for planting
Yet others are inconvenienced because they can’t get a particular variety of yam, brand of toilet paper, or giant coca-cola bottles for less.
There has been a strong movement here against genetically modified corn promoted by Monsanto. I have wondered whether the blockades of the big retail semi-trailers aren’t just an extension of that.
Quesadillas with fresh corn tortillas hot off the comal
I hear that by privatizing education, doors will open to international conglomerates to sell, at a profit, sugary drinks and snacks to school children, whose families are already at risk for diabetes and diet-influenced diseases.
Here in Teotitlan del Valle, I do all my food shopping locally at the daily market. Then, fill in what I need at the Sunday Tlacolula market. Yes, they sell toilet paper and paper towels there, along with all the cleaning supplies one needs.
I wonder if this blockade isn’t a good thing to help us raise our awareness for how much and what we need in comparison to who provides it for us. What we eat is important. We have asked the question: Who makes our clothes?
Now, it’s time to ask again here in Oaxaca: Who makes our food?
Yesterday, the fields next to me were plowed and planted with corn. Native indigenous corn, not genetically modified. I know that’s good.
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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.
When you come to Teotitlan del Valle why not take a cooking class from Reyna Mendoza Ruiz? Reyna is part of the well-known Mendoza weaving family. Her brother is Erasto “Tito” Mendoza and her cousin is Arnulfo Mendoza. She deserves recognition in her own right for the experience and knowledge she offers visitors who want to learn traditional Zapotec cooking.
The only hitch is — classes are only taught in Spanish! So, if you don’t speak Spanish you can bring along a translator or attempt your own interpreting based upon keen observation, and knowledge of ingredients and measurements.
I have been to Reyna’s home on several occasions over the years to see the weaving work of the family — which is pretty extraordinary. They weave in the Saltillo style which means the loom is warped with 22 threads per inch resulting in a very small and fine tapestry often with complex designs.
Example of Saltillo-Style Woven Handbag by Mendoza Ruiz Family. This bag was woven by Tito Mendoza Ruiz and is in my personal collection.
So, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Reyna is giving cooking classes. A bonus to visiting in Teotitlan del Valle.
Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC has offered programs in Mexico since 2006. We have over 30 years of university program development experience. See my resume.
Study Tours + Study Abroad are personally curated and introduce you to Mexico's greatest artisans. They are off-the-beaten path, internationally recognized. We give you access to where people live and work. Yes, it is safe and secure to travel. Groups are limited in size for the most personal experience.
Programs can be scheduled to meet your travel plans. Send us your available dates.
Designers, retailers, wholesalers, universities and other organizations come to us to develop customized itineraries, study abroad programs, meetings and conferences. It's our pleasure to make arrangements.
Our Clients Include
*Penland School of Crafts
*North Carolina State University
*WARP Weave a Real Peace