Tag Archives: shopping

Aye, My Aching Back! Keep the DSLR or Opt for Lighter Camera?

For the past three weeks I’ve been traveling in buses, airplanes, vans, taxis and collectivos in Mexico City, and the States of Mexico and Michoacan to discover more of Mexico. I’ve walked a fair piece over cobblestones and uneven pathways. I’ve climbed pre-Hispanic archeological pyramids with steps that are taller than me. All the while, hauling my wonderful Nikon D7000 (now getting a little beat up) and the big honker Nikkor 17-55mm photojournalist lens. I get great photos from this equipment, but I’m tired and can feel the weight in my back and shoulders. Is it time to give up this camera and lens?

I asked Italian photographer Alex (Alessio) Coghe, who lives in Mexico City, why he uses a lighter-weight mirrorless camera. Here is what he said. Perhaps this will interest you as you consider how much you want to schlepp around, too! All advice welcome.

My Choice by Alex Coghe

Many times people ask why I moved to mirrorless and compact cameras for my photography. As a commercial photographer, this has been my choice since 2010. In 2009, I spent two months in Mexico. It was my first visit and during it I never used my Nikon equipment, preferring to use an high-end compact camera: the Panasonic Lumix LX3.


When I returned to Italy with a plan to get back to Mexico, I decided to sell all my Nikon gear to buy an Olympus E-P1 with its 17mm pancake lens which is equivalent to a 34mm in full frame. I can remember many friends saying I was crazy.

Well, now I use one camera and one lens and became a converted professional photographer with no remorse. Today, I see many photographers who decide to switch from DSLRs to mirrorless. In particular, I have colleagues who are choosing Fujifilm X series cameras, mostly X100 and XPRO.

Now I need to clarify that I never particularly loved digital reflex. I come from analog photography and I always preferred point & shoot cameras. I never liked the design and the approach of a DSLR, hiding my face behind a black plastic piece simply doesn’t work for what I do in the street.

Moreover, I always preferred to see what my eyes are seeing and not a reflection of the mirror system through the lens. This is an important part of my choice: I prefer to frame through an optical viewfinder. I do not fear the parallax error: Is it not the way the masters have photographed for almost a century?

As of this moment, I work with a Leica X2, a Fujifilm X100S, a Fujifilm X30 and sometimes I still use film cameras.

I am a commercial photographer, mostly working with models.  I am into fashion and and street photography. Small compact cameras allow me to have visual contact with the subjects. This is very important for my kind of approach and way to work because the psychological aspect is very important.

As a street photographer, I need compact, light cameras that allow me to work all day in the street. I also need the discretion and the “invisibility” offered by a small camera. For this reason I think the new rangefinder cameras are perfect for my work. Most of the cameras like this have a fantastic pre-set focus system, so I usually use full manual and zone focus when it comes to street photography.

A camera should not be an obstacle but something that can be an extension of my arm, just to satisfy my approach and get close to my vision.  My choice with the cameras is perfect for me and my work.

Norma’s Note: Thanks so much, Alex for contributing to Oaxaca Cultural Navigator. Now, I have some direction about what I may choose next. So hard to give up what you are used to. But, that’s true in almost anything that requires change, verdad?

Check out Alex’s website for 2015 Day of the Dead photo workshop in Oaxaca!

 Faces & Festivals Photography Workshop in Chiapas, early January with Denver photographer Matt Nager. Discounts for 2 people. Budget options. 

Soft Landing Oaxaca, and Teotitlan del Valle

It’s a four-and-a-half hour bus ride from Puebla CAPU to Oaxaca ADO bus station. Taxi from Puebla historic center to CAPU is 80 pesos. Bus ticket is about 450 pesos on ADO GL deluxe service. Easy. Scenic. The road dips and rises through mountains studded with mature saguaro and nopal cactus, flowing river beds (it’s the rainy season) and dramatic gorges. When going south, choose a seat on the right side of the bus.

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Prep kitchen — al fresco — at La Biznaga Restaurant

A good time to write, read, lean back and enjoy the ride. I arrived in Oaxaca on Sunday night, just in time to skip the last Guelaguetza performances on Monday but not the crowds strolling the Andador Macedonio Alcala. Or, the sounds of the festivities echoing from the Cerro del Fortin pinnacle starting at 10 a.m.

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People asked me, are you going to Guelaguetza? Did you go to Guelaguetza? I told them no. I went for the last two years, had a great time, took lots of photos and decided I didn’t need to repeat the experience for a while.

Sunday night, I discovered La Salvadora, a patio bar on Guerrero that serves great artesenal Mexican beer, sandwiches, salads, and usually has live music. A great way to land. Thanks, Hayley.

On Monday I walked over 12,000 steps Oaxaca is one of the best walking cities in Mexico with the Andador limited only to pedestrian traffic.

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Carol and David invited me to lunch at their departamento under the shadow of Basilica de Soledad on the other side of town, so I walked there, passing colonial adobe buildings in need of renovation.

Before that, I walked to ceramic Galeria Tierra Quemada and recycled glass studio Xaquixe to check out mezcal cups that my sister asked me to get for her, and then I went back again as she honed the decision.

I finished off the day with a Spanish potato and egg torta (a famed tapas) with organic salad, and a glass of excellent, reasonably priced (40 pesos) red wine at Tastevins on Murguia close to Benito Juarez, with Hayley. This place is becoming a favorite, relaxed, good food, moderately priced.

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On Tuesday, I clocked a bit over 10,000 steps. Janet and I met for a great breakfast — organic blue corn memelas with poached eggs, red and green salsa — at Cabuche before she went to work. (It’s my in-the-city-neighborhood-go-to-eating-spot.)

Handmade paper box at Xaquixe

Handmade paper box at Xaquixe

Then, a return trip to Tierra Quemada (meaning burnt earth) for the final order and shipping.

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And a return to the Xaquixe shop on 5 de Mayo between Abasolo and Constitucion to oggle the handmade paper and glassware once again.

Prepping for comida corrida at La Biznaga

Prepping for comida corrida at La Biznaga

After taking care of fingers and toes from all the pavement pounding, I met Martha and Hayley at La Biznaga for a great vegetarian spinach lasagna (Tuesday is vegetarian comida corrida). The portions are so generous, there was enough for lunch today.

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My good friend and taxista Abraham picked me up late afternoon and I arrived back in Teotitlan del Valle. I don’t have internet connection where I live, so I’m now at my Teoti go-to restaurant Tierra Antigua for reliable service and an excellent horchata.

This Saturday Abraham and Rosa are getting married. It’s been in the planning for a year. I’ve known Abraham for about eight years — smart, always reliable, taught himself English, muy dulce — very sweet. He asked me to be the madrina (godmother) of the photography! It’s my gift to them, and I’m excited about participating in all the related activities and then sharing them with you. I have permission!

Soft landing!


Red Pottery of San Marcos Tlapazola, Tlacolula, Oaxaca

My dad was a potter and I grew up with a potter’s wheel and an electric kiln in our garage.  Tools were piled on the table, where also sat clay forms drying to the leather hard before he put them into the oven.

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This is where he would go to work when he came home from work.  For him, I think, putting his hands on the clay of earth and forming it into something beautiful or whimsical or functional was his joy, more fun than work.

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I always have a special feeling for people who put their hands on clay.  In San Marcos Tlapazola, just 8 kilometers behind Tlacolula, in the foothills, the Mateo Family women work with an organic low fire clay body that becomes unglazed, utilitarian and decorative pieces for hearth and home.  It is lead-free and safe to eat from and cook with.

We work with our hands. We bring the mud from our fields. It takes a week to dry it.  We wet it. Stir it, strain it and mix it with sand.  Finally, we let it dry under the sun to make it. We are ready to work with it. 

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The vessels are made on a simple turning wheel as the women sit on the floor.  They use pieces of wood, stone, coconut shell, gourds and corn cobs to shape and polish.

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You might recognize them as they sit on their knees, on petate woven grass rugs at the Sunday Tlacolula market. You might notice them as they pass through the restaurants and food stalls calling out their wares for sale. Their dress is distinctive and colorful.  They sell comals of various sizes, bowls and plates, platters and large vessels perfect for cooking soups and stews.

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But, the best, largest and most impressive pieces are in their San Marcos Tlapazola home workshop studio. Here, tall jugs are decorated with chickens and roosters, pot lid handles might be dancing dolphins or turkey heads or pig snouts. You might even come across a national award-winning bowl sitting regal on its clay pedestal throne. The selection is enormous and often you can see the black fire flash in the red clay form, giving it an elemental connection to the earth, wind, fire.

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When we got there, we came into the courtyard filled with smoke.  It was firing day.  The pots were hidden under corrugated metal sheeting, piled with tree branches, dried corn husks, discarded bamboo sticks, twigs, brush, and protected by a ring of broken pots to keep the heat in at ground level. We arrived just in time to add our bundle of brush and branches to the fire.

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Here at Matamoros No. 18, in San Marcos Tlapazola, live the parents, sisters, cousins and nieces of the extended family of Alberta Mateo Sanchez and Macrina Mateo Martinez.  The home phone number is 951-574-4201.  The Cel is 951-245-8207.

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Their mother Ascencion is ninety years old.  Almost as old as my own mother who just turned ninety-nine.

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Call to make an appointment to be sure they will be home.  Maybe you will be lucky enough to come during a firing, as we did.

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As we shopped, the rains came and the wind whipped. It wasn’t a heavy downpour but a light Lady Rain drizzle that causes the smoke to curl through the courtyard and burn our eyes. As we left, the rains made a mist and droplets coated the car window through which I took these ethereal photos below.

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Thanks to Merry Foss, Oaxaca folk art collector and dealer, and Sara Garmon of Sweet Birds Mexican Folk Art, Santa Fe, NM,  and Christopher Hodge for taking me on this adventure.

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How to get there?  Go toward the hills behind Tlacolula, following the road that goes through the center of town.  There will be a crossroads at 4km.  Turn right and continue another 4 km until you get to the village.  You will see the traditional church in the distance as you wind to the right through high desert.  The main street is Matamoros and the sisters’ house is on the left past a couple of blocks past the church.  Look for the sign: Mujeres del Barro Roja.


Oaxaca Street Life: Guelaguetza Crush, Art and Expoventas

Thousands of people converge on the streets of Oaxaca for Guelaguetza. Only 11,000 were in the Guelaguetza auditorium to hear Lila Downs last night. OaxStreetLife-9

The rest were visitors strolling Macedonio Alcala, the walking avenue between the Zocalo and Santo Domingo Church, and roaming vendors selling everything from fragrant azucenas that only bloom at night to ice cream and hair decor.

Carnival rides bring smiles to children and parents.  OaxStreetLife-4

The perpendicular and parallel side streets are filled with pop-up outdoor food stands where you can get tortillas cooked on a comal any way you like them.


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A must-see art exhibit at Instituto de Artes Graficas de Oaxaca across from Santo Domingo Church opened last night. A crowd of visitors and locals packed the galleries to see some stunning lithography and the beer flowed.

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Mexico’s art is usually wrapped in social and political commentary and this exhibition is no exception. Here artist-illustrator Artemio Rodriguez paints the Virgin of Guadalupe on a shovel and the eagle on a cactus with a snake in its mouth, symbol of nationhood, on a wheelbarrow. Is this irreverent?

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Images of farm workers and the iconic Porfirio Diaz, president/dictator, offer us visual contrast between poverty and poverty, honor and corruption.  Art here is something to chew on, not for matching with furniture and color palette.

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Of course, shopping is King and Queen, and you can find some of the best Oaxaca artisans from many villages here in Oaxaca this time of year.

WHERE? At pop-up art and folk art Expoventa shows throughout the city:

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In Mexico City: Popular Art–Folk Art Shopping Hideaway

Tucked behind the tall 17th century heavy wood doors of an imposing colonial residence at Isabel la Catolica 97 is Victor Arts Populares Mexicanas.  There is no sign, only a small poster affixed to the only window facing the street.

Don’t knock on wood, the guard admonished me, after I did several times.  He instructed me to use the original brass knocker now burnished with age.  I smiled, assured him I would behave myself next time, and made my way up to the second floor where there are three rooms stuffed with an amazing collection of new and vintage collectibles from all the important craft villages of Mexico.

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Here I met Pilar Fosado Vazquez (above left) and her assistant.  Pilar continues to run the shop her father founded many years ago.


Take note:  Hours are limited.  The shop is open 12:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.  Tel. (55) 55-12-12-63.  Email: victormex@hotmail.com.  There is a Facebook page, too.  But the shop recently relocated and most of the information available online is not updated.

Diego_Frida_July2014-13The family works with a silversmith in the State of Mexico (Estado de Mexico) to recreate outstanding jewelry pieces in the style of Frida Kahlo. Some are embellished with coral, turquoise, garnet, onyx and obsidian.  The workmanship is excellent and the prices are moderate for the quality.

Diego_Frida_July2014-12     There is lots of handmade tin, papier mache, textiles, and the Huichol art is of particular fine quality.  Some of the pieces for sale are over forty years old.


I searched out this spot to take people who attended the last Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo art history tour, where we studied the famed Mexican muralists (Rivera, Orozco and Siquieros) and visited Casa Azul and the Dolores Olmedo Patiño Museum.  There are THREE spaces open for our August repeat program!