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Chiapas Festivals and Faces: Photography Workshop

Arrive January 18 and depart January 25, 2016. Cost: $1195 per person (Includes transportation to villages. Does not including lodging and most meals).

The historic 16th Century colonial mountain town, San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, is our base for making great photographs. Here in southern Mexico close to the Guatemala border, the Maya people hold on to a strong, proud and ancient past. Many on-going rituals and celebrations combine Spanish Catholicism with pre-conquest indigenous mysticism. Traditional hand-woven and embroidered Maya dress is still daily street wear. Before too long, you, too can name villages that people call home by the traje they wear.

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During the week we will take part in village festivals that happen only this time of year, meet indigenous Maya families who are back strap loom weavers and embroiderers, visit historic sites, markets, folk healers and mystics. We offer you an amazing ethnographic travel photography experience that is centered in this compact, magical town where wide avenues are for pedestrians only. Our out-of-town travels take us to San Lorenzo Zinacantan, Chiapa de Corso for the Parachicos Festival and San Juan Chamula.

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We are on location with photographer/instructor Matt Nager to create powerful photographs.  You are welcome to use any camera you are comfortable with: basic point-and-shoot to iPhone to DSLR. Our emphasis is on the photographer-subject relationship and good composition, finding the best subject and knowing how to interact with them, capturing a sense of place with interest and an innovative eye. We also cover DSLR camera basics, how to use manual settings, and offer optional coaching on photo editing using Lightroom.

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Who should attend?  The workshop is for all levels of photographers including beginners. We strip down often overly complicated conditions to bring the photographer face-to-face with the subject. We practice both impromptu street photography and classic pre-arranged portrait sessions. We will also cover landscape, architecture and general travel photography.

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The Workshop Covers:

  • Using natural light and responding to different lighting situations
  • Moving from automatic to manual settings (for DSLR cameras)
  • Directing your subject through varying body positions
  • Identifying your own photographic style
  • Finding and executing photographs “on the fly”
  • Night photography and using a tripod
  • Capturing a scene or historical site
  • Learning more with one-on-one coaching sessions with Matt

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Each day we will discuss different techniques and review best of day images. There will be plenty of time for discussion, feedback, and sharing.  We will address topics such as: How do you stay inspired?  How and when do you ask permission to take a stranger’s photograph? How do you get people to relax, be natural, and not be afraid of the camera? How do you transform the mundane into an interesting photo?

At the end of our week together, we will select our best photographs of the week and hold a group show followed by a celebratory supper, included in the fee.

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About Your Instructor Matt Nager

Matt Nager is a Denver, Colorado, based portrait and editorial photographer. We invited him back to teach this workshop after rave reviews for teaching the People of Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop.

This is going to be a fantastic workshop and I encourage any level photographer to sign up.  I recently had a class with Matt Nager and he is an excellent teacher and a fun person. You will not get a class this good for twice the price!  -Barbara Szombatfalvy, Durham, NC

His love for nature and the outdoors, as well as his interest in people and culture, is central to his photography. Before starting his own photography business, Matt worked with the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News.

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In addition to photography, Matt also regularly shoots video and recently completed his first documentary titled: Campania In-Felix (Unhappy Country) which looks into the rise of health issues in Southern Italy as a result of illegal waste disposal.

His clients include: DISCOVER Magazine, Fast Company Magazine, Mother Jones Magazine, The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, and the Wall Street Journal.

Matt speaks English and Spanish, and is learning Italian.  His work is at: www.mattnager.com

Equipment:  Please bring your camera, your computer or tablet, a cable to connect your camera to your device to upload and edit your photos, a jump drive, extra batteries, battery charger, memory cards, optional tripod for night photography. If you use a DSLR camera, you may wish to bring a portrait lens (50mm) and a longer zoom lens. We will send a complete list of “what to bring” after you register!

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Preliminary Itinerary (subject to change)

Mon. Jan. 18 – Arrive and check-in to your hotel or B&B. (D on your own)

Tues. Jan. 19 – Our workshop starts with a learning session, welcome and orientation. We’ll go on a town walkabout, market stroll, capture photos on the fly, and end with a portrait session with well-known humanitarian folk healer. (B, L, D on your own)

Wed. Jan. 20 – Learning session and photo review. Depart for Zinacantan for Dia de San Sebastian. This is the most important celebration for this community, with rituals, ceremonies, a horse race, masses, traditional native dances and processions. We have arranged a private portrait session with Zinacantan family.  (B, L, D on your own)

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Thurs. Jan. 21 – Learning session and photo review. Portrait session with women’s weaving cooperative who come from their village wearing traditional Maya dress. We’ll have an exposition of their textiles, too.   (B, L, D on your own)

Fri. Jan. 22 – Learning session and photo review. Today it’s all about food. We go to the local food market to meet vendors and see all the locally grown food. Then we meet one of San Cristobal’s great chefs for a photo shoot in the restaurant kitchen followed by lunch. (B, L, D on your own)

Sat. Jan. 23 – Learning session and photo review. Parachicos of Chiapa de Corzo, The Great Feast celebration that honors the patron saints Our Lord of Esquipulas, Saint Anthony Abbot and Saint Sebastian includes fabulous masked dancers, rattles, parades, a carnival, and opportunity for night photography.  (B, L, D on your own)

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Sun. Jan. 24 – On our last day, we will visit the church at San Juan Chamula, then prepare for the last presentation and Best of Week Show. Our workshop ends with a celebratory group supper, included in your workshop fee. (B, L on your own. D included)

Jan. 25 – Depart

You are welcome to come early and stay later. You might want to go on to Tonina, Palenque, Bonampak or Yaxchilan to explore Maya archeology, or go further and cross the border into Guatemala or Villahermosa, Tabasco. We can recommend archeologist-led tour guides who can help facilitate customized travel plans at your own expense.  We can also recommend where you can enroll in a San Cristobal de Las Casas cooking class that features local indigenous meals.

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The workshop includes all instruction and personal coaching, transportation to three villages, cultural guide services and celebratory buffet supper at the end of our Best of Week Show. Plus you receive a comprehensive packet of information about our location, shopping, restaurants, and itinerary sent by email before the workshop begins.

The workshop does not include airfare, lodging, meals, admission to museums and archeological sites, alcoholic beverages, tips, travel insurance, optional transportation and incidentals.

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About Suggested Lodging: We will be based in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas at La Joya Hotel, our preferred lodging partner. A special rate is offered for OCN group participants if you make your reservation by September 1, 2015. Tell Ann and John that you are part of the Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC Photography Workshop. La Joya is a small boutique hotel with five rooms. If you wish to stay here, do not delay!

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You can also check TripAdvisor and BookingDotCom or other online resources for best prices and levels of accommodations. All reservations for lodging will be made and paid for by you directly with the lodging provider.  You are free to choose any accommodation you prefer, from luxury to basic hostel. We will send you a list of recommended hotels after you register and make your deposit.

Reservations and Cancellations: A 50% deposit will reserve your space. The final payment for the balance due shall be made on or before November 1, 2015. We accept PayPal for payment only. We will send you an invoice for your deposit to reserve when you tell us by email that you are ready to register.

If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email. After November 1, 2015, no refunds are possible. However, we will make every effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute. If you cancel before November 1, 2015, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

About Travel to San Cristobal de Las Casas: The Tuxtla Gutierrez (TGZ) airport is the gateway city, about one-hour from San Cris. You can fly there from Mexico City on Aeromexico or Interjet. From the USA, Delta Airlines has a codeshare with Aeromexico. Both airlines are located in Mexico City Terminal 2. United Airlines flies between Houston and Oaxaca and does not serve TGZ. UA is located in Mexico City Terminal 1. There is taxi and shuttle van service from TGZ airport to San Cris starting at about 700 pesos. You can also take an ADO overnight bus from Oaxaca to San Cristobal. If you book your stay at La Joya Hotel, we will arrange taxi airport pick-up and delivery for you at your own expense.

International Travel Insurance Required. We require that you purchase trip cancellation, baggage loss and at least $50,000 of emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip. We will ask for documentation. We know unforeseen circumstances are possible.

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

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Zinacantan Textile Flowers, San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas

They speak Tzotzil here in the Maya highlands of Chiapas, Mexico.  San Lorenzo Zinacantan is a village nestled in a beautiful valley about thirty minutes from San San Cristobal de Las Casas.  It is a popular Sunday tourist destination combined with a visit to the mystical church at San Juan Chamula (which I will write about in another post), just ten minutes apart.

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Zinacantan people yielded to the Spanish during the conquest.  They enjoyed more favors and received fertile land in exchange for their loyalty. Today, the Zinacantan hillside is dotted with greenhouses where flowers grow in abundance to decorate church and home altars, and are a key part of festivals.

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The village replicates these flowers in their embroidery that embellish cloth created on back strap looms.  Over the years we have seen the patterns change from simple red and white striped cloth to sparkly textiles that incorporate synthetic glitzy threads of gold and silver.  Much of the embroidery is now machine stitched, though the designs are guided by expert hands.

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I’ve been coming to San Cristobal de Las Casas for years searching for a chal embroidered by hand to no avail. This time, Patrick, our guide took us to the home of Antonia, one of Zinacantan’s most accomplished weavers and embroiderers.  Among the hundred chals (shawl or tzute) available for purchase, I found a blue one all hand embroidered. Technology is winning out over the made by hand ethos.

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Identity is defined externally by the indigenous garment.  Some say the Spanish imposed this upon local people in order to know where they came from and to keep them in their place. Others say the design of the garment endures because of cultural pride.  The young woman above is from the village of Chenalho.  I can tell because of the design of her beautiful huipil.

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She is the tortilla maker at Antonia’s home, who keeps the fire going, makes us a fresh quesadilla of local cheese, cured chorizo, avocado and homemade salsa to remember the visit. Food is memory, too.

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Nothing is wasted, not even the smoke. It curls up from the comal to cure the meats that hang above it. The corn is criollo, locally grown and ground by hand, pure and wholesome. Here in the shadowy adobe kitchen there is magic.

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It is impossible to take photographs inside the church at Zinacantan. It is forbidden and cameras can be confiscated if you are found to violate this. Can you imagine a church altar spilling over with flowers from ceiling to floor, fresh, with an aroma of lilies, roses, gardenias and lilacs. The swirl of scent is like an infusion of incense, designed perhaps to bring one closer to god.

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I organized this art and archeology study tour for Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina.  If you have a small group interested in coming to Oaxaca or Chiapas, please contact me.  I have over 35 years experience organizing award-winning educational programs for some of America’s most respected universities.

Indigo Dye Workshop in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Making a shibori scarf using indigo dye was a highlight of the Penland School of Crafts visit to Oaxaca.

Penland Indigo WorkshopWe settled into the workshop studio of the Chavez Santiago family to hear about the planting, cultivation and preparation of indigo on the coast of Oaxaca in the village of Santiago Niltepec.

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Some people called it tie dye, but we know better since the technique was originally developed in Japan.  Lots of ways to make designs and patterns in the cloth that will resist the dye that coats its surface. PenlandBest91-60

It is a long seven month process to grow the indigo plant.  It needs the right soil and climate plus the knowledge of how to extract the blue color from the plant so that it becomes a stable and strong dye.

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The Museo Textil de Oaxaca now has an excellent exhibit and video that explains the fermentation, dye extraction and drying process.  What you end up with is a hard chunk of material that looks like coal.  It’s then ground into a powder and carefully added to a water bath so that the oxygen molecules are not activated.

PenlandBest91-56After we use rubber bands, string, marbles, beans, nuts, and just simple folding to create the pattern, we tie a string to the cotton cloth to submerge it gently into the dye bath.  It stays there for about twenty minutes.  Those who used the folding technique wrapped their cloth around styrofoam cylinders.

PenlandBest91-58 PenlandBest91-65 PenlandBest91-51 I work with local experts and guides to put together an unusual and intimate view of Oaxaca, her art, food and culture. I am not a tour guide but an expert at award-winning university program development. If you organization has interest in a program such as this one, please contact me.

PenlandBest91-69 PenlandBest91-64Art making in Oaxaca comes in many forms and varieties.  Making indigo scarves is just one way to participate hands-on in all that Oaxaca has to offer.

PenlandBest91-71 PenlandBest91-68 PenlandBest91-62At the end of the workshop we enjoyed a tapestry weaving demonstration with Federico Chavez Sosa and his wife Dolores Santiago Arrellanas who operate Galeria Fe y Lola in Oaxaca city. Its amazing to see how they color all their wool with natural dyes and use the color together to make extraordinary, vibrant carpets.

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Penland School of Crafts in Ocotlan de Morales, Oaxaca

Our Penland School of Crafts group travels through Oaxaca arts and artisan villages this week.  One destination is the regional town of Ocotlan de Morales where we met artist Rodolfo Morales through the murals he painted in the municipal building during the mid-century. These frescoes depict the rich agricultural tradition of the Ocotlan valley and honors the labor of the campesinos — the people who till, plant and harvest.

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The Morales home is a treasure trove of 1930’s and 1940’s collectibles and folk art. It includes a traditional tile kitchen with walls adorned in tiny clay cooking vessels. Every room opens to a central, plant-filled patio.PenlandBest91-3

The primary caretaker of the home is nephew Alberto Morales, who greeted us at the front gate and let us inside. He is also the head of the Morales Foundation that keeps the house renovated and open to the public. On our request, he generously opened the private bedroom and studio where his uncle slept and worked.

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With more than an hour to explore the always diverse and culturally delicious Friday Ocotlan market tianguis …

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we went off to San Antonino Castillo Velasco to visit folk art potter Jose Garcia Antonio.  Jose and his family work in red clay sculpture and he is recognized as a Grand Master of Oaxaca Folk Art.

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Next, a quick stop to the women’s embroidery cooperative.  The quick stop became an hour-long shopping forage through the piles of gorgeous Oaxaca wedding dress style blouses and shirts, preceded by a demonstration about pattern making and stitching techniques. This coop is excellent quality with affordable prices!

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Fortified by a delicious lunch at Azucenas Zapotecas at the San Martin Tilcajete crossroads, we backtracked to Santo Tomas Jalieza for a visit with Grand Master of Oaxaca Folk Art weaving family of Abigail Mendoza.

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A long day, but not too long to return to enjoy a lovely dinner at Casa Crespo. I put together a tasting menu with Oscar Carrizosa made up of  an array of first courses.  It was just perfect.

Oaxaca Cultural Navigator organizes arts workshop study tours for groups of up to ten people. Please contact us for more information.  Norma Hawthorne Shafer has over 30 years experience developing award-winning university programs.

 

Penland School Cooks in Oaxaca

We will be going back in time this week. A few days ago our participants from Penland School of Crafts gathered at Casa de los Sabores, the cooking school operated by chef Pilar Cabrera Arroyo.

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Our menu focused on mezcal including a flaming skewered pineapple and shrimp dish that went up in flames before we ate it. The pineapple chunks were soaked in mezcal so the natural sugars ignited instantly. They were accompanied by a salad featuring tiny tomatillos that we ate raw.

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Pilar has been preparing great food for a long time.  Her La Olla Restaurant is well known in the city for using organic ingredients that are artfully prepared. Because our study tour focuses on Oaxaca arts and artisanry, food is an important ingredient in the Oaxaca mix.

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Pilar is also very knowledgeable about the artesenal process of cultivating and distilling mezcal, too.  Before we sat down to the meal we participated in preparing, we enjoyed a four-flight mezcal tasting that began with young espadin.  She explained the different varietals, aging process and the rising cost of the smokey beverage based on escalating international interest.

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First, it’s important to smell.  Then, take a first sip and let it go down your throat slowly.  At the end of your drink, suck on an orange slice dipped in worm salt (sal de gusano) for a perfect finish.

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After the memelitas with squash blossoms and queso fresco, and after the chicken with mole amarillo, we ended with an incredible flan.

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With a beautiful table and an array of complex tastes, we were more than satisfied.  Oh, and I forgot to mention a shopping trip to the Mercado de la Merced before the class started to pick up essential ingredients.

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I work with local experts and guides to put together an unusual and intimate view of Oaxaca, her art, food and culture. I am not a tour guide but an expert at award-winning university program development. If you organization has interest in a program such as this one, please contact me.