Oaxaca Photography: Sun, Color and Discarded Rules

Photography is about using your eye, moving your feet, getting close, looking for shapes, light, pattern, simplicity, the detail of the subject.  We are in Oaxaca where the sun is strong, the colors vibrant and the richness of place intoxicating.


I am told there is a saying, “el sol es la cobija de los pobres”  — the sun is the blanket of the poor.  I don’t know exactly what this means.  I extrapolate that warmth from the sun soothes us and can sustain our humanity.  Warmth protects and nurtures us.  Perhaps we need nothing more than the heat of the sun to find contentment and peace.  I wonder: Is the disgrace of poverty lessened by warmer climates?


Tom Robbins notes that “In countries with lots of sunlight, people gravitate to color.  “Think Greece and Mediterranean Italy,”  he says.

I see in Oaxaca that color expresses life, vitality, heart and soul.  In Oaxaca, far south of the U.S. border, color is primary and the sun is so strong that it bleaches and sucks the color from the skin of buildings.  They are continuously being painted.  Layer upon layer of paint on stuccoed adobe or wood is like an archeological dig to be carefully unearthed.  The textures are amazing.


Oil paintings, lithographs, and silkscreen prints are created with strokes of blood red, narcissus yellow, cobalt blue, fern green and all shades in-between — not pastel, but rich enough to make the eyes dazzle and the tongue savor as if everything were a tasty morsel to be consumed.

“Color,” Tom says, “brings a place to life.”  Perhaps it is the reflection of the sun on brightly colored buildings that radiates the energy to infuse us with joy and inspiration.

We are sitting in the La Biznaga restaurant courtyard on upper Garcia Virgil a couple of blocks from Santo Domingo Church.  There is no rush and a “normal” lunch or comida is a minimum of two hours.  We had a timeline but quickly discarded it.   The service is appropriately leisurely for the culture.

It is a sparkling day and the canvas roof cover is pulled back revealing pure blue sky that compliments the stark whiteness of the canvas.  The appetizers are jicama fingers sprinkled with lime juice and chile powder.  The margarita is salty- rimmed fresh mango slush with plenty of tequila.  Where did I have to go?


Sam Robbins says photography should be fun.  She offers, “There are too many rules that can limit your creativity.  Throw out the rule of thirds and fourths,” she goes on.  “This approach puts you in a box.  You become rule bound and that creates anxiety to be perfect.”  That’s when it all falls apart, I guess.  I was relieved to hear we would dispense with the rules!


We are talking about the workshop set to start in 24-hours but we are distracted by the laughter at adjoining tables, the terra cotta clay bowls filled with creamy yellow squash blossom soup, the sun-washed honey-colored walls of the courtyard embracing us, the crispy tortilla cones filled with sauteed purple hibiscus flowers adorned with a mound of creamy guacamole, and the intricately embroidered floral bodices of aprons hanging in an adjoining window.

Click here to read about Oaxaca Photography Workshop: Market Towns and Artisan Villages, Summer 2012   We are taking registrations now!



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