Photo Diaries: Blending Photography and Prose

What is photojournalism?  Our workshop instructor June Finfer, Chicago documentary filmmaker/photographer/playwright explains it this way:  It is making a picture, capturing the connection, creating something out of what you are feeling as you go beyond the surface of what you see.

Our charge this week is to make photographs and then write about impressions that our photographs evoke.  The narrative accompanies the picture.  June asks us to consider each photo and what persona relationship we have to it.  Can a photo answer questions such as:  What do you expect here?  What is it about this experience that has changed you?    “The exercise becomes like a picture story, says June. “Photography creates possibilities for a common language when language is a barrier. We all go to the same places and each of us comes back with a different feeling, experience, impression.”

Photograph #1:  Making Tamales by Norma Hawthorne

Las mujeres, the women, sit together under the palapa, ancient hands and some younger and still soft, take a fistful of soft masa paste, smear it into the cups of  tender young green corn husks.  They are comadres, sit together under starlight.  A child clings to his mother’s apron hem. Together they sing an ancient hymn of womanhood under the stars by the campfire, preparing the meal, obscured by steam from the cooking pot.  For eternity, for now, for us.

Photograph #2:  Tlacolula Child in Yellow by Norma Hawthorne

Lost underfoot or forgotten?  Which among those legs and backs is the parent who loves her and leaves her to look out at something distant, beyond her grasp.  It is a feast day.  Their attention is on the priest who gives mass and absolution.  She looks toward a future unknown.  Were she mine, I would hold her and cherish her, this small, delicate child dressed in yellow.

Photography #3:  Woman with Bundle by Norma Hawthorne

A refreshment is what she asks for.  I ask for a photo.  Perhaps, she says with lips pursed and a glint in one eye.  I am not stealing her soul.  Her hat is a bundle of grain stored in a grain sack, stamped words too blurred to read even magnified.  Here she is: proud, defiant, strong, survivor beyond what is possible to endure.  Her hat sanctifies her, a blessing.  She is my gift of the day and I return the gift with pesos for a refresco.  A dios.

Photograph #4:  Señor Secundino at Las Cuevitas by Norma Hawthorne

Rugged, etched wood, rough-hewn, the texture of life — furrowed brow, creased cheek, gnarled hand, cracked leather strap, bristled mustache, mottled goatskin pulled taut over pine drum, rough pine, watch the splinters, tiny diamond pattern in finely woven straw hat, a brim offering a bit of shade.  But now it is night.  The shadow cast by an exposed light bulb defines him: solid, durable, tenacious.

Photograph #5:  Sunset at Las Cuevitas 2012 by Norma Hawthorne

Shadowy figures, silhouettes mark time until sun sets.  Beyond are mountains, magnificent purple, black.  Sun rays spray the clouds like a crown of glory.  In the dusk muffled voices utter a universal prayer for the ages:  peace, good health, shelter and warmth.  See the distant town.  The church steeple.  The call to forgiveness.  Feliz y prospero año nuevo. 

Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat is coming up March 2-9.  Consider joining us.


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