Monthly Archives: October 2012

Vendors of Oaxaca: On the Streets, in the Markets

Whether it’s the selling of food at a street corner, hand woven palm hats from a seat at the edge of a high concrete planter box, or from behind a market stall, commerce is alive and well in Oaxaca.

At night, returning from a delicious dinner of coconut shrimp at Los Danzantes restaurant, we turned the corner to get to our hotel and found this:  Burger Movil (the moving burger) and Equito Elotes (corn on the cob).  Think Food Truck, which I believe must have been invented by Mexicans!


Some of my favorite street vendors are the hat weavers. It’s catch as catch can with them. If you see them one day, you may not see them again for weeks. They move from place to place depending on the traffic.  Her fingers are like flying shuttles, I could hardly keep up with them. Handmade hat: 220 pesos and photo with permission!


The women from the red clay pottery village of San Marcos Tlapazola, southwest of Tlacolula in the mountains, are part of a cooperative that makes almost entirely utiliarian ware, primarily comales or griddles, bowls, and jars. The Zocalo in Oaxaca city provides a ready market for approaching prospective buyers who sit at outdoor cafes.  Small comal was 20 pesos. I had to buy one in order for her to stop long enough and to agree to get a photo of her.

Little bags of potato chips and crunchy cheese rings drizzled with chili sauce make a great portable snack. After about 20 minutes, when he had no takers sitting in front of the Catedral on the Zocalo, he picked up and moved on. I saw him later that day at another spot closer to Santo Domingo Church.


And how does she balance those gardenias and roses on her head? 

At the Benito Juarez Market and the 20 de Noviembre Market just two blocks away from the Zocalo, there is a buzzing corridor where men put chorizo and salchicha and flank steak on the grill along with fresh veggies.  The corridor is lined with cafe style tables and benches filled with hungry families.


Calavera La Catrina: Day of the Dead Grande Dame

Animated images of skulls associated with Day of the Dead were intended as social satire — a good laugh on politicians and the climbing bourgeoisie in political 19th and 20th century Mexico.  Today, the image of skeletal bones dressed in fancy attire that dance through the night are part of the Oaxaca art scene.  It appears there is great competition for who can be the most creative.


During my weekend wanderings, I captured a few of these whimsical characters, sure to bring a smile or to remind one of a long-lost relative.  Not only do they dance, they play musical instruments, sip afternoon tea at cafe windows, and beckon passersby into the most elegant courtyard shops.


One of my favorites is this group of ladies in the Los Danzantes Resaurante courtyard off Macedonio Alcala, each attired in indigenous dress representing the various regions of Oaxaca.

As I meandered down Calle 5 de Mayo, this abuela and abuelo (grandmother and grandfather) couple drew me in to the Artisans Cooperative.  He was in definite serenade mode.

The humor, playfulness and celebration that welcomes Day of the Dead has an entirely different symbolism in Mexico about death and dying than it does in the U.S.A.  The mockery of life causes us to laugh at ourselves, and it also reminds us that life is a continuum and death is not to be feared.  It’s a healthy approach that is shared by many cultures around the world.

At the Museo Textile de Oaxaca, I caught this masked man in full Day of the Dead regalia.  He is definitely a live wire.

  And at El Nahual Gallery on Calle 5 de Mayo, this lovely Catrina welcomes folks to take a closer look.


And, if you are so inclined, you might want to pack one up and take her home in your suitcase!  Lots of folk art shops in the city offer variations on the theme for sale. Feliz Dia de los Muertos.


Day of the Dead Flowers: Cempazuchitl and El Sueño de Elpis

On Thursday, November 1, artist Mauricio Cervantes and friends at El Sueño de Elpis are hosting a multimedia exhibition in Oaxaca. It will be at Murguia #103 in an old abandoned historic casa. The event begins at 7 p.m. and it should be a fantastic, knowing Mauricio’s talent for producing something aesthetically exquisite. Since our photo group will be in Teotitlan, I am arranging an earlier preview!  Disfruta bien.


And around the streets of Oaxaca, the cempazuchitl Day of the Dead marigolds are appearing in every window, shop and restaurant.  The flowers are an abundant reminder of how the scent helps the dead find their way back to earth for one day to visit their relatives.  The word is Nahuatl and has various spellings, all of which are pronounced more or less similarly.


The Quiet of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca: Beauty in the Ordinary

Yesterday was the first in three days that I got beyond the courtyard of my host family to walk around the village.  It was a perfect day. The sky was, as we say in North Carolina, Carolina Blue.  At every turn, there were proud Mexican flags on rooftops catching the breeze. This was a simple, ordinary day in Teotitlan del Valle.


The morning sunlight caught the shadows of the yet-to-be-made fringes of this beautiful rug handwoven by Federico Chavez Sosa, hanging on the wall where I stay. When you are in Oaxaca, visit the family’s Galeria Fe y Lola at Cinco de Mayo #408 for best quality with natural dyes.


As I walk, I noted the empty streets, the quiet.  I could hear the beat of looms in rhythm to distant sounds of Ranchera music, the laughter of children playing in courtyards behind closed doors.  My destination was Bii Dauu cooperative to buy hand-woven, naturally dyed  handbags for an upcoming show I am doing in Atlanta in early December. Here I found Rafaela weaving a bag on her loom — a blue moon design just about completed.

Later, this bedspring fence caught my attention on several levels. The contrast of the wild marigold, the shadows of the wood frames like religious crosses, the sky descending into turquoise gray, the simplicity of the landscape.

The texture of wood, brick, metal, agave, the curve of mountains, the blur of distance at a construction site gave me pause that beauty is in all simple things.


Today, I leave the village for Oaxaca city, and the start of our Day of the Dead Photography Expedition.  The atmosphere will be charged with the energy of a festival with street entertainment, comparsas (parades), music, and visitors from all over the world.  I hold these images of rural Mexico close to me as a soothing touchstone.

Guelaguetza Photography Workshop in Oaxaca, Mexico

7 nights, 8 days, July 26-August 2, 2013.  Our Guelaguetza Photography Workshop gives you an opportunity to capture indigenous folkloric traditions and build upon your photography skills.  Guelaguetza is a magical time in Oaxaca when indigenous people come to the city from throughout the rural areas of the state adorned in their finest handmade traje (indigenous dress). On Monday, July 29, we will take you to an extraordinary dance production of Guelaguetza where you can see the extravagant costumes, hear local music, and gain an understanding of the customs.

For all levels, beginners and beyond!  Limited to 10 participants.

At the end of July and early August are the famed Mezcal Fair and a tribute to Oaxaca’s seven moles.  We’ll introduce you to both.

Your guides and instructors are published art photographers Tom and Sam Robbins, our husband-wife team from Columbus, Ohio.  The Robbins’ are versatile and experienced, whose work is featured in national photography magazines.  This will be their fourth year to teach in Oaxaca with us.

  • Tom and Sam are excellent teachers and photographers. They have an incredible passion for photography and showed great care for each participant, taking time to understand each of our needs and looking through our photos with us.


  • Sam and Tom are the ideal instructors.  Any experience with them is one that is worthwhile.  I would recommend this program to others.  It is life changing and breathtaking.  — Emily Moore, The Ohio State University

The program focuses on the use of  digital SLR photography to capture, record and document indigenous life, the Guelaguetza festival, local markets, famed Mesoamerica archeological sites, folk art and artisans, landscapes, and people.  This is cultural immersion at its best!

We include all lodging, most meals, tickets to the Guelaguetza performance, and local transportation associated with the workshop in the cost of registration!


The colonial city of Oaxaca de Juarez is located 375 miles south of Mexico City.  It is safe, warm and inviting, and can be reached directly from the U.S. by United Airlines from Houston, TX or via Mexico City connections.

  • Every experience with Sam and Tom is one for the books, every minute in their company a gem. The order of places we went was excellent, very well planned and executed workshop.
  • The workshop was inspiring. Not only did it open up my world to a new culture, I gained a new passion for photography.

We will stay in Oaxaca City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in the family friendly Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle.  Throughout the week, we will take you to private homes and artist studios to enrich and personalize your photography learning experience.

  • The instructors are exceptional, and there are endless picture subjects here. -Kellie Fitzgerald, The Ohio State University


We’ll visit San Pablo Villa de Mitla archeological site, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and stop to photograph the 3,000 year old cypress tree that is 160 feet in diameter in nearby Santa Maria del Tule.


  • With very little formal background in photography, the most valuable aspects of this workshop were the technical ones, as well as the time to practice and think about my work.
  • The most valuable part for me was being immersed in a completely different culture.
  • The whole experience of being in Mexico was very eye-opening and getting the chance to capture that with photography was fun!

Topics Covered:

  • Using manual camera settings
  • Understanding composition
  • Capturing light, shadow and reflection
  • Knowing more about aperture and shutter speed
  • Determining when to use flash, night photography
  • Experimenting with black and white, and sepia
  • Exploring the essentials of landscape and portraiture
  • Getting feedback for steady improvement

During the workshop, we will review each other’s work, give and receive feedback, and receive expert guidance and coaching from Tom and Sam.  A group presentation at the end of the week will give you an opportunity to showcase your best work and select a theme, if you choose.

  • Being immersed in the culture by sleeping in a local bed and breakfast with very kind, generous villagers helped make the cultural immersion a life-changing visit.  My direct experience of Teotitlan, Oaxaca and surrounding artisan villages is so far removed from any concern of personal safety it’s almost laughable.  Thank you for the opportunity to learn of more beautiful people and places in the world in a safe and inviting workshop atmosphere

Sam (behind the camera) and Tom Robbins lead summer 2013 Oaxaca Photography Expedition.

About Husband and Wife Photographers Tom and Sam Robbins, Your Expedition Guides and Workshop Leaders

Tom Robbins, a photographer for more than 40 years, recently retired as professor of architecture at Columbus (Ohio) State Community College.  His careers in architecture and education have deepened his love for,  and understanding of design, composition and visual impact.  Tom and his wife, Sam, have exhibited widely and their work has been published in “Black and White Magazine.”  Tom has photographed extensively in rural Ohio, New Orleans, and Southern Mexico where he finds the landscapes, the architecture and the people wonderfully photogenic. In the last five years, Tom and Sam have made Mexico the primary subject of their photography and have visited Oaxaca and the surrounding villages many times.  Most of Tom’s work has been with 35 mm SLR and medium format cameras.

A serious photographer for over 20 years, Sam Robbins considers herself to be a “photographic hunter.”  Like her husband, Tom, she is most comfortable walking and wandering with her camera at the ready. While she has done studio portrait work, she is happiest allowing photographs to present themselves.  Sam is an award-winning New Albany (Ohio) High School teacher of art, English and photography.  She sees sharing her passion for photography with students as one of the most rewarding experiences of her life.  Sam is also a quilter, and believes that her work with color and design have contributed to her photographic eye.  Though most of her work has been with a 35 mm SLR, she also has shot with medium format and really enjoys using a plastic toy camera.  Recently, Sam taught and exhibited at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, where English and Spanish-speaking participants applauded her thoughtful, supportive style.

Tom holds the Bachelor’s in Architecture from the University of Illinois.  Sam holds the B.A. in political science from Ohio University and the M.A. in English Education from The Ohio State University with an art minor from Otterbein University.

See their work at


Preliminary Itinerary (subject to change): 72 hours of instruction

Day One,  Friday, July 26:  Travel to Oaxaca. Arrive and settle in to our bed and breakfast. (D) Overnight Oaxaca.

Day Two, Saturday, July 27: Breakfast and learning session. A walking orientation to explore Oaxaca’s churches, museums, Zocalo.  Group lunch.  Afternoon market visit.  Best of the Day show.  (B,L).  Overnight Oaxaca.

Day Three, Sunday, July 28:  Visit Monte Alban archeological site and Atzompa pottery village after the morning learning session.  Best of the Day show. Group dinner.  (B, D). Overnight Oaxaca.

Day Four, Monday, July 29: After the morning learning session, we will travel to the afternoon Guelaguetza Folkloric Performance in the El Fortin Auditorium.    Then prepare for Best of Day show. (B, L)

Day Five, Tuesday, July 30: After breakfast and the morning learning session, we will pack and travel to Teotitlan del Valle, the Zapotec weaving village, making a stop at El Tule.  (B, D) Overnight in Teotitlan.

Day Six, Wednesday,  July 31:  After breakfast and the morning learning session, we’ll travel to San Pablo Villa de Mitla to photograph this famed archeological site then visit a master weaver for a weaving/natural dyeing demonstration.  Best of Day show at end of day.   Group dinner (B, D)

Day Seven, Thursday, August 1: After breakfast and the morning learning session, you will begin to prepare your final presentation for Best of Week Show with Gala Grand Finale Dinner.  (B, D)

Day Eight, Friday, August 2:   Departure.

What You Should Bring
  •  Your energy and enthusiasm
  • Digital SLR camera
  • Laptop computer and editing software (such as Lightroom or Photoshop
  • Batteries and battery charger
  • Memory card(s) and card reader
  • Pen and notepad
  • Memory stick–jump drive

Plus, sturdy, comfortable walking shoes, sun protection, sun hat

(Upon registration, you will receive a complete packet and information guide with suggested packing list and other useful information.


In Oaxaca City we will stay at a delightful, safe and upscale bed and breakfast that is highly rated by Trip Advisor.  In Teotitlan del Valle, we stay in a local bed and breakfast operated by three generations of women — grandmother, mother, daughter — all great cooks! The food is all handcrafted and delicious.  Vegetarian options are available.

Cost:  The base cost for the trip is $1395.00 USD double occupancy per person.  This includes 7 nights lodging in a shared room, 7 breakfasts, 2 lunches, 4 dinners, transportation to villages and archeological sites, Guelaguetza performance ticket, and all instruction.  Most travel programs of this type and length cost more than twice as much!

Optional Add-ons:

  • Single occupancy with private bath, $1,595.
  • Come early or stay later, add $135 per night lodging in Oaxaca City and add $55 per night lodging in Teotitlan del Valle
  • Include travel health insurance, ask for quote based on age and length of stay
  • Cooking Class with noted Oaxaca chef, $85 per person

It does NOT include airfare, taxes, admissions to museums and archeological sites, tips/gratuities, and some meals.

Reservations,  and Cancellations

A 50% deposit ($700) is required to guarantee your spot.  The final payment for the balance due (including any supplemental costs) shall be postmarked by May 1,  2013.  We only accept Payment with PayPal.  We will be happy to send you an  invoice.

Note: Last year filled quickly. Don’t hesitate if you want to attend!

If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email.   After June 1, no refunds are possible; however, we will make every possible effort to fill your reserved space.  If you cancel before June 1, we will refund 50% of your deposit.  We strongly recommend that you take out trip cancellation, baggage, emergency evacuation insurance before you begin your trip, since unforeseen circumstances are possible.

Comments About Safety

  • I can’t recall one instance the entire time where I felt threatened.  Almost everyone we encountered was very receptive and endearing – only adding to the beauty of this wonderful place.
  • I never felt unsafe during the workshop, including getting to it by flying to Mexico City and taking buses to Puebla and then Oaxaca.  The organizers helped us by providing useful tips. 
  • I always felt safe in Teotitlan and Oaxaca, the people are so warm and welcoming. 
  • I felt completely 100% safe all of the time.  Perhaps more safe than in my hometown, if that’s possible!

To register or for questions, contact:

This workshop is produced by Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  For more information, see: