Visitors and local revelers fill the streets. Hotels are booked months ahead. The pre-Hispanic traditions of Day of the Dead — Dia de los Muertos — in Oaxaca are becoming blended once again as people gather for this amazing celebration of life.
The Spanish combined ancient indigenous practice with Catholic All Saints Day. Now, as migrants return home to Mexico from the United States, the Halloween celebration and symbols from El Norte cross the border going south, and change happens.
On Sunday, families and young lovers gathered on the Zocalo to play with balloons, eat cotton candy or crunchy glazed red candy apples.
In late afternoon, we stumbled upon preparations for a mass in honor of the Virgin of the Rosary — Virgen del Rosario — at the famous gilded Santo Domingo Church, complete with village representatives adorned in indigenous dress participating, followed by a glorious fireworks spectacle which we saw from the rooftop terrace at Casa Oaxaca over dinner and mezcalinis.
On Monday, the comparsa — or children’s parade — assembled on the plaza at Santo Domingo before marching down the Alcala.
Street vendors, moms and dads with costumed children, often costumed themselves, and tourists with cameras mulled around. The band played and Santo Domingo was aglow in the light of late afternoon.
Two make-up artists were on hand to decorate the faces of toddlers, youngsters, teens and adults. The kids sat patiently while large hands tickled their faces with colored pencils, lipstick and lots of powder.
The walking street that connects Santo Domingo with the Zocalo was a crowd scene. Fun, colorful, and sometimes I got the impression that the parents wanted to be there more than the children did! A universal circumstance.
Of course, food is a highlight here, as is cempasuchitl. Love the food at Cafe San Pablo. Well prepared and reasonably priced. Shall we say goodnight now?
Day of the Dead: Parades and Costume Creativity
In Oaxaca, the Day of the Dead parades are called comparsas. On the first day of our seasonal photography expedition, color, sound, and the display of unparalleled costume creativity bombard us.
Frank Hunter, whose work was just published in the New York Times, and our instructor for this week, starts the workshop by showing photo examples captured using manual camera setting.
We begin with simple subjects like the ancient fountain at the Quinta Real Hotel, once a Dominican convent. Take at least five or six frames of each subject, manipulating the shutter speed one or two stops for each, advises Frank. Then, you can see what the light will do.
We are to use manual settings with a fixed f-stop of 8 and ISO of 500, and only manipulate the shutter speed to experiment with how might light to let into the lens. Today is an exercise in light and what a fast or slower shutter speed will produce.
The idea of moving away from automatic is daunting for most. So, the idea of using manual and making adjustments based on a greater understanding of how the camera works can be a challenge.
We could practice by shooting landscapes, objects, scenes, and details. My subject seemed to develop into Maquillaje Mexicano.
As we approach Alcala from our walk through the city, first to Santo Domingo, then to Plaza de la Danza where the teams are building sand sculptures, we hear the hubbub and band personnel tuning instruments.
We come upon a competition among high schools. They are to use recycled materials in their costumes for the afternoon Day of the Dead parade starting from the Zocalo. The whole process of make-up artistry fascinates me and I linger to get as much detail as I can.
The staging was magnificent. The groups moved slowly up the walking avenue, Macedonia Alcala, giving the crowd lots of time to take photos, show due appreciation, and dance to the live music.
There is always love on the street, couples in embrace, stealing kisses and today is no exception, even attired in painted newspaper evening dress.
The visual frenzy is eye candy, a feast for the senses. Zapotec and Aztec symbolism is rampant. Corn goddesses stand straight and mute, careful not to disturb their heavy headdresses, while supplicants dance in circles around them.
Girlfriends take special care to paint each other and apply make-up that will be the most dramatic and daring.
A revolutionary war hero on stilts cries the Grito as costumed campesinos accompany him.
Yellow nail polish and chicken livers provide enough imagination to give me a chill and a thrill.
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Posted in Cultural Commentary, Photography, Travel & Tourism
Tagged day of the dead, dia de los muertos, Mexico, Oaxaca, parades, photography, tour, workshop