Program Outline and Approach
Bill Bamberger, our expedition leader, has just sent in a course update about the Oaxaca photography expedition set for this October 29-November 4. He notes that the experience will give you time to produce an extensive portfolio of images that chronicles life in Oaxaca. During the expedition, we will concentrate on photographing city colonial-era architecture, markets, crafts, food, churches and, of course, its mystical multi-day celebration of Day of the Dead. In Teotitlan del Valle, our photographic approach will be more intimate as each participant will be paired with a local host family, traveling with them to the local cemetery to witness and photograph a personal celebration of All Souls Day. See this LINK for program description. (Registration Open)
Bill has organized the experience so that participants can identify a theme on which to concentrate. You can choose to focus on food, religious icons, housing, cemeteries, local artisans, family life, music, farming and agriculture, or whatever suits you. By the end of the workshop, we will have collectively created a range of personal portfolios that reflect the diversity of life in the region.
Our daily workshop sessions will be a mix of presentations and technical demonstrations. We will look at the examples of select regional photographers or those whose documentary style will help us expand our vision. You have the option to bring a sample portfolio to share at the start of the workshop and show what you’ve captured throughout the week. The program will culminate with a final celebration and group show.
We expect that photographic experience will vary widely from participant to participant and we welcome all levels — from beginners to more experienced — who want to come with us on this remarkable learning adventure.
You can choose however deeply you would like to participate in the workshop. If your principal goal is to have fun and enjoy the journey, we will work with each of you according to your interests and needs.
Feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or requests.
Expedition Learning Schedule
Saturday, October 29 — Gather and check in at our Oaxaca city hotel.
Sunday, October 30 — After breakfast and a brief orientation, we’ll explore the city. Later that afternoon, we will gather to talk about your photography experience and present the portfolio you brought with you to share. Presentation: Bill Bamberger will share photographs from Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory and Boys Will Be Men. He will talk about photographing in communities away from home.
Q and A: A brief question and answer period about technical concerns and or logistical questions about photographing in Oaxaca.
Monday, October 31 — morning discussion and photography review. Presentation: Revealing Mexico, Photographs by John Mack (Powerhouse Books, 2010) Gertrud Blom: Bearing Witness (UNC Press, 1985) Discussion: Photographing at the Day of the Dead: approach and technical considerations. At 2:30 p.m. we will meet at our hotel to travel together to the famed Xoxocotlan cemetery for an afternoon and night-time shoot.
Tuesday, November 1 — After a leisurely morning, travel by van to Teotitlan del Valle and check-in to bed and breakfast. After lunch, visit Federico Chavez Santiago Family Weavers. Rest of the day on your own to wander and shoot before dinner.
Wednesday, November 2 — After breakfast Discussion: Talk through project ideas for photographing in Teotitlan. Discuss issues related to working with hosts and photographing in the homes of local families. Brief discussion about using natural light and/or flash. Q and A: Question and answer session about photographing in the community and at the Teotitlan cemetery with host families.
Thursday, November 3 — After breakfast, Discussion: Experiences photographing in Teotitlan. Presentation: As a group, edit and sequence the work of one or two participants. Brief demonstration using Adobe Lightroom and/or Photoshop to edit images. Assignment: Prepare a final portfolio of about 10-20 images to share with the class at the evening session. Bill will be available during the day for optional individual meetings to help edit your work. 7 pm. Evening Presentations: Final projects or portfolios shared with class. Discussion about ways we might share our projects with the host families and the larger community of Teotitlan. We may want to invite our host families to a viewing of the final projects (we can discuss and decide this earlier in the week).
*We will organize photographs as jpegs, numbered sequentially, and loaded on a memory stick or external drive. We will project digital images via Bill’s MacBook Pro. Please contact Bill in advance if you would prefer to show images on your laptop.
What you bring to photograph with is a personal choice and, in great part, dependent on your way of working. Some of the most accomplished photographers work with a single lens using the uniformity of the fixed focal length to unify their approach, while others select a variety of lenses allowing them the option of shooting tight to focus on details or loose to capture a wide-angle scene. This equipment checklist is a suggested starting place. What you bring is ultimately up to you. Your budget and your choice about how much gear you will want to carry will also influence your choice of gear. Sometimes less is more.
Suggested photo equipment:
Lenses, bring the lens(es) you with which you are most comfortable working. Some of you will bring a single lens (fixed focal length or zoom) while others will bring a variety of lenses (wide angle and telephoto).
Memory cards, at least two, 2 GB or larger
DSLR batteries (two)
Tripod, for shooting at night
Cable release (allows you to use slow shutter speeds on the tripod)
Laptop or system for downloading and previewing images
Flash drive or portable external hard drive for backing up images
Software loaded on laptop (optional): Adobe Photoshop CS4, Adobe Bridge CS4 (or similar for editing images), Adobe Lightroom for processing RAW files
Extra DSLR camera body (optional, but it is nice to have an extra camera body when traveling).
If you have questions about the optional equipment, please contact Bill or Norma. We will have some personal items, like tripods, available to share and experiment with.
**Let Bill know if you plan to bring a film camera or something other than a DSLR. He tends to travel with my DSLR and a medium format film camera.
Textile Fashion Show: Journey to Remote San Felipe Usila, Oaxaca
For the past six days I have been on a textile journey through the Cuenca del Papaloapan Region where the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca mountain range meets the coastal plain of Veracruz. This has been off-the-beaten-path travel into remote villages where textile traditions, back strap loom weaving and intricate embroidery techniques, manage to survive in a dominant culture invaded by polyester, machined fabrics and low-wage, Chinese-made clothing.
Travel took us overland starting from Veracruz, the oldest port in Mexico, south along the Gulf of Mexico to Tuxtepec, a jungle wonderland and gateway into Oaxaca state from the east. Today, I’m featuring the indigenous dress of San Felipe Usila, the most isolated village of our tour.
From Tuxtepec, it takes us three hours to get to Usila on a winding mountain road, half of which is unpaved. But, the gift of meeting some extraordinary weavers who are incredibly hospitable make the trip worthwhile.
We are greeted with the opportunity to purchase some very beautiful pieces followed by a lunch of chicken and mole amarillo, and handmade tortillas fresh from the comal. Dinner is a delicious, home-cooked traditional stone soup that is a pre-Hispanic recipe originating from Usila. Overnight lodging in Usila is basic and clean. A hotel is located on the outskirts of town down a dirt road that turns to mud in the rain. It’s a rainforest here, so the climate is tropical, damp and lush.
Many of the plants and animals of the region are reflected in the weaving designs including flowers, squirrels, corn, butterflies and the tree of life. Every woman has her own interpretation of the mythic and actual world that is translated to cloth, so each weaver creates a different and very distinct design.
We learn that the two headed eagle represents the duality of life, the good and the bad. We see quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent, and the eye of god that offers protection. We are told about the four cardinal directions, how they are incorporated into the woven story and their pre-Hispanic significance.
We hear that traditional women want to be buried in their wedding huipil so that their husbands will recognize them in the afterlife. We see that only the grandmothers continue to wear the huipil as a daily garment.
For holidays, festivals and special occasions there is more elaborate dressing with the media-gala and gala huipiles, adorned with flowers, ribbons, lace and intricate detailing that is unparalleled.
Many of the ancient techniques of back strap loom weaving to create traditional clothing has been lost by some villages. There is a dedicated effort to teach young women the techniques to keep the tradition alive. But, it’s a challenge. People everywhere want an education and higher paying jobs.
Today, the major markets for these garments are textile lovers and collectors who purchase them in many fine Oaxaca galleries. Few dare to venture into the hinterlands to find these treasures on their own.
Oaxaca Cultural Navigator offers in-depth, educational workshops usually based in one location to establish a sense of place. We are not a tour or guide service. I decided to travel with Tia Stephanie Tours to discover the source of this beautiful, ancient, woman-centered tradition. We moved from village to village across a wide swath of territory at a racer’s pace to get an excellent overview.
If you are more inclined to get there as an independent traveler, take a bus or collectivo from town to town, or rent a car and drive from Oaxaca city on Mexico 175. Get a Guia Roji Mapa 20 for the Estado de Oaxaca.
You may want to stop and spend the night in Pueblo Magico Capulalpam de Mendez or continue on until you reach Valle Nacional. There are several lovely hotels in Capulalpam and a few small hostals in Valle Nacional. From there, you can get to the pueblos in the Papaloapan Region that we visited: Valle Nacional, Rancho Grande, San Miguel Soyaltepec and San Lucas Ojitlan, bypassing the entry through Veracruz. This route will take six to eight hours of driving from Oaxaca to Valle Nacional over winding mountain roads! You might also consider establishing a base in one of the villages if you don’t mind sleeping in a hammock or a basic, no frills room with only cold running water.
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Oaxaca Mexico art and culture, Textiles, Tapestries & Weaving, Travel & Tourism, Workshops and Retreats
Tagged adventure travel, back strap loom, huipil, Mexico, Oaxaca, Papaloapan Region, photography, San Felipe Usila, textiles, Tuxtepec, weaving