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Best of Week Day of the Dead Photographs: Kathy Heath AKA Louie

“This trip was the perfect way to re-invest in my interest in photography and explore a fascinating country and culture [of Oaxaca, Mexico] at the same time. I can’t imagine an instructor or guide who could have better managed the balance and flexibility to so successfully meet all the goals of the program,” says Kathy Heath, who is a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee assistant dean.

Almost like an early motion picture scene, almost like an old hand-colored sepia photograph, this stunning shot of the Macedonio Alcala at night says, yes, Oaxaca is safe, warm and welcoming. “I never had any concerns about my safety in Oaxaca. People were friendly, helpful and open,” says Kathy who goes by her nickname Louie.


Louie, has traveled around the world with her camera (and her husband) and showed us some stunning shots from a recent hiking trip she took in New Zealand. The photos she took in Oaxaca are a tribute to her photographic experience and sense of aesthetic to capture the moment.  These two photos (above) give us a close look at the comparsa and the seriousness of acting the part!

 (Photo 4, Left) The comparsas are also a time for young people to plan their costumes and participate in the parade.  This group is competing for best costumes, along with many others who walk Macedonio Alcala and then assemble on the Zocalo to see who won.  We love the combination of seriousness and frivolity in this photo.


We got to Plaza de la Danza, adjoining the Basilica de la Soledad, early in the week as the preparations for building the sand sculptures was just starting.  This Photo 5  is like a dance or a prayer, perfect image for the location!

This street vendor could be from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec based on her style of dress.   The scene blends many undecipherable messages, from wall graffiti to her blouse pulled up over her nose and mouth. Your guess is as good as mine!  Photo 6 by Louie!


In Photo 7 (left) Louie captures the gloss of the slick, wet street and a hand-truck filled with flowers destined to decorate a gravesite at Xoxocotlan’s old cemetery.  The rain came down and everyone ran for cover!  Photo 8 tells us about the dark, deep richness of a cemetery with little or no ambient light.

The beauty is in the serenity of Photo 9.  “It’s hard to decide what I learned or discovered that was MOST valuable. From technical aspects of photography and my camera, to different artistic perspectives about photography, to the culture and history of the area – it was all really valuable to me in very different ways,” says Louie.

Louie, along with her friend and colleague, Connie Jo, spent Day of the Dead in Teotitlan del Valle with Alejandrina Rios and Tito Mendoza and their family.  Louie managed a photo that included the ornately decorated altar and the warmth of the family.

During our time in Teotitlan del Valle we took time to explore the village’s weaving traditions.  We asked each participant what was most memorable about the entire learning experience.  Louie says, “Meeting the Chavez Santiago Family and learning about how they are maintaining the traditional craft of weaving, and incorporating those skills and traditions into their educational and career choices.  I was impressed and inspired by what they do.”

“Thanks for a great trip and learning experience Bill & Norma!!,” Louie says.  We say, thanks to you, Louie, for your compassionate sensitivity and insight to show us Oaxaca through your eyes.


Recipe: Happy Thanksgiving Norma’s Mexican Yellow Bean Soup

This week I went to my local Mexican market in Pittsboro, NC in search of dried yellow beans to create another batch of soup.  They store them in a bin and sell them by the pound.  I love their color and texture.  (Beans were originally cultivated in both Mexico and the Andes.)  Yellow beans are a staple in Mexico along with black, red, and pinto beans plus about fourteen other varieties.  The soup pot is on the stove ready and waiting for Thanksgiving Dinner.  This is a rich, deep golden soup that goes with all the autumn colors of the season and your Thanksgiving table.  Viva Mexico for giving us beans!

Norma’s Mexican Yellow Bean Soup

  • 2 C. dried yellow beans from your local Mexican market
  • 4-6  large carrots, peeled, cut into 2″ slices
  • 2  large turnips, peeled and quartered
  • 4 T. chopped parsley or cilantro
  • 1 medium white onion or 1/2 large onion
  • 4 whole cloves of garlic, peel on
  • 1 C. dried peppers, a mix of bell, poblano and ancho
  • 1 T. coarse sea salt
  • Water
Equipment Needed:
  • 6 quart stock pot
  • Slotted spoon
  • Blender
  • Measuring spoons and cups
1.  Preparing the Beans:  Rinse and clean the dried beans.  Bring 4 C. water to a boil. Add beans  to the boiling water. Cook until the water returns to the boil.  Drain and rinse with cold water.  Rinse out stock pot.  Return parboiled beans to the pot.  Set aside.
2.  Onion and garlic:  On a comal (thin griddle) or in a wok, grill the onions and garlic over medium high heat until slightly blackened and seared.  They are done when the juices begin to flow on the onion and the garlic inside its husk will be softened.   Husk the garlic — it will slide right off.  Put the whole, peeled clove into the stock pot with the beans.  Add the onion to the stockpot.
3.  Carrots, Turnips, Parsley, Peppers: Add the carrots, turnips and parsley to the stockpot.  Crumble the peppers and add them to the stockpot.
4.  Add 6-8 C. cold water to stockpot to cover the bean mixture.  Add sea salt and stir.  Bring to a simmer, cover and continue to cook until beans are soft.  Check every 15-30 minutes for doneness.
5.  With a large slotted spoon, remove all the carrots, turnips, onion and garlic to a blender (do not use a food processor).   Remove about 3/4 of the beans and add them to the food processor.  I have left about 25% of the beans whole in the pot to add texture to the soup.
6.  Add enough water to the blender to cover the mixture.  Use the PUREE setting and puree until the mixture is smooth.   [Your stock pot should have some beans in it along with the cooking broth.]  Add the puree mixture to the remaining beans and broth in the pot and stir well.  Add additional water to bring the soup to the thickness you desire.  Bring to simmer.
7.  Correct the Seasoning:  Taste. Add additional salt if needed.  You may also choose to add some cayenne pepper (careful, not too much), starting with 1/4 t. to give the soup more punch.
Stephen’s Grandmother’s Spoon stirring the pot.  Three generations of cooking.  Have a Happy Thanksgiving.  I’ll be continuing to post more Day of the Dead Photography Expedition photos tomorrow, since I don’t participate in Black Friday.
All my best, Norma

Best of Week Day of the Dead Photographs: Doug Mayfield

Doug came along on our Day of the Dead Photography Expedition because his wife Debbie wanted to go to Oaxaca and learn how to use her new camera.  Doug was reluctant but willing. His passion is underwater photography and the couple had recently returned from a South Pacific dive/photo trip where Doug shot some pretty stunning fish (he showed us some of his photos).  Taking pictures on terra firma was just not his thing.  But, we converted him!


Each of us had a different perspective on the comparsas.  In Photo 1 (left) Doug got the photo we all dream of — perfect eye contact from one of the parade participants.  In Photo 2 (right), a street cleaner in Xoxocotlan wearing his rain gear as we all huddled under an awning.

Doug says, “The whole photo immersion was great for learning how to get off auto on my new DSLR.  Unhappy with the software I brought, so my editing needs work.  Loved the people of Oaxaca and the Day of the Dead experience.”

In Photo 3 (left), Doug and Debbie, who are from Northern California, got a sneak preview of Mauricio Cervantes’ El Sueño de Elpis multimedia art installation.  The textures of this 17th century structure are amazingly clear and the perspective of the altars using bed frames and chairs say it all.  Mauricio used his childhood bed as a model to construct the bed altars.

“I came along with less enthusiasm than Debbie but could not be more thrilled with the overall experience,” says Doug.


In Photo 4, the play of light and shadow, foreground blur and the perspective of Mauricio’s El Sueño de Elpis creates the mood that the artist intended.

Photo 5 is like a Monet landscape, subtle and muted.  Look closely and you can see the raindrops in from of Debbie’s umbrella.  Doug took this shot in the Xoxocotlan old cemetery during preparations for the village’s October 31 commemoration of Day of the Dead. Even with a language barrier, people connect!

And, in Photo 6, on November 2, villagers in Teotitlan del Valle pay tribute to their loved ones at the cemetery.  Doug and Debbie went there with their host family, Pedro Mendoza and Carina Santiago.

“I cannot recommend Bill [Bamberger] enough.  He was, in my opinion, a fabulous choice for this class,” says Doug.

Photo 7 gives us a closer look at a Xoxocotlan grave site adorned in marigolds and candlelight.  Great clarity and depth of field for a difficult to execute night shot. Bravo, Doug.

Oh, my goodness, this Calavera Catrina might be saying, as she stood on the Zocolo next to the Cathedral with her skull filled with fortunes for anyone who gave a propina (tip).  Her outfit, topped with feathers along with a corn husk skirt (not seen), was over the top.  A perfect photo opp!  Thanks, Doug for this Photo 8.

“I loved the experience at the Chavez Santiago Family Weavers.  I felt very safe and had no fears for safety at all.  Thank you both [Bill and Norma] for a great learning experience!” says Doug.

Our next adventure is Street Photography with Frank Hunter starting January 16.  Get away from the cold and come to Oaxaca to learn from an extraordinary photographer/teacher.  A great holiday gift.

Best of Week Day of the Dead Photographs: Helene Haviland

Helene has wanted to visit Oaxaca and see Day of the Dead since 2004 when a photographer friend told her how she loved this beautiful city.  Helene says, “In the interim, I have held a Day of the Dead party complete with elaborate altar since 2005.  Now it was time to experience it in person.  I happened upon this workshop which was a perfect fit for me — hands on intensive learning in an intimate group environment with a wonderfully patient teacher Bill Bamberger, and experienced cultural navigator Norma Hawthorne.”  Helene made it easy on me:  She provided all the captions!  Here are her best of the week.

1.  Azucenas restaurant in San Martin Tilcajete.  Deby Thompson and I visited here and Ocotlan, where we saw artist Rodolfo Morales‘ house, bought alebrijes, had lunch here — the beautiful hostess happily posed for me in her colorful dress.  I loved the play of light and shadow.

2.  Polychrome figure of Christ on the Cross at San Felipe Neri Church.  Attending Catholic grade and high schools I loved looking at these lifelike statues and am fascinated by the ones in Spain and Mexico.

3.  Interior, San Felipe Neri Church.  Shooting without flash is de rigeur in the many churches in Oaxaca.  It allows you to appreciate the beauty of the painted walls and gilt icons.


4. Above Left: Seeing the many comparsas was one of my favorite things about Oaxaca and due to the location of our hotel we could hear the music in the distance, grab our cameras and go!  This might be my favorite shot because the girl in the front is trying to be serious and the friend behind her can’t help herself and breaks into a laugh.  5. Above Right: My second favorite, again multiple emotions here, serious and curious.


6. Above Left: The colors of the Santo Domingo‘s worn western facade, stone walls red with earth, couple in the background showing how enormous this ancient tree is, play of light and shadow – captured on a casual stroll on my way to a mezcal tasting.  7. Above Right: I got the shy grandmother of our host family in Teotitlan del Valle to look directly at the camera and smile by telling her she was beautiful, which she was.

8.  Loved this Catrina who posed on the Zocolo, the way she is in focus while shadowy figures move around her.  Norma took us out for a night shooting on tripod practice which was a tremendous help in preparing for shooting at the cemeteries.  I was just beginning to shoot using aperture. No more automatic and depending on flash!


9.  Above Left: This little Catrina was shot at night on the Alcala. I loved the way her veil lifted in the breeze and she lifts her chin to look directly at the camera.  10. Above Right:  The grandmother in a somber moment, altar in the background, after lighting the copal incense.

11.  Crumbling walls, light, shadow, color , captured at the opening of Maurcio Cervantes’ El Sueno de Elpis multimedia installation in Oaxaca, handheld without flash at 6400 iso f/7.1


12. Above Left:  The children’s comparsas were many and it was hard to resist the little Catrinas in their outfits.  The normally shy Oaxacans were anything but shy once they donned their elaborate costumes; it seemed to transform them.  13. Above Right: Cemetery at Teotitlan del Valle.  I watched as she went about drawing water from the well, cleaning and preparing the grave for Day of the Dead.

14.  Left:  Couple at the Textile Museum in Oaxaca. One of my favorite “postcard” shots.

Helene says, “I am fascinated by ancient traditions which persist in the modern world, especially those which pertain to religious beliefs.  I went to Catholic grade and high school and always loved the paintings and statues in Church.  I had visited Spain for Semana Santa in 2009 and was frustrated by the limitations of my digital camera and my lack of knowledge when shooting the night processions.  I shot a lot of film years ago but had gotten lazy shooting digital on automatic and wanted to change.  I had been to Mexico City and San Miguel de Allende 25 years ago, loved the culture and knew I wanted to go back someday.

“The structure of this expedition was flexible and provided ample opportunities for adventure and learning, both as a group and an individual.  Bill and Norma’s accessibility, before and during the trip, helped make every aspect easier for me as I had a lot of questions which I emailed both of them beforehand and they answered them thoroughly.  I felt totally safe and comfortable throughout.  I took many of Norma’s suggestions for added excursions and they were all great, especially visiting the Rudolfo Morales museum in Octolan,  Maurcio Cervantes’ art installation in Oaxaca, Mitla and the archaeological site Yagul.

“The weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle was like going back in time, fascinating yet we all had excellent WiFi — such are the contradictions of Mexico.  The bed and breakfast there was wonderful and the home cooked meals delicious.  I would recommend this workshop to anyone who want to have an authentic cultural experience in Oaxaca and an excellent learning workshop at a very reasonable cost.

“I enjoyed the weaving demonstration with the Chavez Santiago family and love my new rug.  I was not in the market for such a purchase but really wanted to support them and their endeavors as I respect that kind of integrity and work ethic.  I also loved Monte Alban, the markets–Benito Juarez and Tiacolula–watching chocolate being made, our crazy night at Xoxo, even eating a grasshopper!

Helene Haviland is an independent cinematographer/camera operator whose credits include the Chris Rock Show, The Tony Awards, and the Cosby Show.  She lives outside Baltimore, Maryland.  And, she’s a lot of fun!


Lila Downs Dazzles at Latin Grammy Awards

She is ours — Oaxaca’s goddess of song and lyrics. Lila Downs went on stage to perform at the 13th Latin Grammy Awards on November 15, again recognized for what she has contributed to the music world.  The Examiner article says it all. Accolades, too, to Paul Cohen, Lila’s husband, producer and collaborator.

Here are two photos I’ve taken of Lila in recent years.  Enjoy.

Above: At her Day of the Dead concert in 2011 at the Guelaguetza Auditorium in Oaxaca.

Below: At Las Cuevitas chapel, January 2 in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. The poncho was woven by Erasto “Tito” Mendoza in the Saltillo style.