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Oaxaca Festivals: Parade of the Baskets, Teotitlan del Valle 2011

Janet Chavez Santiago with her cousins

Summer is a great time to travel to and explore Oaxaca, Mexico. The famed Parade of the Baskets, or Calenda de las Canastas, begins in the church courtyard on the late afternoon of July 5 and kicks off the five-day patron saint day celebration of Teotitlan del Valle.  It is called Parade of the Canastas because of the heavy baskets the young women carry on their heads in processional throughout the village.

Cousins from Teotitlan del Valle and Arizona, USA

More than 100 young women gather in the church courtyard where the parade begins.  The procession includes the young women, the band, the dancers who have made the three-year commitment for the Dance of the Feather, village leaders, and little boys who have been selected to carry festival banners.

El Danzante de la Pluma

Village band accompanies the procession

All will wind through the streets of the village for about an hour and a half so everyone has a chance to pay homage and tribute.  Men who ignite firecrackers will signal the arrival of the procession along the way.

Procession leaders carry the baskets of patron saint: El Senor Jesucristo with white roses

Festival banners and bamboo poles wave high

The patron saint of Teotitlan del Valle is Preciosa Sangre de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo — Church of Jesus Christ of the Precious Blood.

Carrying the basket requires balance and strength

The baskets are heavy.  It is an honor and commitment for the young women who are selected to carry them.  Frequent stops to rest help immensely!

On July 6, 7, and 9, the Dance of Feather will also take place in the church courtyard, marking the story of the fall of Moctezuma and the conquest of Mexico by Cortes.

Two jesters mock both Cortes and Moctezuma

For an unparalleled photography experience, see Day of the Dead Photography Expedition 2011.  We are accepting registrations now.

Oaxaca Photo Expedition Day Two: June 30, 2011

Today was a walking tour of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico and definitely a cultural immersion experience. We started out with a return to the village market where daily commerce and social connection is played out. Next, we walked down the cobbled streets to the Bii Dauu weaving cooperative where Rafaela showed us the cultivation of cochineal on the prickly pear cactus. Her seventeen year old son was dressing the loom, tying the warp threads onto the heddles. After that, we walked across town to the home and studio of painter Pantaleon Ruiz Martinez to learn about how he uses natural dye pigments and beeswax in his paint. Everything is in micro-detail because Sam and Tom are teaching the group how to shoot close and move our feet. Here are my photos of Day Two to share with you.

Our next expedition is over Day of the Dead. Don’t miss it!

2011 Day of the Dead Photography Expedition, Oaxaca, Mexico

Saturday, October 29 – Friday, November 4, 2011.

Bill Bamberger is your expedition leader. He teaches at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and in the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies.
Travel with us to Oaxaca, Mexico where you will explore the magic and mystery of Day of the Dead through photography– a feast for the visual senses.  This six-night, seven-day expedition is a cultural immersion experience.  During this annual festival the city vibrates with color, music, and Mardi Gras-like energy.  Come with us to document the food, religious symbols, people, cemeteries and family celebrations both in the city and in the rural Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle.   By the end of the week, you will use your digital SLR camera for visual storytelling and cultural discovery.


This workshop is limited to 10 participants.  Last year we filled quickly.  If this is something you’ve always dreamed of doing, don’t hesitate!


Panteon Xoxocotlan I, Dia de los Muertos 2010

This workshop is for beginning and intermediate-level amateur photographers who want to learn more about their digital SLR cameras and move more comfortably beyond the automatic setting.  Topics covered include using natural light, aperture and shutter speed, using a tripod, night-time photography, using bounce flash, focusing on details, photographing people and taking the time to set up your shot.


Learning documentary-style photography is different from taking photographs as a tourist.   It involves some degree of assimilation and a greater understanding of the culture and people you are photographing.  On this journey you will photograph people in their natural settings, experience local rituals, visit family environments, all while immersing yourselves in both the city and rural life of Oaxaca.

You will review each other’s work, give feedback, and provide supportive critiques, as we mix class instruction with being out on the streets.  Instruction will include a mix of formal group discussion and individual feedback.  You will have the opportunity to undertake an independent project during our stay in the Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle that focuses on themes central to Day of the Dead family observances and ritual.

2010 Dia de los Muertos Expedition Group

About Photographer and Educator Bill Bamberger

For two decades Bill Bamberger has been photographing Americans and their daily lives. His photographs have appeared in Aperture, Doubletake, Harper’s and the New York Times Magazine.  He has appeared as a featured guest on CBS Sunday Morning, About Books (CSPAN2), and North Carolina People with William Friday. His first book, Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory (DoubleTakeBooks/Norton, 1998), won the Mayflower Prize in Nonfiction and was a semifinalist for the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award.

Bamberger’s work explores large social issues of our time: the demise of the American factory, housing in America, adolescents coming of age.  A trademark of Bamberger’s exhibitions is that they are first shown in the community where he has chosen to photograph prior to their museum exhibition. Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory premiered in an abandoned department store a block from the closed furniture factory, while Stories of Home was first shown in a custom-designed 1,000 square foot mobile art gallery on San Antonio’s Mexican-American West Side.

Bamberger has had one-person exhibitions at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Yale University Art Gallery and the National Building Museum.  He was one of fifty-six American artists to participate in Artists and Communities: America Creates for the Millennium, the National Endowment for the Arts millennium project where he produced part II in an ongoing series about teenage boys coming of age.

Bamberger lives in Durham, North Carolina and teaches photography at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  He has lectured at museums and universities throughout the country and has taught classes and workshops pro bono in underserved communities across the country.

We selected Bill because of his unique perspective and in-depth experience.

Website:  billbamberger.com

Angel in Pan de Muertos (Day of the Dead bread)

Sesame candy skulls ready for eating.

Preliminary Itinerary (subject to change)

Day One, Oaxaca:  Meet fellow travelers and your instructor at our hotel for a pre-dinner gathering and discussion.  Group dinner.

Day Two, Oaxaca:  After breakfast, we’ll embark on a group walking expedition around Oaxaca city to see the highlights and get our bearings.  After lunch we will meet for class, then enjoy the free time  to capture the “magic hour” before dinner.  Options to explore markets, churches, street parades, public altars.

Day Three, Oaxaca:  After breakfast and class, have the day to explore on your own.  Then after lunch, we’ll go to the famed Xoxocotlan cemetery for an extraordinary Day of the Dead extravaganza. This is a VERY late night, so be prepared!  Options to explore Monte Alban archeological site or a crafts village.

Day Four, Teotitlan del Valle: After breakfast and a debriefing session, enjoy free time before we depart in early afternoon for the Zapotec weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle.  After check-in and lunch, we’ll enjoy a village walkabout orientation visiting artisans along the way. Then we’ll return to our bed and breakfast for supper.

Day Five, Teotitlan del Valle:  After breakfast and a briefing session, you will meet and spend the day with a local host family for a cultural immersion experience to capture Day of the Dead indigenous traditions. This might include helping to decorate the home altar, preparing and participating in the ritual lunch, and accompanying the family to the village cemetery.  We’ll see you back at our B&B after nightfall.

Day Six, Teotitlan del Valle: After breakfast, we will share experiences and photos of the prior day in our final class session.  After visits to local artisans, you’ll have the rest of the day on your own.  We’ll meet up in the evening for a Best of the Week photo exhibit and celebration supper.

Day 7, Teotitlan del Valle:  After breakfast and a group photo, we’ll complete the evaluation and summary before saying our goodbyes

Note:  Please make plane reservations to arrive in time to join us for the first evening orientation and dinner that begins at 6:30 p.m.  Your flight departure time should be no earlier than noon on Friday.  We are happy to make arrangements for you to arrive a day or two early or depart a day or two later at an additional cost.

Church of the Precious Blood, Teotitlan del Valle

Muertos Merrymakers

What You Should Bring

1)     Your energy and enthusiasm

2)     Digital SLR camera

3)     Laptop computer

4)     Software for organizing and presenting images (such as Photoshop Express)

5)     Batteries and battery charger

6)     Camera Memory card(s) and data sticks

7)     Pen and notepad

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.)



Lodging/Accommodations. To keep this experience affordable, we have selected accommodations that are clean and basic.  We will spend three nights in Oaxaca and three nights in Teotitlan del Valle.   If you prefer luxury accommodations, please consider a different program.

Cost:  The basic cost for the trip is $1,295. USD. This includes six nights lodging double occupancy with shared bath, six breakfasts, three lunches, four dinners, transportation to the villages, and all instruction.  Most travel workshops of this type and length cost more than twice as much! It does NOT include airfare, taxes, gratuities, travel insurance, liquor/alcoholic beverages, some meals, entry fees, and transportation.

You will have the option of sharing a double room with shared bath for the base price of the trip.  Please indicate your preference.

Option A: Double room with shared bath; $1,295. Deposit to reserve: $650.

Option B: Double room with private bath; $1,495. Deposit to reserve: $750.

Option C:  Single room with private bath;  $1,645.  Deposit to reserve: $823.

Option D:  Add one night lodging in Oaxaca on Friday, October 28, +$150 each.

Option E:  Add one night lodging in Oaxaca on Friday, November 4, +$150 each.

Option F: Add additional nights lodging in Teotitlan del Valle, November 4+ for $55 per night.

Oaxaca Valley, View from Monte Alban

Reservations and Cancellations

A 50% deposit is required to guarantee your spot.  The final payment for the balance due (including any supplemental costs) shall be postmarked by August 1, 2011.  Payment may be made by check or PayPal.  We will be happy to send you an itemized invoice.

Please understand that we make lodging and transportation arrangements months in advance of the program.  Deposits or payments in full are often required by our hosts.  If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email.   After August 1, no refunds are possible; however, we will make every possible effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute.  If you cancel on or before August 1, we will refund 50% of your deposit.  We strongly recommend that you take out trip cancellation, baggage, emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip, since unforeseen circumstances are possible.

Wild Marigold Drying, preparing for dyeing wool

To register, contact:  normahawthorne@mac.com or call (919) 274-6194.  Please make your deposit payable to Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC, and mail it to: Norma Hawthorne, 110 Blue Heron Farm Rd., Pittsboro, NC 27312.  Thank you.

This workshop is produced by Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  We reserve the right to alter the itinerary and substitute instructors without notice.