Tag Archives: documentary photography

Photography Travel Workshop–Day of the Dead 2010 in Oaxaca, Mexico

Click on the two links below for 2011 photography expeditions. Taking registrations now for

2011 Day of the Dead Photography Expedition and

Summer 2011 Oaxaca Photography Expedition: Market Towns and Artisan Villages.

COURSE DESCRIPTION–DAY OF THE DEAD PHOTO TRAVEL WORKSHOP: October 29-November 4, 2010. Explore the magic and mystery of Day of the Dead – a feast for the visual senses – a six-night, seven-day expedition that immerses you into the heart of Oaxaca, Mexico.  During this annual religious and cultural festival the city vibrates with color, music, and Mardi Gras-like energy.  You will travel with photographer and documentary filmmaker Linda Booker, and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator Norma Hawthorne to visit and 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 workshop, you will use your digital SLR camera for visual storytelling and cultural discovery.

This workshop is limited to six participants.

The workshop focuses on the use of color digital photography to capture, record and document the traditions and practices of this ancient pre-Hispanic celebration that has its roots in Aztec culture, mixed with Catholic ritual.    During our week together, we will roam the markets where preparations for home altars and gravesites are made: an abundance of candles, chocolate, bread, candies, fruit, flowers, the favorite food and beverage of departed loved ones.  We will visit the famed Xoxocotlan cemetery to capture elaborately decorated resting places and family revelers, meander city streets to come upon masked parades, visit homes, archeological sites, and enjoy a cooking demonstration.

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, composition, night-time photography, capturing emotion, focusing on details, and taking the time to set up your shot.  Learning documentary-style photography is different from walking around and being a tourist!  It means immersion, looking for opportunities to see things from the participant perspective.  You’ll capture people in their natural state, experiment with rituals, family environments, and sense of place.  During the workshop, you will review each other’s work, give feedback, encouragement and gentle critique, as we mix class instruction with being out on the streets.

About Your Workshop Instructor, Linda Booker

Linda Booker is a documentary filmmaker with a keen and creative eye.  Linda’s recent documentary film, “Love Lived on Death Row,” has received high praise from lay and academic audiences when it screened at film festivals and universities across the country.  She is the recipient of a grassroots community screening tour grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and has produced documentary-style videos for North Carolina non-profits and musicians.

After graduating from Florida State University in Tallahassee with a degree in visual communications, Linda Booker spent the next thirteen years as a graphic designer and art director for major publications, including Yacht Vacations, Palm Beach Illustrated, Toy & Hobby World, and Triangle Business Report.  As feature photographer for Yacht Vacations, she traveled to capture images that were published in the magazine.  Her work and interests have taken her to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Costa Rica, England, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Grenada, and many locations throughout the United States.

In 2005, after completing the Certificate in Documentary Studies Program at Duke University (Durham, NC), Linda became founding president of By the Brook Productions.   She created and coordinates the ChathamArts Sustainable Cinema Series, a highly regarded and innovative program, along with a local at-risk youth filmmaking program, Shooting4Change.  Her Web site is:  www.bythebrookfilms.com An example of the Shooting4Change project is at  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlXbGGj1O6o

Preliminary Itinerary (subject to change)

Day One, Friday: Oaxaca.  Meet at our hotel and gather for an early evening orientation, followed by a welcome dinner. (D)

Day Two, Saturday: Oaxaca.  Meander Oaxaca on foot in the morning, visiting splendid churches and art galleries, photography, graphics arts museums, including Centro Fotographico Alvarez Bravo http://www.cfmab.blogspot.com/.  After a group lunch, you will have the option to travel to the craft village of Arrazola to visit a famous wood carver or continue to explore Oaxaca on your own.  Meet on the Zocalo for evening refreshments.  Dinner on your own.  (B,L)

Day Three, Sunday:  Oaxaca.  After an early breakfast, spend the morning at Abastos Market, then travel to Monte Alban, the extraordinary Zapotec archeological site, followed by an afternoon in the pottery village of Atzompa.  At 7 p.m. we will depart for the majestic Xoxocotlan Panteon (cemetery) for an incredible Day of the Dead experience.  This is a very late evening; we may be out until at least midnight.  Perfect for night photography.  Dinner on your own.  (B,L)

Day Four, Monday:  Teotitlan del Valle. Morning is on your own after breakfast. Depart at noon to Teotitlan del Valle and check-in at your bed and breakfast.  Lunch in the village.  Afternoon visit to the home of Federico Chavez Sosa and his wife Dolores Santiago Arrellanas, for a rug weaving and natural dyeing demonstration, followed by a visit to famed painter Pantaleon Ruiz Martinez for a discussion and demonstration of his art. Dinner on your own.  (B, L)

Day Five, Tuesday:  Before breakfast, walk to the local village market where Day of the Dead preparations unfold.  After breakfast, travel to Mitla, late Zapotec-Mixtec archeological site and visit village weavers.  After lunch, in the late afternoon, enjoy a special cooking demonstration. Walk to the village Panteon (cemetery) for Teotitlan observance.  Group dinner optional.  (B,L)

Day Six, Wednesday: After breakfast, enjoy the morning to explore the village and surrounding countryside or take a taxi to Oaxaca for a final day of shopping or sightseeing.  This is a free day.  We will meet for a farewell dinner either in Teotitlan or Oaxaca (group choice).  (B, D)

Day Seven, Thursday:  After breakfast, we say our goodbyes and depart.

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)     Memory card(s)

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.)


To keep this trip affordable, we have selected accommodations that are clean and basic.  For the first three nights in Oaxaca, all rooms will be shared, two people to a room; each room with private bath.  The Oaxaca hotel is conveniently located one block from Santo Domingo Church in the central historic district and steps away from great shopping, restaurants, museums and galleries.

For the three nights in Teotitlan del Valle, you will have the option of having a double room with shared bath for the base price of the trip; single supplement with shared bath (add $100); shared room with private bath (add $200); single room with private bath (add $300).  Please indicate your preference.

Cost:  The basic cost for the trip is $1195.00 USD. This includes six nights lodging double occupancy, six breakfasts, five lunches, two dinners, transportation to villages and archeological sites, entry fees to ruins, 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 and transportation.

Reservations and Cancellations

A 50% deposit ($600) is required to guarantee your spot.  The final payment for the balance due (including any supplemental costs) shall be postmarked by September 1, 2010.  Payment may be made by check or PayPal.  We will be happy to send you an itemized invoice.

If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email.   After September 15, no refunds are possible; however, we will make every possible effort to fill your reserved space.  If you cancel before September 1, we will refund 50% of your deposit or $300.  If you cancel between September 1 and September 15, we will refund 50% of your registration, or $600.  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.

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.  For more information, see:  https://oaxacaculture.com

Weaving a Curve: A Documentary Short Film

Eric Chavez Sosa and I made this six minute short documentary film during the January 31-February 6 workshop held by Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC in Teotitlan del Valle.  It was our first film making collaboration and we were definitely novices!   Here it is:


“Weaving a Curve” featuring master weaver Federico Chavez Sosa.  He talks about the techniques he learned from his father and another village master who taught him to weave in the style of Francisco Toledo.  At the age of 17, Federico was an expert weaver.  To weave a curve and perfect the technique requires discipline and practice.  He remembers taking the yarn out and trying again, and again, and again.  Federico loves to weave, and the process for him is both relaxing and fun.  He also explains how he uses natural dyes to prepare the wool, another sign of a master weaver.  As the camera pans the village and the sacred Zapotec site of mount Picacho, Federico talks about the meaning of weaving for him personally and how satisfying it is when his work is appreciated by collectors.   For Federico, mastery means the blending of traditional and contemporary designs, the true mark of an artist, and the timeless quality of linking past with future.

Eric and I didn’t have time to finish this piece — it is in Spanish without subtitles.  So, please forgive us and enjoy the visuals if you don’t completely understand the language.  Maybe someday soon, we’ll add the subtitles!

I also want to acknowledge the mastery of our workshop instructors, Erica Rothman of Nighlight Productions, Durham, NC, and Mikel Barton, also of Durham.  They were fabuloso!

The process:  for five days were were immersed in a learning laboratory experience in the village of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca.  We after two days of classroom instruction and watching examples of documentary footage, we took to the cameras to practice interview techniques and shooting b-roll.  We had 60 minutes of tape to use with the goal of producing a 3-5 minute finished video.  Unfortunately for us, we used about 20 minutes to practice shooting b-roll which turned out mostly to be sunrise and clouds.  You can see a snippet in our opening scene.

Oaxaca Documentary Filmmaking: The Unpredictable

Stuff happens.  Erica wrote this on the classroom whiteboard about a day into our filmmaking workshop when the lights in our section of the village went out early in the evening of Day Two.  We didn’t erase it until the final day.  We finished the class discussion by candlelight that Josefina and Magda brought to our table — the tall velas from the altar room typically used for ritual life illuminated our classroom.  It was not easy to read the handout material.  This was the beginning of our five day adventure starting on January 31 to February 6, delving into the creative and technical challenges of making a documentary film.  Most of us were novices.  We imagined that we would point and shoot a video camera, do an interview, take some background shots and b-roll, slice and dice to edit (I confess I had no idea about the complexity of this), and put a 5 minute film together complete with audio, visual, title page, credits, and subtitles.  Hah!   We had our practice shoot.  Eric and I diddled around at 6:30 am on the third morning practicing and spent 20 minutes of our allotted 60 minute DV tape shooting clouds and sunrise trying to keep our hands steady so we didn’t get shaky film.  Then, we realized, yikes, we only had 40 minutes left to complete the interview and fill in with whatever b-roll we might need later to complete the story.

Stay focused, we were reminded.  Zero in on your story.  Go for the detail.  You can’t tell a story about the history of weaving in five minutes, but you can tell a story about what it means to be a master weaver, our instructors reminded us.  There are nine dancers who perform the Dance of the Feather.  An interview with one dancer who tells us what performing this dance means to him can convey the sentiments of the group.  The experience of an expatriate American woman living alongside a Zapotec family and how they have formed close bonds is universal among neighbors and friends the world over, and unique for this small village just 17 km outside of Oaxaca city.  There were three teams of two paired together for the week to create the story, develop the scenes, serve as each other’s crew, structure and conduct the interviews, shooting b-roll, selecting music, and edit.  The learning was intense and vertical.

Language and cultural differences challenged and rewarded us.  On Day Five, just two hours before our films are to debut at the premiere screening and fiesta, just as we had wrapped up the final editing and were getting ready to burn to DVD, the electricity went out.  We scrambled.  Mikel said, folks, this is what happens in “real life” on every shoot I’ve been on.  There’s always technical glitches and we learn to shift, adapt, scramble and figure it out.  A group of us climbed in the back of the blue pick-up truck, three computers, blank disks, and power strip in hand, me driving four on the floor, and we head to the other side of town to Eric’s house where we plug in.  Thirty-minutes before the guests are set to arrive at Las Granadas we get a call that the power has come back on.  It’s handy to have Telcel Mexican cell phones!  We have just one more tape to burn and we’re outta there.  At 7:50 p.m. we arrive back at our home base and do a test drive of the final films just as the 30 guests — village and Oaxaca friends and the people featured in our films begin to arrive.

To participate in a documentary filmmaking workshop in Teotitlan del Valle requires a degree of adventure and courage.  The process is fast moving, unpredictable and surprising.  We were suprised at what we discovered and learned about our subjects, our own competencies, and the challenges of working in a foreign country adapting to another culture.  Some of our films are incomplete.  We made choices.  For one team, there was enough time to create subtitles but not enough to write the opening title page and credits.  Another sacrificed subtitles for the title page and credits.  Editing was rough and ready.

Unpredictable.  But satisfying.