Tag Archives: travel photography

People of Oaxaca: Portrait Photography Workshop

Arrive Friday, January 30 and leave Friday, February 6, 2015. Options to arrive earlier and stay longer! You and any camera you have are welcome!

Creating a great photographic portrait means how to connect with your subject, source natural light, and apply aesthetic judgment. Whether you are taking amateur photographs of family, friends, or interesting people you meet on your travels, or you are more adept at using a professional-type camera, we can teach you how to capture stunning images. Making great visual art also depends more on the intersection of heart, mind and eye than it does on using the “best” camera. 

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You are welcome to use any camera you are comfortable with: basic point-and-shoot to iPhone to professional DSLR.  Our emphasis is on the photographer-subject relationship and good composition, finding the best subject and knowing how to interact with them. We offer you an amazing ethnographic travel photography experience.

Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, photo by Matt Nager

Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, photo by Matt Nager

We are based in the indigenous Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle, where we introduce you to people whose faces show an 8,000 year old pre-Hispanic culture. This is an opportunity to get up close and personal with people you may otherwise not meet on your own!  We are on location here with photographer/instructor Matt Nager to create powerful portraits.  Our daily schedule takes you into people’s homes and workshops, and on day trips to local markets, and Oaxaca City.

Here are four photos by Matt Nager that give you an example of who you will meet, like Porfirio Santiago and his wife Gloria, 87-year-old weaver Secundino, and a man dyeing wool who we met along the way.

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Portrait photography doesn’t need to be complicated and can create lasting memories for both the photographer and the person being photographed. This workshop will teach you the approaches needed to simplify the portrait process and make it fun!

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Who should attend?  The workshop is for amateurs, as well as intermediate and advanced photographers who are new to portrait photography. We strip down often overly complicated conditions to bring the photographer face-to-face with the subject. We will practice both impromptu, street photography and classic pre-arranged portrait sessions.

The Workshop:

  • Use natural light and respond to different lighting situations
  • Include portraits in your travel photography
  • Direct your subject through varying body positions
  • Identify your own photographic style
  • Find and execute portraits “on the fly”
  • Practice street photography
  • Use skills you learn through daily assignments
  • Learn more with one-on-one coaching sessions with Matt
  • Contribute to a gift for subject families and the community museum — included in your workshop fee

Each day we will discuss different techniques and review best of day images.  There will be plenty of time for discussion, feedback, and sharing.  We will address topics such as: How do you stay inspired?  What do you say and do to sustain authentic connection with your subject?  How do you prepare yourself to stay open, interested, and flexible? How do you get people to relax, be natural, and not be afraid of the camera?


At the end of our week together, we will select our best portraits and hold a group show and reception, inviting local guests. This is an extraordinary gift and cultural exchange. We will send you a complete itinerary and daily schedule after you register.

A word about equipment and experience:  We will send a list of “what to bring” after you register! All levels are welcome, from beginner to advanced.  The techniques learned in this workshop can be applied to any camera and format. You will want to bring a USB cord to download your photos to your computer for editing images and sharing them. Optional: If you use a DSLR, you may want to bring a tripod, extra memory cards, an extra battery, battery charger, a portrait lens,  Photo editing software such as Lightroom is very helpful. We use Dropbox to share and show photos, and we will send you an invitation to join for free after you register. It’s easy!

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Your Workshop Leader is Matt Nager

Matt Nager is a Denver, Colorado, based portrait and editorial photographer. His love for nature and the outdoors, as well as his interest in people and culture, is central to his photography. Matt has over 12 years of photography experience. Before starting his own photography business, Matt worked with the Dallas Morning News and the Rocky Mountain News. In addition to photography, Matt also regularly shoots video and recently completed his first documentary titled: Campania In-Felix (unhappy country) which looks into the rise of health issues in Southern Italy as a result of illegal waste disposal. His clients include: DISCOVER Magazine, Fast Company Magazine, Mother Jones Magazine, The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, and the Wall Street Journal. Matt speaks English and Spanish, and is learning Italian.  His work is at: www.mattnager.com

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Workshop Includes:

  • 7 nights lodging
  • 7 breakfasts
  • 2 group lunches
  • 6 group dinners
  • group transportation when part of itinerary
  • guided visits to local markets, artisan workshops
  • 18+ hours of instruction
  • one-hour private coaching and feedback session

Alejandrina Rios and Tito Mendoza Ruiz by Norma Hawthorne

Preliminary Itinerary:

Day One, Friday, January 30: Travel to Oaxaca and check-in to our B&B (D)

Day Two, Saturday, January 31: Learning Session, village walkabout orientation, street photography assignment, portrait session with local family (B, D)

Day Three, Sunday, February 1: Learning Session, Tlacolula Market excursion, photography on the fly (B, L, D)

Day Four, Monday, February 2: Learning Session, photo review/feedback, portrait session with local family (B, D)

Day Five, Tuesday, February 3:  Learning Session, photo review/feedback, Oaxaca City photo excursion  (B)

Day Six, Wednesday, February 4: Learning Session, photo review/feedback, archeological backdrops, Yagul and Mitla field trip (B, L, D)

Day Seven, Thursday, February 5: Learning Session, photo review/feedback, prepare for final best of week portfolio (B, D)

Day Eight, Friday, February 6: Depart

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Lodging/Accommodations and Cost

We are based in the Zapotec rug weaving and textile village of Teotitlan del Valle. To keep this program affordable, we have selected clean and basic accommodations at a local, women owned and operated bed and breakfast posada that is part of a family compound.  We offer you delicious homemade meals made with locally grown, organic ingredients.

Registration Options:

  1. Base Cost: $1,195 per person double occupancy with shared bath (sleeps two)
  2. Single Supplement: $1,495 single room with private bath (sleeps one)
  3. Take a Zapotec Oaxaca Cooking Class on February 6, $70, learn to make Oaxaca mole
  4. Come early or stay later in either Oaxaca ($125 night) or Teotitlan del Valle ($45 night) per person

Most travel workshops of this type and length cost more than twice as much!

The trip does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and transportation to and from Teotitlan del Valle.

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Reservations and Cancellations

A 50% deposit based on your preferred options is required to guarantee your spot.  The final payment for the balance due (including any add-ons costs) is November 15, 2014. We request payment with PayPal only.  Tell us you are ready to register and we will send you an invoice to secure your registration.  After November 15,  refunds are not possible.  You may send a substitute in your place.  If you cancel before November 15, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance:  We require that you carry international accident/health/emergency evacuation insurance.  Proof of insurance must be sent at least two weeks before departure.  If you do not wish to do this, we ask you email a PDF of a notarized waiver of responsibility, holding harmless Norma Hawthorne and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  Unforeseen circumstances happen!

To get your questions answered and to register, contact: normahawthorne@mac.com

This program is produced by Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  We reserve the right to modify the itinerary as necessary.


Oaxaca Day of the Dead Photography: Best of the Week

Federico Chavez Sosa at his loom in Teotitlan del Valle

Federico Chavez Sosa and his son Eric Chavez Santiago demonstrated tapestry weaving techniques and using natural dyes at the family workshop in Teotitlan del Valle.  All photos by Norma Hawthorne copyright 2010, during Day of the Dead Photography Expedition 2010.  Now taking registrations for 2011.  Contact: normahawthorne@mac.com

Sugar cane in the Abastos Market, Oaxaca

Sugar cane is sold in the market for use at home altars.  The belief is that the sugar cane that frames the altar provides a passage for the dead to enter and take food from the altar to sustain themselves during their one-day visit back to earth.

Adding lime juice to cochineal dye

When lime juice is added to the smashed cochineal bug, a brilliant color of red is produced.  The stain is so intense that it took several scrubbings to get the hands clean.

Boy in White Face Masquerade

On October 30, children and their parents assemble on the plaza in front of Santo Domingo Church for a procession to mark the return of deceased children.

Pescaderia El Tiburon

Selling huachinango, a type of Pacific red-skinned fish, at the Abastos Market.

Renovations in Teotitlan del Valle

A new plaza in front the the Municipal Palace is being constructed as a gathering place for celebrations and for a new handcrafts market.  Here, one of the older adobe structures in getting a facelift.

Spinning Wheel in Teotitlan del Valle

This traditional wooden wheel is used to prepare bobbins for weaving.

16th Century Catholic Church Built Atop Zapotec Ruins, Teotitlan del Valle

Foreground and backdrop are pure Zapotec, framing the Catholic church built with the stones from the pre-Hispanic Zapotec temple.  In the background is Picacho, an ancient Zapotec mountaintop worship site.

Altar at San Filipe Neri, Oaxaca

Extraordinary wood carving embellished with gold leaf frame the Madonna in this remarkable Oaxaca church.  Don’t miss the Saturday morning church walking tour by Linda Martin; meet at 10 a.m. in front of the Catedral on the Zocalo.  Donation is 100 pesos each to support a non-profit for children.

Street vendors on the Zocalo sell cigarettes, candy, and handcrafts.  Women typically leave school at age 12 and must find a way to earn a living.

The Old Cemetery, Xoxocotlan--Day of the Dead

Family members gather by candlelight around the tombs of their loved ones.  A cherub marks this grave site, surrounded by cockscombs and marigolds.

The Munecas

At El Nahual Gallery on Avenida Cinco de Mayo handmade dolls rest against handbags woven by Tito Mendoza and his family members.

Xoxocotlan Red Irises

A wrought iron fence frames a grave site illuminated by candles and adorned with red irises.

Jesus The Protector

The Santa Cruz Xoxocotlan cemetery is an extravaganza of light, incense, and folk art.

Dilemma: Teotitlan del Valle Panteon (Cemetery)

There were six of us trailing Magdalena into the village panteon at 5:30 p.m. for the annual ritual of sitting at the grave site to pay respects to loved ones gone.  It was All Souls Day, November 2 in Teotitlan del Valle.  The ritual in the village is an ancient one, predating the Spanish conquest of 1521.  On November 2 the souls return to their graves for another year after having made a 24-hour visit that begins at 3 p.m. on November 1 and ending at 3 p.m. on November 2.  The church bells toll for 24-hours marking the time and in the bell-tower you can see the men who have volunteered from each section of the village to pull the heavy bell chord day and night.

Earlier in the day after breakfast we had taken bundles of flowers to the graves of Magda’s son and husband, putting them in urns filled with water to keep them fresh.  The tombs throughout the courtyard were covered with lilies, roses, and marigolds.  Freshly quartered oranges, pecans, and peanuts were set in neat little piles to feed the souls before the returned to the earth.  In the morning, the cemetery was quiet, reflective, reverent.  It was empty except for a few men who were cleaning the dirt paths between the graves and keeping the urns filled with water so the flowers would stay fresh.  We tip-toed gently to read the names of the dead on the elaborate crosses at the heads of each grave.  Why, we asked, were there so many crosses on each grave site?  Magda told us that a cross is put there when a person is first buried and then second one is added at the one-year anniversary when the family gathers for a memorial.  Each family may have  several plots in the cemetery, and after ten years a burial place can be re-used — a much different and more recycleable approach to burial than in the United States.  Ten years is about the time it takes for the body and bones to decompose; new earth is added and the cycle begins again.

As we entered the cemetery at 5:30 p.m. we saw a large tour group of about 15-20 people with very serious cameras and flash equipment strolling the cemetery.  They were part of a well-known U.S. organization that organizes adventure travel around the world in addition to publishing a monthly magazine that has been in existence for well over 100 years.  The people were boisterous, took photos without asking permission, and invaded the tranquil ritual sanctuary of this small village cemetery.  The use of flash was ubiquitous.  I noticed the photographers just a few feet away from elderly couples sitting at the grave sites, their camera lenses pointed directly in their subjects faces, holding flash strobes, and taking photos repeatedly to get the best shot.  They didn’t appear to have much awareness of their impact. We were uncomfortable.  Our own small group gathered and decided that there was not enough ambient light by that time (there were few candles in this cemetery as compared to Xoxocotlan) to allow us to take reasonable photos without using flash and being invasive.  So, we decided to leave after about a half hour.

We talked about this experience over dinner and then the next morning.  It seemed to all of us that the well-known travel company had not prepared people for the cultural experience of going into a small village environment.  It appeared that their approach was not as participants but as observers — there to capture an image and leave. We discussed the impact of being from the U.S. and how others’ behaviors from the same country can reflect on all of us.  Each tourist has a responsibility to behave respectfully so that as a group we will be welcomed back.  As Americans, it is easy for us to forget the historical experience of our indigenous hosts.  We must own our own part in the history of colonizers. Americans and Europeans must be aware of our impact as we travel.  The cemetery experience brought to light both the positive and negative aspects of what it means to participate in ancient rituals and the responsibilities that accompany that.  Fortunately, we had the opportunity to be sharing the home of a local family and were invited by them to go to the cemetery.  We were not convinced that the other group even engaged in any conversation in preparation for their visit.

If you have thoughts and ideas about this dilemma that you would like to share, please add to the commentary.  Thank you.

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