March 30, 2017 – Tarahumara Mother

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The Rarámuri are believed to be descended from the Mogollon culture. Never conquered by the Spanish conquistadors or fully converted by the Jesuit missionaries, their history is filled with stories of resistance, flight, and warfare against European conquerors. In the early 17th century, the Spanish had established mines in Tarahumara territory and made slave raids to obtain workers for the mines. The discovery of the mines of Parral, Chihuahua, in 1631 increased Spanish presence in Tarahumara lands, bringing more slave raids and Jesuit missionaries.

In 1648, the Tarahumara waged war against the Spanish, destroying several missions. The Tarahumara of the northern territories formed the strongest resistance, driving the Jesuits and Spanish settlers from the area.

There is a stoicism to the Tarahumara people. They live simple lives and work hard. They are peaceful, experiencing little-to-no violence or crime in their ranks. They have survived against crushing odds and maintain their own unique traditions, spirituality, and language, which is no small feat considering the history of the territory.

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March 29, 2017 – Tribe

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A bumpy truck ride, hitchhiking through the hills outside of Urique, I made my way out to a location called Guadalupe Coronado. Along gravel roads and through some terrifying curves rests a small Mission-style Church and a cluster of makeshift houses. One could scarcely believe anybody would live in this remote location, and it’s hard to image how a church of this size was built here.

Sipping a thick, creamy-looking sludge from plastic one-gallon milk jugs, another hitchhiker in the bed of the pickup handed me his beverage and insisted I take a sip. It smelled like a freshly-opened can of corn, and I was told that this is a special drink made for Semana Santa (holy week) in the Copper Canyon Region. Called Tesgüino, this is a fermented corn beer made by the Tarahumara Indians of Sierra Madre. The Tarahumara people regard the beer as sacred, forming a significant part of their society. It’s estimated that the average family spends at least 100 days per year directly concerned with the growing and manufacture of tesgüino, and Semana Santa is an event where a majority of their stock is consumed.

It didn’t taste very good, but I was honored that I was invited to imbibe with a group of strangers.

Outside the church, a group of men and boys are painted in black and white to serve as symbolic demons who want to attack the church. They whoop and holler and dance around, and rush into the church. Another group of young men, holding spears, then chase the demons out of the church. This is the beginning of holy week, and the tableaux goes on for several hours, until nightfall, when a candle-lit procession begins, and the whole community walks a specific route in and around the church until sunrise.

I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.

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March 24, 2017 – Rarámuri Runner

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This is one of the only traditional Rarámuri men I saw during this entire trip. Not wearing modern clothing, he instead wears hand-made clothing that designates him as a traditional Tarahumara runner. If you look closely, you’ll see his hand-made sandals, constructed out of used truck tire rubber.

Originally inhabitants of much of the state of Chihuahua, the Rarámuri fled into the high sierras and canyons of the Copper Canyon region upon the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th Century. As a result, the Rarámuri were never conquered, converted, or forcefully integrated; they maintain their own spiritual beliefs, lifestyle, and language (belonging to the Uto-Aztecan family). The area of the Sierra Madre Occidental which they now inhabit is often called the Sierra Tarahumara because of their presence.

It’s estimated that there are between 50,000 and 70,000 Rarámuri (Tarahumara) in existence. Most still practice a traditional lifestyle, inhabiting natural shelters such as caves or cliff overhangs, as well as small cabins of wood or stone. Staple crops are corn and beans, although many of the Rarámuri still practice transhumance, raising cattle, sheep, and goats.

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March 22, 2017 – Walking Home

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At the end of the day, as the sun begins to settle behind the pine-trees and mountaintops, villagers begin to build fires in their cast-iron stoves for cooking and for warmth. The smell of pine bark blankets the valley, as does a thin haze of smoke. Along the El Chepe railroad line, Tarahumara families start the long walk home; most of them live in small ranch houses several miles outside of town.

The comparison is interesting – most of the women wear the traditional, brightly colored dresses of the Tarahumara, but the men almost all wear modern clothing, as you can see in  today’s image. After selling hand-woven bear-grass baskets and colorful shawls in the town square, everybody picks up and heads home. It’s a relatively simple life, but most of the Tarahumara seem very content. Violence is rare among the Tarahumara, and they take pride in boasting little to no sexual violence.

There’s beauty in simplicity, I suppose, and the Tarahumara seem to be an incredibly calm and peaceful people.

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March 13, 2017 – Tarahumara Woman

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The black and white “street portrait” is a staple in photographic expression. Many young photographers insist on moving to big cities so that they can wander the streets and try to capture poignant moments, unique portraits, weathered faces. Just like many of the textures I photograph, the object is to take the ‘everyday’ or ‘banal’ and figure out a way to transform it, through the camera lens, into something meaningful. With street portraiture, unlike photographing inanimate abstract details, the object is to try and tell a story, to find something emotional and authentic.

It’s not always easy. Life moves faster than one might initially think; put a camera to your face at the farmer’s market and try to make a good, candid photograph of even just one person. You’ll notice that everything around you is a whirlwind. Children run around, people walk into your frame, or people notice you and begin to behave differently (it doesn’t matter if they’re attracted to being photographed or repulsed).

This is probably my favorite portrait taken during this particular trip to Mexico.

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March 11, 2017 – Lake Arareko

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Outside of Creel, Mexico, is a curved lake surrounded by pine trees and bear-grass. It’s a bit of a hike from the town center, but worth it. Lake Arareko is one of the most peaceful places in the region. There usually aren’t too many people, and it isn’t overflowing with paddle-boats or kayaks, as one might expect at such a spot in the United States. Along some of the sand and dirt beaches are gatherings of Tarahumara woman, usually sitting on the rocks with toddlers playing in the dirt, weaving baskets to sell to tourists.

This young Tarahumara girl was throwing rocks into the water and amusing herself away from the group, and didn’t seem to mind when I took this photograph of her. Naturally, after taking this shot, she leapt from her perch and asked if I had any pesos. Instead of just giving her the money, I had her pick out her favorite basket (one that her mother had just finished) and I bought it. It sits on my bookshelf to this day, a small circular basket about five inches in diameter. It’s a great place to keep my cuff-links.

Side-note: film isn’t dead. This image was made with my old N80, a camera my parents gave me, using Kodak Portra film.

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March 09, 2017 – Rarámuri Boy at Lake Arareko

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Hiking out to the banks of the lake of Arareko, we met with a group of Rarámuri people. The women were huddled beneath the pine trees, weaving baskets while their little children played in the dirt. The young boys occupy their time climbing on the rocks and swimming in the water. This young lad took an interest in me, but we were only able to communicate in gestures and pantomime. He was excited to wander around with me and understood that we didn’t speak the same language, so our hiking experience was pretty silent.

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