March 18, 2017 – Military Macaws

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In the tropical forests surrounding the riverside village of Urique, hikers can stumble across chili peppers, bananas, oranges, and papaya growing wild. In the slot canyons, guerilla crops of marijuana dot the landscape. And high in the treetops, flocks of military macaws (named for their green plumage, resembling a military parade uniform) squawk and socialize.

During the winter season, it’s difficult to find these macaws, but in the springtime the flourish.
And they make quite a ruckus

Hiking to the hilltop village of Naranjo, I filled my backpack with wild oranges and red ripened chili peppers. I had been hiking the forests for several days without spotting a single military macaw, and was resigned to not see any during this particular trip. It was March, after all, and the season had only just begun to change. But as I climbed the hill, through the rough-hewn circuit of hiking trails and patches of marijuana fields, I was delighted to hear the loud cracking and shrieking sounds of a macaw. Knowing that they live in large groups, I was confident there would be more than just the one.

Today’s photograph is one macaw in particular that I kind of made friends with. These birds can live up to sixty years in the wild, and they are a rowdy, social bunch. I managed to teach this one my name, Joe, and he definitely enjoyed hamming it up for the camera.

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March 17, 2017 – Wanderer

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On the journey from Creel down into the canyon city of Urique, we were held up in a small little town called Bahuichivo. This is where we ditched our van, paying a local hotel owner to let us park it in their courtyard, and walked down the road to the train platform to wait for our bus. We were stuck there for a few hours and, while my travel companions decided to try and keep cool in the shade on the side of the building, I decided to walk around for a bit.

I’ve never been much of a street photographer, but being a foreigner in a foreign land almost made it easier to stick a camera in people’s faces and not feel as embarrassed. This is one of the more unique looking individuals milling about the train yard. If I had better language skills, I would have tried to talk to him (or at least get a name) but instead all I have is this portrait. It certainly looks like this man has seen some things in his life.

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March 15, 2017 – Iglesia Catolica de Creel

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The Iglesia Catolica Nuestra Señora de Lourdes (the catholic church of Our Lady of Lourdes) sits on the north side of Creel’s central plaza. Tarahumara women weave baskets and sew while children run around playing or begging for pesos to buy candy with. Stray dogs circle around waiting for people to drop food.

This is the hub of the town, fifty yards from the train and bus stations, the gateway to the main road and its restaurants and hotels. Ice cream carts, kids kicking soccer balls, and street vendors practically live here. What I always appreciated about this town square, though, is that the sellers aren’t aggressive. It isn’t like a border town, or a European train station, where desperate hucksters are waiting to coax money out of your pocket. The street sellers here sit on benches, or on the ground, and mind their business, hoping you will approach them. You never feel like people are out to get you in this place. It’s just a polite open-air market.

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March 14, 2017 – Semana Santa

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In the Copper Canyon region, there’s a blend of old-world tradition and new-world tradition. Native rites and contemporary Catholicism blend together. During Holy Week (semana santa), there are a number of distinct rituals that play out.

Outside of Urique, in a small village called Coronado, the surrounding communities come together for an event surrounded by demons, angels, corn beer, and theatrics.

Several players paint themselves in black and white paint and arm themselves with swords, halloween masks, toy guns, and run around the chapel as symbolic demons attempting to penetrate and destroy the holiest site in the community. Other players, mostly young boys arms with spears, burst from the chapel doors and chase the demons away.

This goes on for a full twenty-four hours.

A procession, all of the other citizens who aren’t play-acting, light candles and walk both around and through the chapel, all throughout the night. Wreathes of smoke and fire-lit faces dot the black night. Folks on the side, attending to watch and cheer the defenders – like spectators at a sporting event – drink corn-beer and talk amongst themselves.

This is both spectacle and ritual, secular and religious, communal and personal.

It is one of the most unique expressions of faith and community I have ever seen in my entire life.

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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 12, 2017 – Hangover Hospital

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It’s a funny name, for certain, but it works. This is an older sign, over a decade old, when American travelers were less cowed by news stories that scared them away from travel in Mexico. Once upon a time, Creel, Mexico, was a popular destination for American tourists; a great deal of the local economy relied on American travelers. The town is more economically depressed now than it has been in recent history. Fears of cartel activity, news stories about kidnappings, and general antipathy toward Mexico has had a significant impact.

But not for this traveler.

Hospital Paracrudos is in the heart of the town (you can see the railroad tracks in the background) and serves up fresh seafood, soup, and freshly cooked vegetables. It’s the first restaurant to open in town (most shops don’t even open until ten or eleven o’clock), and the interior is a huddled, wood-paneled little cavern of a place, with gas stoves steaming with boiling meat and vegetables. It’s dark, cramped, and small, feeling more like a tiny hole-in-the-wall bar, except that it serves delicious hot soup. I didn’t have a hangover when I wandered across the tracks one morning to see what there was to see, but I had an amazing hot breakfast in my dimly-lit seat, surrounded by hanging pots and pans, strings of chili husks, and bowls of chiltipin peppers.

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March 10, 2017 – It’s A ‘Sin’

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While wandering around in Creel, Mexico, I gathered tons of images of posters, signs, storefronts, and interesting garbage. This one, obviously, is a play on words, as ‘sin’ in Spanish simply means ‘without,’ which is a radical departure from the English ‘sin.’ Nevertheless, I found the textures and layers of this weathered advertisement really dazzling. I know that minimal and semi-abstract imagery isn’t everybody’s particular cup of tea, but I know that there are some of you out there who understand.

I hope you like today’s ‘image of the day’ and scroll through other images from this sprawling project.

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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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March 08, 2017 – Mexican Streetside

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For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of this small town. Somewhere about a hundred and fifty miles south of the port of entry in Naco Arizona (Naco Sonora). Cracked facades and faded paint jobs are common in these little towns. On the surface, these places appear inhospitable – and I’ve heard plenty of horror stories – but I’ve never had a negative experience in these places. People are friendly, the bodega owners are more than happy to take your money, and there’s always at least one fantastic restaurant or taco cart.

When traveling through the smaller villages in Mexico, there’s no “I just need to find a McDonalds” option. You pretty much have to trust the local food. Either that, or eat nothing but flamin’ hot cheetos and drink nothing but coca cola. And what’s the fun in that?

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March 07, 2017 – The Railroad in Creel, Chihuahua

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March in Mexico continues with one of my favorite, albeit simple, photographs.

The bus stop and train station is the hub in Creel, Mexico. The El Chepe train line travels east-west across the whole country, delivering goods, people, and fresh seafood. The town square is a stone’s throw away, along with restaurants, curio shops, and privately owned markets. Tarahumara families, usually dressed in their brightly-colored traditional clothing, are always in the town square selling their hand-woven bear-grass baskets and hand-woven garments. As tourism has declined (Creel used to be a popular destination for American travelers), these families have much less to live off of than they used to. Tarahumara fathers, usually wearing regular ‘jeans and t-shirt’ street clothes, are known to walk along the main roads with their youngest and cutest children, pointing out who the children should approach to beg for pesos.

There’s an alpine feel to Creel, surrounded by pine forests and canyons. At dusk, a haze of smoke settles over the town from the wood-fired stoves that residents use for warmth and cooking. The entire town smells like burning pine-bark. Life here is simple, and the people are incredibly friendly. There’s a reason why I’ve gone back several times.

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