“The so-called Left-Right political spectrum is our creation. In fact, it accurately reflects our careful, artificial polarization of the population on phony issues that prevents the issue of our power from arising in their minds.”
“If a photographer cares about the people before the lens and is compassionate, much is given. It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument.”
Erin Christine Deo is a mysterious woman. I only met her the one time, several years ago at the Cabaret de los Muertos, so it’d be a challenge to try and put her qualities into words; I never got to know her that well. There’s something undeniably magnetic about the woman, though. She seems to draw attention even a room filled with people, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. She wasn’t the only beautiful belly-dancer to perform that night, but when she left the venue in a glowing yellow cloak, into the night and down toward The Grand Hotel & Saloon, it seemed like all eyes were on her.
I’m not sure precisely what she’s up to these days, but her social media presence indicates that she’s still performing, still her lovely hippie self at, according to her page, “The Department of Sunshine and Rainbows.” She certainly has the confidence and stage presence, and this is one of my favorite photographs from both years that I covered the Cabaret de los Muertos.’
You can follow her on Istagram HERE.
A very healthy example of the ‘nouveau cirque’ movement includes a group here in Tucson called “Flam Chen,” a pyrotechnic theater company established in 1994. I was first exposed to them while making a documentary about a local piercing and tattoo organization while also assembling a thesis revolving around body-modification and Modern Primitive subculture.
In April 2010 the troupe performed at a locally famous tiki bar on Broadway, Kon Tiki (try the ‘scorpion bowl,’ guys – it’s serious). The torches in front of the establishment were lit for the first time in over twenty-five years and Flam Chen was the special guest to help commemorate the event.
Today’s image is of a woman named Aurelia Cohen – a musician, dancer, choreographer, and aerial-silk artist, just to name a simple fraction of her talents. Physically disciplined with undeniable stage presence, chances are good that people don’t forget if/when they’re lucky enough to see her perform.
During the beginning of Semana Santa, I got to witness the interesting mixture of the Tarahumara’s indigenous spiritual beliefs with the Catholicism that was brought by the Spaniards in the 16th Century. The whole community pours into the courtyard in front of the Mission Style church and prepare for a night-long procession. Men and boys, painted as demons, run around the church, chased by other men and boys armed with spears to drive the demons away.
It’s a sight to see, and it’s nothing I ever expected to see in Mexico. For a few moments, I felt like I was much further away from home than I actually was, and the tribal nature of these rituals seemed outlandishly foreign to me.
It made for some interesting photographs, though.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.