Oaxaca Reflection

As I write this, I’m 30,000 feet over southern Arizona on my way back to Seattle after an amazing, exhausting and exhilarating adventure in Oaxaca, Mexico for the Day of the Dead celebrations.  Organized by Jeffrey Chapman, of Within The Frame Adventures, we were lucky to have David Duchemin along for inspiration.  What made this trip, for me, was the incredible group of diverse talents that we had on this journey.  Ten creatives all bound by their love of craft.  Two talented techies, one from Seattle and on from L.A., a retired pharmaceutical executive from Montreal, a lovely, housewife and mother of twins from New Zealand on a journey of self-discovery, an amazing couple from Berkeley… he a physicist, she a humanitarian, an engineer from the Northwest turned nomadic travel photographer living in Manila, a Canadian businessman, an outgoing photog of Puerto Rican descent who, thankfully, translated for all of us all week and myself.  What tied us all together was our love of live and the pursuit of the elusive image.

Towards the end of the week, we were all sitting on the rooftop patio of our B&B in downtown Oaxaca City drinking God-knows what when as the sun was setting.  Almost simultaneously, we all turned around and got excited about the rim light burning through the clouds as the sun was setting.  Meanwhile, everyone else on the patio continued to peer into their tiny device texting or surfing and missing life.

I set out on my own personal experience to find myself photographically.  To find that not-so-minute missing link between good and great.  I promised myself I’d slow down and I did.  I discovered that the journey towards capturing that magical moment happened without the camera… with human to human contact.  I spent more time on this trip making relationships rather than images.  But, those relationships turned into moments I was able to capture with my camera.  As David said, 90% of the time should be spent making the relationship and then, and only then, can you capture the emotional essence of your subject.  That’s what I did this week and I found it to be a breakthrough.  I took less photos this week, only 1500 or so, but learned, felt and experienced the human nature of the Oaxacan people.  I feel that I was better able to capture that humanity with my lens because I slowed down, observed and experienced.

Many of the events that I attended could not be captured with my sensor.  Frenetic parades in the streets, battles between villages and their marking bands to the point of chaotic frenzy, the tears shed as family members drank Mezcal over their loved ones graves, the twirl of costumed dancers at 1:00am on dark, village streets.  At times, I just left my camera at my side and absorbed the unfolding scenes around me because either there was no way to capture the experience or there just wasn’t any light with which to paint the picture.

I am a better photographer today than I was when I departed Seattle.  I owe this to David, to the people with which I experienced this adventure and, most importantly, to the wonderful relationships I created in Oaxaca.  My personal goal is to carry this forward and apply this lesson at home and elsewhere.

Oh, and one more thing.  On the last night, while in a cemetery filled with flowers, candles and celebration, I saw, mostly American, “photographers” sticking their lenses in people’s faces, snapping their shutters and walking away as if they were shooting monkeys in the zoo.  So… I decided, I would give them a taste and walk around sticking my 24-70 and flash in THEIR faces and letting them experience the medicine they were dishing out.   Did I get some eat SH*T looks and nasty remarks.  Hmmm…. hopefully they will read this someday.

After watching this guy stick his camera in people's faces like monkeys in the zoo, I decided to show him what it felt like.
After watching this guy stick his camera in people’s faces like monkeys in the zoo, I decided to show him what it felt like.
After sitting with this couple for a bit, I pulled out my camera and started taking photos.
After sitting with this couple for a bit, I pulled out my camera and started taking photos.