Special course Photography Workshop. In the town of San Cristobal, nestled in the Chiapas highlands of Southern Mexico, we sit at the crossroads of indigenous traditions and colonial Spanish culture both infused with the modern Mexico. No one event captures this cross-cultural blend like Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, celebrated on November 1 and 2. San Cristobal is an ideal base to explore the color and light, the traditional and the new. Despite the morbid name, the national holiday celebrates happiness of family and friends and loved ones past and present.
Dia de Muertos - this is an ancient festivity that has been much transformed through the years, but which was intended in pre-hispanic Mexico to celebrate children and the dead. Hence, the best way to describe this Mexican holiday is to say that it is a time when Mexican families remember their dead, and the continuity of life. The original celebration can be traced to many Mesoamerican native traditions, such as the festivities held during the Aztec month of Miccailhuitontli, ritually presided by the "Lady of the Dead" (Mictecacihuatl), and dedicated to children and the dead.
In the Aztec calendar, this ritual fell roughly at the end of the Gregorian month of July and the beginning of August, but in the post conquest era it was moved by Spanish priests so that it coincided with the Christian holiday of All Hallows Eve (in Spanish: "Día de Todos Santos.") This was a vain effort to transform the observance from a profane to a Christian celebration.
The result is that Mexicans now celebrate the day of the dead during the first two days of November, rather than at the beginning of summer. But remember the dead they still do, and the modern festivity is characterized by the traditional Mexican blend of ancient aboriginal and introduced Christian features.
Generalizing broadly, the holiday's activities consist of families (1) welcoming their dead back into their homes, and (2) visiting the graves of their close kin. At the cemetery, family members engage in sprucing up the graveside, decorating it with flowers, setting out and enjoying a picnic, and interacting socially with other family and community members who gather there.
In both cases, celebrants believe that the souls of the dead return and are all around them. Families remember the departed by telling stories about them. The meals prepared for these picnics are sumptuous, usually featuring meat dishes in spicy sauces, chocolate beverages, cookies, sugary confections in a variety of animal or skull shapes, and a special egg-batter bread ("pan de muerto," or bread of the dead). Gravesides and family altars are profusely decorated with flowers (primarily large, bright flowers such as marigolds and chrysanthemums), and adorned with religious amulets and with offerings of food, cigarettes and alcoholic beverages.
Because of this warm social environment, the colorful setting, and the abundance of food, drink and good company, this commemoration of the dead has pleasant overtones for the observers, in spite of the open fatalism exhibited by all participants, whose festive interaction with both the living and the dead in an important social ritual is a way of recognizing the cycle of life and death that is human existence.
In homes observant families create an altar and decorate it with items that they believe are beautiful and attractive to the souls of their departed ones. Such items include offerings of flowers and food, but also things that will remind the living of the departed (such as their photographs, a diploma, or an article of clothing), and the things that the dead prized and enjoyed while they lived. This is done to entice the dead and assure that their souls actually return to take part in the remembrance.
In very traditional settings, typically found only in native communities, the path from the street to the altar is actually strewn with petals to guide the returning soul to its altar and the bosom of the family. The traditional observance calls for departed children to be remembered during the first day of the festivity (the Day of the Little Angels, "Día de los Angelitos"), and for adults to be remembered on the second day.
Traditionally, this is accompanied by a feast during the early morning hours of November the 2nd, the Day of the Dead proper, though modern urban Mexican families usually observe the Day of the Dead with only a special family supper featuring the bread of the dead. In southern Mexico, for example in the city of Puebla, it is good luck to be the one who bites into the plastic toy skeleton hidden by the baker in each rounded loaf. Friends and family members give one another gifts consisting of sugar skeletons or other items with a death motif, and the gift is more prized if the skull or skeleton is embossed with one's own name.
Another variation found in the state of Oaxaca is for bread to be molded into the shape of a body or burial wrap, and for a face to be embedded on one end of the loaf. During the days leading up to and following the festivity, some bakeries in heavily aboriginal communities cease producing the wide range of breads that they typically sell so that they can focus on satisfying the demand for bread of the dead.
In general, the more urban the setting within Mexico the less religious and cultural importance is retained by observants, while the more rural and Indian the locality the greater the religious and economic import of the holiday. Because of this, this observance is usually of greater social importance in southern Mexico than in the northern part of the country.
About the School
Classes run from Saturday to Sunday. We specialize in individuals and smaller class sizes to provide you with the intimacy of personal instruction and supervision. Thus we limit class sizes to no more than 8 students. Courses are held out of doors and feature field trips to suit the needs of each group.
Black and white film will be developed for discussion with the teacher and class. You will have access to the darkroom (black and white only; up to 8" x 10" negs.). Chemicals are free. Film and paper are not and must be brought with you. For your camera, a 35mm with interchangeable lenses affords you the best opportunity to learn. Please feel free to bring previous materials for critique. Keeping a journal is highly recommend. Use it for notes, feelings, Polaroid's and to illustrate and expand on a photographic idea.
We offer the unique opportunity to explore the most beautiful state in Mexico and improve your skills as a photographer at the same time. Each weeklong class covers skills from composition and shooting to developing and printing. Our students freely explore the unparalleled beauty of Chiapas. Rather than stay in one place, classes happen anywhere within a hundred mile radius of the home base in San Cristóbal de las Casas. Mountains, lakes, lowlands and coastal regions are all within reach of day or overnight trips. "I can honestly say my students don't walk away disappointed with the experience. It is my intention to provide something that exceeds anyone's expectations."
The darkroom is the magical place where the images in our mind's eye take physical form, become earthbound and permanent. Here, we find another layer of creative potential limited only by the skills, experience and desires of the photographer. Feel free to experiment in this space, to explore the boundaries of what is possible and what is not. Think of it as an alchemist's room, a place where chemistry and magic mingle, and see where it takes you.
The following are only suggestions. They are here to guide you, not to limit you. Take what is useful to you and then find your own path. Remember, art happens at the boundaries and in the margins.
Cisco's work spans many facets of the photography world, from art to commercial. After earning his BA from the UCLA School of Motion Picture & TV, he opened his Los Angeles studio and quickly gained an excellent reputation for celebrity portraits and album covers. He began focusing on art photography in 1978 when, one late and hazy night in his studio, he accidentally discovered the technique now known as Polaroid Transfer.
Cisco subsequently explored this new realm with grants from The Polaroid Corporation. His work from this period now hangs in The San Francisco Museum of Contemporary Art, The New Orleans Museum of Art, and the Polaroid National and International Collections.
Cisco's return to commercial photography coincided with a move from Los Angeles to New Orleans in 1984. Clients, including Freeport MacMoRan and Tulane University, occasionally lure Cisco back to the States for special projects. His love of teaching dates from 1978, when he began instructing at UCLA. In 1985, he started the photo department at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA). Cisco's teaching method, in his own words, "centers on finding out where the student's skills are most fragile, and gently but firmly exploring those areas until, with practice and support, those weaknesses transform into strengths."
Of course, a great part of the Aper tour experience comes from spending a week in the gracious house on Calle Tonala with Cisco. A Chiapaneco for seven years, Cisco's depth of knowledge and love of San Cristóbal and its surroundings are an enormous benefit to students. The home reflects Cisco's fun, relaxed and eclectic personality.
The courtyards are filled with rare wild orchids (Cisco's second passion), herb gardens and fruit trees. Most of all, students are made warmly welcome, with many lessons ending in good conversation around the fireplace in the evening. Cisco is proud to say that, "The best thing about running this school is that the great majority who come here as students leave as friends."
Where we go during the nine day long seminar is entirely up to the group. Here are a few possibilities:
- Ancient Maya Ruins: Unlike other more frequented ruins, the ruins at TONINA, CHINKULTIC and TENAM PUENTE receive few visitors. In stunning settings, they offer unique photographic opportunities.
- Lagos de Montebello: Close to Tenam Puente and Chincultik, in the temperate forest near Guatemala lie lakes of dazzling blue and green. Nestled within a national park, the surrounding area shelters rare birds, diverse plant life and sacred caves still used as places of worship. This is an overnight trip where a 19th century colonial-style hacienda serves as our resting place after the day's exploration.
- Pacific Beaches: Very different from the famous beaches of Cancun or Acapulco, an expedition to the moody coast of Chiapas yields much for the intrepid photographer. Hundreds of kilometers of mangrove estuaries shelter a bizarre mix of wildlife and isolated villages. Giant waves crash at your feet while beach combing deserted stretches of sand. Enjoy fabulous freshly caught fish while you contemplate the perfect spot to hang your hammock.
- Indigenous Villages: One of the attractive qualities of San Cristóbal is its intimate relationship to the neighboring indigenous communities. Fascinating and accessible, the markets, churches and festivals of CHAMULA, ZINACANTAN and TENEJAPA offer a glimpse of living Maya culture.
- Water Trip: Water is the element that rules Chiapas. Here, the summer rains green the land and refresh wildflowers and forests. We explore the energy of water on this day trip, from a crystal clear pool that wells from deep in the earth to a powder blue river cascading through an isolated valley, ending with a swim in a wondrous natural whirlpool.
- Medicine Walk in the forests of Chamula: A very special addition for 1998. Xun, a Tzotzil elder and medicine man, leads us through the high, mysterious forests of Chamula, sharing his knowledge of the medicinal plants his people have used for millennium. This hike is a privileged glimpse into a world few outsiders have ever experienced.
- Steam Baths: San Cristóbal's oasis for the traveler's weary muscles.
- Shopping: The intricate textiles made by the indigenous women of Chiapas are the pride of Mexico. Trained from young girlhood in the art of weaving, women use the designs of their ancestors and the backstrap loom to spin flawless chuks and huipiles from the wool of their own flocks.
Several major airlines offer non-stop flights to Mexico City or Cancun. Delta seems to be one of the best. From Mexico City or Cancun, you will fly to Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital city of Chiapas. From Mexico City there are three options Mexicana, Aviacsa and Aero Carribe. Once in Tuxtla, there are four options for the 1.5 to two-hour ride to your home in San Cristóbal:
1. First class bus for about 40 pesos. Once one takes a taxi, 90 pesos from the airport, to the bus station CRISTOBAL COLON, then a taxi from the bus station in San Cristobal to your hotel in San Cristobal, 15 pesos. Total $145
2. Shuttle service from the airport directly to your home for about 90 pesos per person, with 6 in shuttle.
3. Private taxi, which can be shared, for about 480 pesos total.
4. Private driver, 400 pesos. (One U.S. Dollar at this time is approximately 11 pesos.)
Two rooms are generally available at Sol y Luna, a branch of us. The fee is $300pesos ($30 US) single $450pesos ($45 US) double occupancy.
Hotels in San Cristóbal range in price from $100 pesos to $1750 pesos ($10 - $175 US) per night for a single room. Lunch and Dinner range from $30 to $100 pesos ($3 - $10 US). We can make arrangements for your stay depending on the price range and availability.
Land based cost at Aper Tours is $1,000.00 per person, per week.
- Instruction by Cisco,
- Full time access to complete black and white darkroom with chemicals on premises of school,
- Film and photographic paper,
- Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls,
- Transportation to and from San Cristóbal,
- Insurance of any kind (Traveler's insurance is strongly recommended),
- Alcoholic beverages and bottled water.
Joined InfoHub: Nov 2005
Client Request Served: 5
The world's most laid back photo workshop is open year-round in Mexico.
San Cristóbal is in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico's southernmost state. Few places on earth rival the region for pure dramatic beauty. San Cristóbal itself offers myriad wonders for the photographer. For centuries, this has been...
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