I was recently on a family trip to San Miguel de Allende (SMA) in central Mexico. This colonial town is known for a seemingly endless succession of festivals throughout the year. Even the hot pinks, oranges and ochers favored for the architecture make it seem as if the town is perpetually decorated for a party.
Our only prior trip to SMA was during a multi-day annual celebration for which it is rightfully famous: Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. If you’ve never experienced this, it may seem odd to hear it referred to as a celebration but that is what it is: an annual rite to venerate and honor one’s ancestors. It is celebrated Nov. 1 and 2.
It is not macabre or scary in any way, despite the penchant for decorations featuring skulls. Altars are set up throughout town, in storefronts, in the central Jardín, in parks and in the cemeteries. They may be embellished with photos of a deceased loved one or an employee and often will be furnished with candles and figurines, as well as favorite foods and drinks of the honoree.
Families clean and decorate their ancestor’s graves in the cemetery with brightly colored flowers and paper decorations. They picnic at the site and may engage mariachis to play. The atmosphere is festive in a respectful way.
In SMA, the celebrations include nightly concerts and parades in the center of town, where the magnificent Parroquia presides over the French-style Jardín.
On our recent trip, we happened to be there on a long weekend during which there was no festival. A friend who lives part-time there had recommended that we not miss the monthly Art Walk if our visit coincided. On the north end of town, Aurora La Fabrica houses many artist’s studios and one Saturday night a month, they are all open at once.
We never made it. I’m sure it would have been fun, but we ended up walking through the Jardín and being swept up in ordinary, but infectious, summertime revelry: Mariachis playing, people dancing, others singing. It was irresistible.
Steve and I employed two different approaches to photography of this impromptu fiesta. In many ways, these are also the two major approaches to street photography in general. I was shooting with my “mini-me” camera, the Fujifilm X-100F, which has a fixed 35mm lens attached. This camera is very small and retro-looking, with externally accessible dials for the major adjustments. People tend to react very favorably, even curiously, to it and are not put off by it.
Steve was shooting with the Fujifilm X-Pro 2, with the 80 mm lens. This is a macro lens but is also useful as a medium telephoto lens. This setup is certainly more visible, making it more useful for the “stealth” approach to street shooting (isolating subjects from a longer distance, usually without them being aware they are being photographed).
With my tiny camera, I was just part of the crowd, swaying to the music and enjoying the proceedings. The crowd and musicians were within touching distance; indeed, I occasionally had to sidestep to avoid collisions with dancers. This setup definitely lent itself to a “you are there” immediacy. Meanwhile, Steve was able to pick out and isolate revelers from a distance with his rig.
These approaches are complementary and depending on the situation, one may work better than the other. Either way, we both enjoyed our diversion, even if we never made it to our intended destination.
Marie Tartar is an insatiable traveler, diver, hiker and photographer.She is one half of the photographic partnership of San Diego-based Aperture Photo Arts (APA).Along with her husband, Steve Eilenberg, she explores the world photographically, on foot and by fin, specializing in underwater, landscape, wildlife, travel and architectural photography. Her images have been exhibited at the La Jolla Athenaeum, San Diego Natural History Museum, Oceanside Museum of Art, Birch Aquarium and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.See more work at www.aperturephotoarts.com.
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