Day of the Dead (Spanish: Día de Muertos) is a Mexican holiday celebrated throughout Mexico and around the world in other cultures. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. The celebration takes place on October 31, November 1 and November 2, in connection with the Christian triduum of Hallowmas: All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars called ofrendas honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed and visiting graves with these as gifts. They also leave possessions of the deceased.
I had the honor of visiting several cemeteries in the towns surrounding Oaxaca City for Dia de Los Muertos this year. These images were from the town of Santa Maria Atzompa on October 31st, though we witnessed similar sights in Xoxocotlan and San Filipe del Agua. The cemeteries were overwhelming and the task of capturing the the scene and their mood was daunting.They were both solemn and festive, traditional and modern, quite and loud all at the same time. Street festival took place just outside the gates and there was plenty of mescal being poured. At one point I found myself in a dose-doe with a drunken man in a cowboy hat, as we tried to pass on the narrow paths between the grave sites.
It has been a few weeks since my visit and the distance has only served to strengthen my memories as I look back on these scenes. The cemeteries glow with candles and the air is filled with the potent smell of wild marigolds (cempazutchil) accented with bright red cockcomb (terciopelos). It is visually overwhelming and surreal.
On a photographic note, it is maddeningly difficult to print these images. It is hard enough printing night images, but these images have an additional challenge. The natural shade of the bright orange marigold and the magenta of the red cockscomb are “out of gamut” color on most printers. I am still working through finding a solution.