SEMANA SANTA: Portraits
The Tarahumara offer one of the last remaining views of uninterrupted, indigenous life in North America. The rough terrain and steep canyon walls of Mexico’s Sierra Mountains have isolated and protected them from post Spanish-contact civilization.
Between 1998 and 2009 I organized a series of expeditions to photograph the Tarahumara. Traveling in early spring by mule and on foot into remote areas of the Sierra with the guide Santiago, I documented one of the most important pagan rituals still visible today, Semana Santa, or Holy Week. Using the Catholic observance of the week before Easter as a frame, the Tarahumara retain the spirit and practice of their pre-Columbian pagan ritual which calls forth the energies of the Earth, a time of regeneration for man, land, and community, in anticipation of the spring planting. The men are costumed and their bodies painted for this “Rite of Spring”. The dancers and their whirling, hypnotic dance seem strange and enigmatic to western observers.
Further unmasking their culture for myself and the viewer, I explored beyond the ritual, making portraits of individuals and families living their daily lives. The Portraits serve as anchors woven into the fabric of the Santa Semana pageant, a window into an indigenous people’s self-sufficient, self-sustaining way of being. Set in the rugged natural beauty of the Sierras, they visualize and document the Tarahumara connection to an environment that sustains, insulates, and protects them. I believe silver gelatin prints invoke a sense of timelessness so I chose to produce this body of work in the classic medium of black and white photography. The lack of color asks the viewer to participate, to examine the image, and then, to imagine. The structure of the portrait allows for collaboration between myself and the subject. When I ask permission to make a portrait, the person will always do something to get ready. That moment, caught by the camera, is a fleeting bit of self-revelation and magic.