Calavera Portraits | PART ONE

At the post-Marigold Parade celebration, I made a number of individual portraits not included in my 100 Strangers project. The Flickr group has rules preventing the participants from overly “collecting” portraits at any single event and then using them towards completion of their project. We are permitted to submit a few samples from a big event such as the Day of the Dead celebration.

Nevertheless, as a street photographer I did collect portraits. It could hardly get any better: decent afternoon sunlight, friendly subjects wearing fun makeup, people who liked attention and who consented to be photographed. Bingo!

With Leslie’s watchful wingwork, together we spotted and secured many friendly people who wanted to be captured for the fun of it; to record the spirit of the celebration. The portraits submitted to the 100 Strangers project will appear in the sequential order of that effort, in future posts. For now, I will share some from my 2015 Day of the Dead Calavera Portrait collection.


Unnamed Calavera


Calavera: Lisa, aka “Newt”



Calavera: Asher



Calavera Couple: Carmen and her unnamed man

On a previous post from this Marigold Parade event, one of our regular readers commented that these people I have photographed are “weird.”  Since I had the chance to speak with those who consented to my picture taking, I can vouch that most of these subjects were ordinary people who became extraordinary for one day to show respect to their deceased and to celebrate the vitality of life that they have now.

I was raised in a religious and cultural environment that didn’t expose me to anything remotely related to the Day of the Dead.  My children, in art class at Albuquerque Public School, learned about decorative skull-shaped sugar candies (calaveras) made as offerings for the spiritis of deceased children (angelitos). In museums, galleries, giftshops and in private collections in homes of acquaintances, I’ve seen folk art of skeletons dressed in clothing, and depicted in moments of everyday activities. I’ve read articles online, such as this academic perspective of ancestor veneration and the hybridization of Mezoamerican and European-catholic traditions, and this which calls Day of the Dead, “America’s Newest  Holiday.”

In many religious customs around our world, people wear special clothing or behave in a certain way with rituals that are different from all other days, to draw a line of distinction between the ordinary and the exceptional.  That, to me, is what Day of the Dead represents to my subjects. I think I “get it” now. I hope that my photographs bring you closer to a better appreciation of it, too.

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