Join Professor Denis Defibaugh of Rochester Institute of Technology as he shares his stories and photographs documenting the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration.
The Day of the Dead: Dia de los Muertos, Oaxaca, Mexico by Denis Defibaugh (previously published by CNN).
Six AM in the morning, Ward, Pedro and I are visiting with Narciso Hernandez Luis in Mitla, the city of the dead. We eat pan de muertos and drink hot chocolate while Narciso describes meeting his departed brother at the family offerenda on All Souls Day. As Narciso spoke I noticed the morning sunlight illuminate the doorway to Narciso’s home. In homage to his brother I asked Narciso to stand in the passageway so I could take his picture in that ethereal light. This portrait began an ongoing collaboration to document the people and events of Oaxaca’s Day of the Dead.
During this eleven-year project, I have been invited and inspired by the people of Oaxaca to photograph their personal celebration of the Day of the Dead. Early in my project I was reassured and encouraged to photograph when a family at the Atzompa cemetery perceived my presence (as a stranger in the cemetery) as being representative of spirits returning to the Muertos celebration.
Despite its popular appeal, The Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico remains a traditional holiday. It is primarily a special time for families to come together to honor their antepasados, the family members who have died and whose spirits return to visit during these magical days. Throughout the state of Oaxaca, no other time of year is as important as the time of the Muertos.
I chose to take the unusual approach of using both black and white and color film to document the Muertos festival by exploring the inherent qualities of each media. The surrealistic nuance of black and white was used to represent the relation of image to spirituality or other world, whereas the realism of color film was used to document reality. Each provides a different and relevant experience for the viewer.
The Day of the Dead: Dia de los Muertos book was published in 2007 by the TCU Press of Texas A&M. The book contains over 90 photographs by Denis Defibaugh and narrative text by Ward Albro that reflects the Day of the Dead celebration.