Itinerary for Oaxaca Workshop in March 2019 & Interview with Amy Touchette

Photo by Amy Touchette

Photo by Amy Touchette

We are happy to return to Oaxaca in March 2019 for our second annual workshop there with Amy Touchette. We’ve shifted our itinerary a little bit to be able to visit the indigenous market at Tlacolula, where Zapotec people from distant villages travel to barter for all sorts of goods, from spices to live turkeys to textiles and much more. Our planned schedule is here:

Thursday, March 7 - Arrival, check-in to The Oaxaca Inn, and welcome dinner in downtown Oaxaca.

Friday, March 8 - Head outside the city to photograph Ocotlan, a town that transforms into a dynamic market every Friday. We went in March of this year on the last day and it was one of the highlights - an amazing place. Then head to Santa Catarina Minas to visit a mezcal maker who uses traditional techniques.

Saturday, March 9 - Street photography and portraiture in downtown Oaxaca, with lunch at Mercado 20 de Enero, one of the iconic sites in the city. Work at the Manuel Alvarez Bravo Photographic Center, a workshop and gallery space named after the famous Mexican photographer. Photograph the Zocalo, Santo Domingo, and the Botanic Garden.

Sunday, March 10 - Leave the city again to visit the indigenous market at Tlacolula, where barter is one of the main forms of commerce. Lunch with a Zapotec family at Teotitlan del Valle, and a visit to the women's weaving collective, where they make rugs and blankets with natural dyes they create themselves from plants and insects.

Monday, March 11 - Visit the pyramids outside the city at Monte Alban. Work at the Institute of Graphic Arts in downtown Oaxaca.

Tuesday, March 12 - Photograph Central de Abastos on the outskirts of downtown Oaxaca, a labyrinth of commerce - it's the spot where produce, meat, fish, and literally anything else you could possibly imagine wanting comes into Oaxaca. It's a stimulating macrocosm of daily life.

Wednesday, March 13 - Checkout of the Oaxaca Inn and bid farewell.

I’ve hesitated posting itineraries on past workshops for fear of “spoiling the surprise.” The reality is that each day in our workshops we encounter many unexpected “gifts from the photo gods,” and beyond the structure of an itinerary is where the magic of photography lives. We’ve found that no matter how strong an itinerary might be, even as it’s filled with spectacular locations and adventurous experiences, it’s the people we meet and photograph are what our workshops remarkable and unforgettable - from Don Pedro, who showed us secrets of Monte Alban, to Pastora Gutierrez demonstrating how she makes natural dyes for her handmade rugs, to the anonymous everyday people who share a smile or prepare a tlayuda for our lunch.

Amy was recently interviewed by photographer Timothy Frazier for his online magazine The Photographic Bandwidth. Please take a look. Amy’s insights into her work are always revealing and will make you think about how to look at photography, and life, a little bit differently and with more sensitivity. Great interview, and thanks to Timothy.

I began photographing people who I felt somehow embodied singularity, being alone. And what I saw in all of them was this beautiful marriage of vulnerability and liberation, a sort of calm, honest, susceptible strength.

And if you’d like to join us in Oaxaca for an unforgettable photographic experience (not to mention that we will eat some of the best food in the world….), please check out the workshop listing here to sign up: https://www.seekworkshops.com/select-workshop/oaxaca-amy-touchette

You won’t be disappointed.

The Atitlan Experience -- San Antonio Palopó

Story and photos by Eric Mencher

Part Two of a Four-part Series on what an average day might be like taking pictures around Lake Atitlán, Guatemala.

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The twelve towns and villages on the shores of Lake Atitlán, Guatemala, are all different from one another. Although they share Mayan traditions dating back thousands of years, their languages (not just dialects, but languages) might be different, the colors of the traje (traditional dress) are distinct (those in the know can identify where a person is from by the colors and patterns of their traje), and the physical appearance of each place is unique. I truly love ‘em all! It’s such a joy to visit each town. San Marcos is my choice to “live," Santiago, a bustling town, is great to photograph and witness life and sort of relax, and San Juan is a must-see for its amazing textile studios and murals (and a great wine and cheese restaurant). But San Antonio Palopó tops my list as THE place to wander and photograph and know that you are somewhere special.

With houses rising sharply on the mountainside above a curving shoreline, from a certain vantage point one might be reminded of a small Mediterranean village. But a closer look reveals something altogether different. It’s very traditionally Maya. Men and women and children all wear traje. Spanish, let alone English, is not commonly spoken. And many tiny things will also eventually be revealed, reminding us that this is not the Amalfi Coast.

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When I visit San Antonio, I always make a walking loop around town, first along the water, then a stop for a couple of the best empañadas in the world, then the burn in my calves as I straggle up the steep road to the center of town, There, I always seem to end up at the same place - the steps of the church that dramatically overlooks the lake. And nearby sits a cross. And people walk by on their way to school or the market or to socialize or to just sit. Or they sell trinkets to tourists like me (I’m affectionately called Señor Gato by one of the trinket sellers). As for me, I photograph.

So now I have a small series of pictures from this very special place. A young girl sits under the cross like an angel with a halo. A woman shields her face from the intense sun with a cloth that mimics the shapes of the foundation under the cross. At dusk, a vendadora (salesperson) stands next to the cross. I’m not sure if she feels the spirit of the cross of San Antonio as do I, or whether she merely marvels at the beauty of the lake, or she’s just waiting for the next boat of tourists to arrive.

Whatever her thoughts, as I leave she turns, sees me, and I hear a very loud “MEOW” coming from her smiling face. 

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SEEK Interviews: Spencer Platt

This is the first in an occasional series of interviews with SEEK instructors, our colleagues and friends, curators, photographers of all different kinds, our influences, and people who we think you might find interesting. Starting off this series is an interview with SEEK instructor Spencer Platt, who is Senior Staff Photographer for Getty Images in New York City. Spencer's long career has taken him around the world, covering international events ranging from wars, famines, and refugee crises to Presidential elections and stories of daily life. Follow Spencer's work on Instagram @plattys1 - and read more about him on his bio page here: http://www.seekworkshops.com/s-platt/ For now, please enjoy this interview (which was conducted by email).

SEEK: Can you tell us a bit about your experience in Albania in the mid-90's? How did you feel working there? What was something you encountered that was challenging, and how did you overcome it?

SP: I went to Albania in 1996 out of the frustration of working at a small regional newspaper. While it was the perfect setting to learn the craft of photojournalism, there was a monotony to my life that I wanted to alter, to throw it all into the sea. I went on the encouragement of my mother and the experience committed me forever to the life of a photojournalist, one of the last romantic careers. The country was in chaos, there were riots in the streets and the old communist order was being pulled apart. At the time I don’t think I was aware of the bigger historical picture or what it all meant for the future. I was simply happy to be roaming the country for 10 days with two film cameras and a rucksack. In one southern city they burned the police station down as I arrived on the night train; I somehow found a hotel and managed to get some food. I barricaded myself in the little room with an old dresser against the door, there was shooting in the street and I was terrified. It was one of the happiest nights of my life.

SEEK:In your bio you mentioned the theme of "a life worth living." What does that mean to you?

SP: I desperately wanted to be a “witness” to history, to be engaged in something larger than myself. What I learned from the experience is the idea of personal agency, how we have the power to shape our lives and careers in ways I never quite understood. Prior to my experiences in Albania I was of the impression that we primarily reacted to external events as humans, that we had only modest control over our destiny. While I was very young and naive on that trip, it taught me that action, decisiveness and original thought will often bring rewards…or at the very least experiences that give your life a durability that you can profit from. I haven’t always taken this lesson to heart in my photographic career, but it I strive to keep this idea in mind and am certain it has shaped my life. We live in an age that is increasingly passive, where too many of us are relegated to voyeurs on social media, television or other forms of entertainment. 

SEEK: How is being a flaneur, or, "a stroller of the street," important to you as a photographer?

SP: The beauty of street photography is that it demands engagement with your world. You can’t pursue this kind of work from an office or bedroom, from looking at a screen or listening to a podcast. One needs to be physically and spiritually in the present moment. One of the most beautiful aspects of street photography is that it’s an instrument you can play for the rest of your life, constantly tweaking it or re-examining it, but it ill always be there for you. I think once a person becomes comfortable with their personal vision it is a very therapeutic way to get through life. 

SEEK: Can you tell us a little about your friendship with Q and how your teaching together will be an interesting experience for students?

SP: I’ve forgotten where I first met Q, but it was certainly while covering a war some place. We worked very differently but somehow managed to be good traveling companions. In conflict situations it is always better to travel with someone else in case you run into trouble. You must also trust this persons advice and feel at ease with their decisions on how to proceed with the day; where the pictures will be made. This is very important and Q has always had a sense for how news events will unfold. Before you make an important picture there is often much thinking and debating, much walking and watching.

SEEK: Can you elaborate on how you think photojournalism and photography can be a way of "demanding more from life?"

SP: If there is anything I want my work to achieve it is the idea of the “rugged” life, both physically and mentally. A life that doesn’t divert from risk or discomfort, that seeks to constantly improve on our skills and to being a committed actor in our time. This sense of engagement involves literature, music, photography and a deep empathy. This sense of empathy, or compassion for others, is only fully realized through art. Street photography, when deeply pursued, it is the study of the theater of the street, of the small and large dramas that define who we are.