A Holy Time in San Miguel de Allende

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There are angels who walk on Earth, and they can be found in the sleepy town of San Miguel de Allende of the central Mexican state of Guanajuato…which I suppose is not so sleepy any more, as it has become an art & culture center for much of Central Mexico.  The people of San Miguel de Allende have become well-known for their great artistic skill as well as their incredible hospitality.  From my experience of Holy Week, the city and festival is a perfect testament to the brilliance of the people, creating not just a fascinating city, but a home.  Perhaps not a physical home for those just visiting, but definitely a home for the heart.

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In early spring, to celebrate and honor the Holy Week of Easter, the town comes alive with pageants and processions that express the passion of the local people and their religion.  There is not a better time to understand the local culture and gain new experiences and memories of new friends sharing a day.  Throughout the week, I had often been told “this is a city where at dawn the city is full of strangers yet at sunset full of friends.”

While the city and area has much to offer, being there during the Holy Week festivities created an atmosphere perfect for photography and contemplation.  Of the many different processions of Holy Week, the San Juan Dios Procession was my favorite as I was there with a group of photographers and it was a great opportunity to lose myself in shooting…to focus on the scene, people and the lighting so I could extract the emotions of the day.  It was made easier by the continual warm reception we received by the local population and the participants of the day’s procession.

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When it comes to shooting a moment like the SJD Procession, there is always a fear that the presence of a camera could create some tension and take away from the day, the reason being is pretty simple: photographers, at times, can generally be viewed as a disruptive bunch when they do not take into account their surroundings and only shoot for themselves.  Fortunately, such fears vanished quickly as I was stunned at the opportunities to shoot people in a relaxed, natural state…there are not too many places in the world where that is possible.  It seemed all photographers were keenly aware that this event was for the community, and took a back seat to the events.

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One of the main reasons of the relaxed nature of SJD Procession was the number of children with their parents and friends, all smiling and accepting the day for what is was: a celebration.  Even as I started the day with the intention of focusing fully on my photography, I could not help but become removed from my role as a photographer and instead dive into my role as a participant.  The reception, as is often the case with warm cultures, astounded me as all of my subjects had a smile to share and a helpfulness that creates a mood where we are all one big family.  

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As I sat down to watch the procession with my camera in hand, protecting my prime shooting position I had claimed, a group of young children from across the street with whom I had joked around with earlier in the morning, motioned me over to come sit with them.  I do admit that my immediate concern of photography and leaving this prime location almost caused me to shake them off, but it was only for an instant and I quickly jumped over to the other side of the street instead and sat on the curb with my new friends.

A big thanks to Araceli Moreno Bustamente and Josefina A. Hernandez, whose children and friends sat me down and immersed me into the festivities, culture and their celebration…even if just for a brief period of time.  It was such a great time laughing with them, trying to translate words/expressions with my poor Spanish (which was the endless cause of laughter with the kids), and the beauty was simply watching this large family interact so effortlessly and take in all the day offered.

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The SJD Procession was definitely the highlight of the trip, perhaps not so much for the photography as it was for just ‘being there’.  Culturally, I felt very much a part of the procession, which I did not think was possible.  If there was another moment where similar feelings were created, it had to be the evening of Good Friday when the ceremony of Via Dolorosa and the Procession of the Holy Burial took place.  While this procession was much more solemn, it also contained more intense emotions.  The timing of this procession was perfect, just getting underway as dusk began to darken the town, setting the scene perfectly.  Starting at dusk, as photographers, we have the great challenge of shooting with limited light even though by now I had learned that photography definitely takes a back seat to all the emotions and pageantry that the participants bring and share.  This procession did not disappoint as the participants engulfed us all to become part of the somber celebration.

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To have such waves of emotions around you with a camera in your hand, is the golden time to create ambiance within your photographs, such that you can be transported back into the scene again and again.  I suppose that is the beauty of photography, it allows you to contemplate life while previewing the current scene and selecting the piece of life you wish to “immortalize” in your shot.  As you later go back and review the shot, be it days or years later, you again contemplate your mood and the scene… an experience we have all had with photography.  The ambiance within the photo you created also gives the opportunity for others to view the scene, contemplate and perhaps create their own story and mood.  Ideally the photo sparks a thought that blooms within the mind of others and the creativity of the shot continues.  For photographers do not shoot photos just to shoot, they shoot photos to be experienced…     

For this incredible ride that Holy Week and San Miguel de Allende provided, I have to give a big thanks to go to my sister who made it possible.  The early morning coffees, discussions of photography and most important enjoying the food and margaritas after a day of a long shooting made it a great week.  A cerveza or two during our breaks in shooting with the locals didn’t hurt much either!  At the end of October every year, there is also the annual “Day of the Dead” festival in San Miguel de Allende, and I hope to travel back to this wonderful land a create another week or so of magic.   

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An important note to add: the experiences of Holy Week were made possible by an incredible number of people, and specifically through Raul Touzon, an absolute master of light and thus a master of photography. His work can be found on http://touzonphoto.com/ .  My photography improved greatly through watching him work and perhaps more by viewing his work.  Even today, when I receive his newsletter and see his latest work, I notice how he “bends light” to suit his needs…and I learn a little more.  Inspirational.

The internet has been a blessing for all photographers, as there is such a great mountain of superb photographic work out there, it can do nothing but inspire me to push the envelope even more and improve.

29 Comments on “A Holy Time in San Miguel de Allende

  1. Hi, Thank you for discovering my blog http://www.throughharoldslens.com. It gave me the opportunity to discover, explore and Follow your fabulous blog. Hope we both enjoy our journeys. What a stunning series on San Miguel de Allende. Oh how many times I have sat exactly where you sat with my camera for this exact same passionate procession. In fact, in one of the images, you are only about 4 doors from my home here. You produced one rich, strong series of images. Best, Harold

    • It was a bit serendipitous to find your site, and now to know that you actually have a residence in San Miguel de Allende is pretty amazing. I would say it is coincidence to find your site …but I started my blog on the Chinese concept of “yuan-fen” I will keep it there. Enjoy shooting and I look forward to hearing/seeing more. Cheers!

  2. Thanks for the beautiful photos that bring me to a city I have never been to or may never will go to.

    • Thank you Echo. San Miguel de Allende is an incredible place, perhaps there will be a time you could visit this town and festival…

  3. Pingback: The Cost of Driving Like Jeff Berwick In Mexico | Flyover-Press.com

  4. I really can’t get over how beautiful your photos are! You are truly a talented photographer and I am really looking forward to explore the rest of your blog and following you on your journey! Your portraits of people are amazing!

    • One of the great things about traveling is checking out the culture and meeting people…always fascinates me to find great people wherever I go, and it makes the photography easy. Thanks for your nice words, and let’s keep in touch during our different adventures.

  5. Oh, how I love #8 and #10 ! > v < they are really really sweet and warm,Dalo !

    Yah, It's truly a great gift when we have chance to make friends with local ppl and join the traditional events of those places that we travel ^ ^ just can't wait for your amazing photos-trip when October comes,Dalo !

    • Thank you again Yinyin. You are very correct, the great thing about travel is meeting the local people…they always have interesting lives and are friendly to share their culture. I look forward to October very much. Cheers!

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  7. Great photos of the festivities, you’ve captured really lovely expressions among the kids. In many parts of Spain they do festivities like this in Holy Week too. I was trying to make photos this year but I had my old camera then and it was pretty impossible to get good photos (I did manage a couple…). I don’t know there, but here the processions are accompanied by music, drummers etc, and its awesome!

    • Thanks Sofia…I was floating on cloud 9 during the week, such great people and as you mentioned with so much activity it is awesome. I really want to shoot many more of these, and it sounds as if Spain is similar, with music and everyone in full pageantry mode. Truly a sight to be seen and experienced many times.

      • Here there are people that don’t care about it at all, and others that bringing out their “Virgen” is the most important thing all year long that at the moment the statue of Mary come out of the church, they cry with emotion. Heres my post on what it looks like in the South of Spain (with my old camera)… http://papayapieces.com/2013/03/31/glimpse-andalucia-easter/

      • Loved your post, and one day I too will get a “Glimpse of Andalucía in Easter”. A magical time seeing families and communities come together.

      • I hope you do go to Andalucia during easter. It’s a fantastic time of the year to visit!

  8. I love Mexico and the Mexican people even more so…great pics. I know what you mean about the emotions, it’s so easy to become lost in being a part of what is going on. Great article!

  9. Thank you for portraying yet another magical place and festival in Mexico. This is my new hopeful destination to get to this year…
    All the best to you!

    • Thanks Cari, the people and atmosphere of San Miguel de Allende is magical…enjoy your travels!

  10. Pingback: Easter in Andalucía 2014 | Papaya Pieces

  11. I ventured to your blog via another blog, Sofía Villar’s “Papaya Pieces.” I am called Mexican-American, but in my heart I am simply Mexicana. My husband I lived in Spain for 3 glorious years and witnessed Semana Santa in Andalucía. We are not Catholic, but we are catholic with a small “c”, ergo, we are UNIVERSAL. And appreciate the culture of any region. So we swallowed whole this beautiful time, Semana Santa. Your blog sounds very interesting. I have been to Guanajuato, Gto., but haven’t ventured to San Miguel de Allende–in my opinion, too many gringos. But maybe I should make a pilgrimage there!

    • Spain is this dream place for me…played such a role as a kid I loved Mexico, the language and people. While I think you are correct in SMdA, too many foreigners/tourists, the Easter processions and the people of the city created one of the best moments I have ever had traveling. Cheers (and isn’t Sofia’s site great!).

  12. I have watched and photographed Semana Santa in many places, but I don’t think I have seen this focus on children as you here describe and show from San Miguel de Allende. As always excellent photos. And your thoughts around insensitive photographers are very poignant, too.

    • Thank Otto, I am hopeful to one day travel to Spain and shoot some of the processions there…yet also wouldn’t mind returning to San Miguel de Allende as it was such a great place.

  13. Gorgeous pics! Capturing the heart of the beautiful people. Spent a lot of time in Queretero and Xacatecas but never San Miguel…..

    • Would love to check out Queretero and Xacatecas, so many great places in Mexico ~ thanks Cindy!

  14. Pingback: Easter in Andalucía 2014 - Papaya Pieces

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