Photographing the Artisans of Oaxaca, Mexico With The Profoto B2
Written by Brenda Bazan
Early in the summer, I was commissioned to take portraits of models wearing garments handcrafted by artisans from several towns in Oaxaca, Mexico. I created these portraits in my living room using a Profoto B2 paired with a 5’ octa. For this images, I decided to use a classic gray, canvas backdrop to bring more attention to the bright colors of the vivid garments.
We shot this set of portraits on a weekday, and by the weekend the stars had aligned for me to go down to the state of Oaxaca in Mexico to meet and photograph the artisans who create these beautiful handicrafts. Claudia and Ricardo, a couple of artisans from the town Santo Tomás Jalieza, hosted me in their lovely cottage for a few days and introduced me to the collective of artisans from their town and the surrounding towns. I arrived on a Sunday night, and by the time I woke up I was taken away by how beautiful and picturesque the towns were.
It was like immersing into a scene from the movie Coco. For two days we would be traveling around and meeting some of the artisans from their collective. I knew I had to travel light and be prepared to shoot on location, so I brought with me my beloved Profoto B2 with the OCF Beauty Dish in white. Also, I brought only one lens: a 24-70mm f/2.8. All of the environmental portraits from this series were lit with a base layer of ambient light and a kick from the Beauty Dish feathered from the side. I loved the look of the Profoto OCF Beauty Dish on these images because it looks natural, but still helped me bring out the detail in my subjects.
During this trip I had the pleasure to spend time looking at the artisans work on their craft and get to know them on a personal level. In Santo Tomás Jalieza, I met the Navarro Gómez family who have dedicated their lives to the art of backstrap weaving, except for Gerardo who is a painter.
I also met the Mendoza family, the only family from Santo Tomás who works the treadle loom. In San Martin Tilcajete, whimsical creatures are created by carving copal wood; these are called “alebrijes”. Hipólito Fabián showed me his creations and even created one alebrije from scratch just for me. In Ocotlán, the artisans work with clay to create sculptures and figurines. Here I met Gabriela, who creates all sorts of figurines from mermaids to tiny renditions of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. I also met José García and his wife Teresita de Jesús; these two and their family create incredible clay sculptures. Despite losing his eye-sight due to glaucoma, José García kept his ability to sculpt his imagination on clay.
These were some of the people I met during my trip. I am eternally grateful for their hospitality and willingness to participate as subjects for these portraits. I am especially grateful with Claudia and Ricardo who were the best hosts and treated me like family. Ever since I came back I’ve been craving the refreshing, pre-hispanic drink “tejate” and the delicious Mexican dish “tlacoyo”. I can’t wait to go back, immerse in this culture once more, and visit other towns and communities to capture them.