I’ve photographed Dia de los Muertos in Mexico for seven of the past eleven years. It is one of those long term photography projects that just sneaks up on you, and you don’t even realize it is a long term project until you are, pardon the pun, dead in the middle of it. It was my third Dia de los Muertos, my first trip to Pátzcuaro, deep in the Mexican state of Michoacán del Ocampo when I was hooked. The Purépecha (endonym P’urhépecha [p?u??epet??a]) are an indigenous people centered in the northwestern region of the Mexican state of Michoacán, principally in the area of the cities of Cherán and Pátzcuaro. Their ancient teachings of celebrating their ancestors spirit and wisdoms on Dia de los Muertos are what opened me up to a whole new way of viewing life, by changing the way one views death.
It was then and still is a very moving event for me, Dia de los Muertos. Families remembering their loved ones and communing with the true spirit of their ancestors. In Mexico Dia de los Muertos is a cultural tradition dating back to pre-Columbian days, and anyone’s guess how far deeper into the roots of North American history. Our brethren to the south in Mexico have a much more sane view of death and dying. To Mexicans, it is just the inevitable conclusion to what was hopefully a life well lived, and if not well lived at least well remembered by family and friends on Dia de los Muertos.
What Dia de los Muertos is not is the macabre, pompous ceremony surrounding our commercial consumer version packaged, pitched, and sold here in the United States. Americans will sell anything, as long as there is a profit n it. Everyone dies, so Americans are buying. This is a business much like Life Insurance, people are just dying to get into. I don’t like funerals, and I do not attend them. I did one, in my early thirties, and never again for me. That piece of cold dead meat powdered, painted, perfumed, and staged inside the mirror finished, polished, gold trimmed expensive Ebony box was not my former friend and lover, only her spiritless remains. But I digress…
To any of my friends reading this, if you die before me you are shit out of luck. I’ll celebrate your life, as the Mexicans do, I will toast a premium tequila to your many inspirations, I will cry at the memory of your fails as I will celebrate your successes with complete abandon, but my friends I refuse to ever celebrate your death. This is the essential spirit, translated into English as best I know how, of the Mexican tradition Dia de los Muertos.
So it was with this reverence in mind that I decided to persist for an eighth year on my long term Dia de los Muertos photography project. Since I had business keeping me here in California this year, I decided to photograph the Hollywood Forever Cemetery’s presentation of their Day of the Dead Celebration. I wasn’t particularly thrilled at aspects of what was obviously intended as another commercialization of a Mexican fiesta, with the same intent Cinco de Mayo. MAKE MONEY! I felt though that the contrast mite be interesting between the two cultures. I was correct, it certainly was.
Despite the obvious entertainment event atmosphere, the spirit of the people was not all that different from what I felt at the Dia de los Muertos celebrations in Mexico. The events are different, on one hand steeped in cultural traditions for many participants as well as blended with what you could only call a Hollywood Production style. The irony? Not many Mexicans nor those of Spanish decent are interned at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. But they sure do put on a great show. I enjoyed it very much, and would highly recommend it to anyone living in the Los Angeles or southern California area for a $15 something to do next year around Halloween.
Still & Video shot with Canon 5D Mark III, Cinestyle profile, post in After Effects, Final Cut Pro, and ProTools.