Ann Brooks Photography

Photojournalism, art photography, studio happenings & resources

Posts Tagged ‘Mexico

1950s North African market influenced my future travels, photography, jewelry

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The North African souq which was to influence my travels, my photography and my jewelry for years to come. Taken with a Kodak Baby Brownie.

I was a very impressionable teenager in the 1950s, when I first set eyes on a North African souq.

My grandmother and I had been traveling independently in Europe, from Ireland and Scotland, south through England, France and Spain. It was not all that long after World War II and Europe, itself seemed very “different” to this American teenager.

But I was in no way prepared for what I would see across the Straights of Gibraltar in Morocco, in Tangiers. The French were still present there and it was not unusual to see a European woman pushing a stroller on the same sidewalk with an Arab woman, covered from head to toe, with a toddler in hand. And Coca-Cola signs in both French and Arabic — on the same sign! The snake charmer! I found it all quite amazing.

But it was the sight of the the Arabs gathered in a souq, that North African market, that sunk deeply into my psyche. That view would influence where I chose to travel in future decades and even the jewelry I make today, a half century later!

It was my first view of how other people in the world lived that seemed in no way connected to the life I had known growing up in California. It stirred my my curiosity, my passion. I knew I wanted to see, learn more about other people, far away lands.

But then, time out to marry, raise a family and I was pretty tied down for two decades. I did manage to take my own children to Europe in 1973.

The yearning did not go away. Mexico was near and satisfied some of that need. Finally, in 1989 I saw India for the first time, but it was not till 2005 that I was able to return to India and made contacts with a Muslim family in Rajasthan that I would end up doing a photo documentary about their teenage daughter the following year.

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March 9, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Frogs or Fleas? Plazuela de los Sapos

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This February I timed my visit to Puebla, Mexico so that I would arrive in time for two days of sleuthing at an open air market. I was looking for unusual little goodies to add to yet to be designed jewelry for my collection.

Every weekend at Plazuela de los Sapos – little plaza of the toads (frogs) – vendors set up shop for a lively outdoor market. It’s often referred to as Mercado de Antigüedades or Antiques Market. To me it seemed more like a flea market, and I loved it!

Saturday I went looking for little charms and trinkets to hang on bracelets yet to be designed for my jewelry studio – both online and at Art Works Downtown. I did find some wonderful little charms and other goodies which, once affixed with a loop of one type or another, can be added to bracelets. I also found pieces that can be the center focus of necklaces.

Sunday I returned to the market, hoping for more jewelry goodies and found none. However, I did have my Canon 40D with me and came home with another type of gem — great photos for my notecard series, a selection of four follows at the bottom of this post.

One of the images for notecards is the one above, “San Miguel Arcangel”,  patron saint of Puebla. San Miguel and his niche is right in the middle of the little plaza where the weekend antiques market is held. The medium for the image is Talavera tile, for which Puebla is well known.

Here’s the plaza on the weekend …                               and then, during the week.

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March 11, 2010 at 2:18 am

Parisian déja vu in Puebla, Mexico!

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My second morning in Puebla, Mexico, I awoke with a strong feeling of déja vu. Actually a very comforting feeling. I had a sense of  being in a little hotel in Paris as a teenager, my grandmother nearby. How could it be? This is Mexico! My grandmother long gone!

Then I began reflecting on my hotel room’s high, double French doors with the solid inside shutters covering them, a protection from cold and light at night.

Yes! An intuitive sense that these doors were sisters to ones that had been in that small hotel in Paris so many years ago!

Then the suspicion, no I think I had heard that the French and other Europeans, had, indeed been here in Puebla. These immigrants, business men, bankers, industrialists had come in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, exactly the period of the building I was in now and that of others around the center of the city.

And so, that day and the next I went out with my camera on a detective hunt around the historic center of Puebla. Looking for more evidence of a European presence. More evidence that I wasn’t crazy, that my déja vu experience actually had a foundation. And here’s what I found!  — Art Nouveau is alive and well in Puebla, Mexico!

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There is a little story and photo I took of my grandmother in Europe in when I was a teenager, elsewhere in this blog. You can find it here.

And on my website is a selection of photos I took on that European trip with a 1952 Kodak Baby Brownie.

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March 11, 2010 at 1:12 am

Fiesta of the Virgin of Candelaria in Oaxaca

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February 2nd is Fiesta of the Virgin of Candelaria here in Oaxaca, and I understand in all of Mexico. It is the special day when families dress up their baby Jesus figures and carry them to church to get blessed. Some dress them at home but, as it turns out, some go into the markets to have special vendors dress them.

… I discovered the Jesus dress vendors in Mercado Juarez quite by accident. Late in the afternoon I wandered down there because, though I had been in Oaxaca several times before, I had not visited that market in recent years. Much to my surprise, I saw several women with nearly naked Jesus dolls, waiting in line at two market shops where they were dressing the dolls in elaborate clothes, some regal, some quite sweet. I stayed, watched the process for some time taking pictures to record the event.

After taking a number of photos of the dolls being dressed, I decided I had to finish the story by following some of the dolls and their owners to church for the blessing. I loved the photo of the young woman in pink heading to church with her Jesus doll in a bag, peering out!

The last photo on the lower right is of the wife of the owner of La Olla Restaurant, newly back from church and the blessing of her baby Jesus which she is returning to the display case.


I am grateful to Carole Turkenik who, after more than thirty years living in and out of Oaxaca, has written “Oaxaca Tips“, a through and unique compendim of interesting places, happenings — including this event, shopping, restaurants in Oaxaca to share her insights.

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March 6, 2010 at 5:09 pm

Textile Museum of Oaxaca – Museo Textil de Oaxaca

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In the heart of the city of Oaxaca is the only textile museum in Mexico. Museo Textile de Oaxaca is in a restored grand 18th Century home. Privately funded, the museum opened early in 2008.

Though the museum’s exhibitions often feature the work of Oaxacan weavers and needle craftspersons, this October they mounted an impressive exhibition of the Guatemalan textile collection of René Bustamante.


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Museum director, Ana Paula Fuentes Quintana introducing René Bustamante during the opening reception for the exhibition of his Guatemalan textile collection.

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One of the museum’s main missions is to provide resources to Oaxacan weavers and designers. While I was there, a natural dye workshop was taking place.

In addition to education, the museum provides a library and textile restoration. It is not unusual to find a weaver from one of the villages surrounding the city of Oaxaca is demonstrating their techniques in the atrium of the museum.

Click here for the museum’s website.

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November 12, 2009 at 2:56 am

Fighting poverty with micro finance in Oaxaca villages

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Last week I joined a group who went to visit women who are struggling entrepreneurs in the village of Teotitlán del Valle outside of Oaxaca City in Mexico. The village has been, for generations, a weaving village. Five of the women we visited are, in fact weavers.

We went with Investours, “tours that fight poverty”. Our guide was Carlos Hernandez Topete, co-founder of the non-profit organization. Carlos, a native of Oaxaca with a business degree from Boston University met Ashwin Kaja, currently studing law at Harvard and who had been researching how to blend tourism and micro finance. Carlos saw a way that Ashwin’s concept could be applied to villiages surrounding Oaxaca and in 2008 they created Investours. Click here to find out more about the organization and how you can participate. [March  2010, Investours changed their name to En Via and the link is to their new website.]

ABrooks_091003_002We visited two groups of three women in their own home studios where they showed us what they were making to sell and explained why they needed a loan, typically $100 to $150 US.

In the first group was Yanet Bagan who makes jewelry and uses the proceeds from sales to pay for transportation to be able to continue school as higher grades are some distance from the village. Yanet needed money to buy more of two types of wire. One a silver color, the other black. With it she will continue to be able to make more of her stunning wire-work earrings.


Teresa Lopez was the first of four weavers who needed a loan to buy more yarn that is already spun and dyed. Though many weavers had done their own carding, spinning and dying of the wool, they now feel it is more efficient to have others do that time-consuming part of the process so that they can spend their time weaving.

ABrooks_091003_045Teresa Sosa was the third woman in the first group. Also a weaver, she wanted a loan so she could buy already spun and dyed yarn.


In the second group of three, Soledad “Chole” Martinez (right) is a weaver, doing contract weaving for other weavers. However, because work is sometimes slow,for two years she has been selling Avon products to supplement income. She needed a loan in order to buy a small table to display her Avon products on in the village’s market place.


Guadeloupe Contreras and Juana Bazán, both weavers each wanted loans to buy ready-spun and dyed yarn.

After visiting the two groups of three woman artisans, we went to a restaurant for a traditional Oaxican meal, At the end of the meal we discussed the groups, what their needs were and decided between us to which group our tour money would be given as an interest-free loan. In the end, it was agreed that the first group should be given the loan this time, but we all wanted to see Chole (the Avon lady in the second group) get her table and happily contributed a little more, specifically earmarked for that purpose.

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Click for Investours Facebook page ~ for Investours website ~ or email: see below.

NOTE: [March  2010, Investours changed their name to En Via and the link is to their new website. Email for emily is now — emily at]

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The many cultural splendors of Oaxaca-part 1

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During my first week in Oaxaca this year, it seems every day there have been amazingly diverse cultural or poiltical happenings .


Last Saturday afternoon in the Zocalo, among many happenings, there was a clown entertaining people next to the Red Cross teaching artificial respiration in front of the Cathedral — saving bodies in front of the place where they save souls.


Sunday at Santo Domingo Museum was a gallery opening for the work of Lola Cueto, Mexican painter, printmaker, puppet designer and puppeteer. Oh yes, and she made beautiful tapestries.


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The many cultural splendors of Oaxaca – part 2

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More happenings during my first week here … immediately before the gallery opening a group marched down Acala protesting for women’s right to make their own decisions regarding abortion. Even in this Catholic country, this might not have been surprising in Mexico City, but here in more conservative Oaxaca, I suspect it is unusual.


Monday night in the Teatro Juarez, we heard a Mozart mass with the Oaxaca Symphony Orchestra and civic chorus.


Tuesday evening on an open air stage next to Santo Domingo Church, we saw ballet folklórico with several different groups performing, the largest of which I had seen here last year, same time (of the year), same place.



And, oh yes, during the earlier part of each week day we have four hours of Spanish language study at Instituto Cultural Oaxaca.

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October 6, 2009 at 2:19 pm

Summertime is travel photography time

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Summertime is travel time for many and for most that means travel photography. Fifty years ago my first travel photography began casually with a Kodak Baby Brownie in Europe. And truth be told, for many decades my photography continued in a pretty relaxed manner.

By 2003 I had decided to take my photography more seriously and signed up for my first  photography workshop with Santa Fe Workshops during their annual month in San Miguel Alliende in Mexico.

The workshop instructor was Bob Krist for “Spirit of Place”, travel photography. During that week I found Bob to be the consummate teacher. I couldn’t have chosen better for a first photography teacher. Even as an award winning travel photographer, published in National Geographic Traveler, Smithsonian and Islands he taught without ego and with great generosity, sharing his years of knowledge.

Ann BrooksI arrived at Bob’s workshop, a newbie in the realm of serious photography, feeling very much an outsider with my glistening little silver Pentax SLR among all the other participants toting big black Canon’s, Nikons and tripods.

After the workshop participants’ final slide show on Friday, Bob quietly said to me, “you’re going to do just fine with that camera” and confided that he would have been happy to have made one of the photos I had captured that week, himself.

Followup: I seldom used that Pentax film camera again as 2003 turned out to be the change-over year for me. It was digital from then on. In 2009 a Canon 40D.

Dancing Colors ©2003 Ann Brooks“Dancing Colors”  Dia de la Revolución parade, San Miguel Alliende, Mexico ©2003 Ann Brooks

And my photo from that week that Bob had so admired (above) turned out to be my lucky break. National Geographic found it and licensed it on several occasions for use in one of their international publications. Speak about beginners luck!!

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Though I was able to participate in a travel photography workshop from Bob Krist in person, here are some ways you can get some great tips from him today. In April Wall Street Journal interviewed him. Check it out.

And you can see a multi-media slide show of Bob’s work with good information on getting the  travel photos you want.

Don’t miss Bob Krist’s blog with ongoing travel photography tips, information, workshops.

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July 8, 2009 at 11:43 am

Doors – so many metaphors

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bluedoor_c2a9ann_brooks3People love images of doors. A door is a metaphor for so many things.

Hope, opportunity, invitation, when open. Mystery when closed. Don’t mention having one shut in your face!

The first photo I ever sold was a door which I took in San Miguel Alliende, Mexico in 1982. The Blue Door.

Several years ago, I was beginning to show my photography in my jewelry studio, beginning my transition from jewelry to photography. One November we were having open studios. For the first time, I put out a small display of my photo notecards. 

There was a man, perhaps in his late 30’s looking through the cards. Lots of people were in and out of my studio. Mr. late-30s kept going through the cards, pondering, looking. I was quite busy with the jewelry lookers and buyers, but periodically wondering what kept him looking for so long. What choice could be that hard, that important?

Finally, he came to me with the Blue Door card in hand. He volunteered that the card was for a women who had been important in his life, but they had gone their separate ways and hadn’t been in touch for over a year. He planned to send her the card with a note saying, “The door is open”.

I’ve told that story many times through the years as people have shown interest in the Blue Door. I get goose-bumps every time.

I wish I knew how it turned out. Did they reconnect? Being a romantic at heart, I’d like to think so.

In the comment section above, I invite you to leave your own thoughts about doors and their special meaning to you – add your own door metaphors.

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May 21, 2009 at 11:22 pm

Editing lesson from Kim Komenich, Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist.

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I recently met with Kim Komenich, Pulitzer Prize winner and teacher extraordinaire, for his edit of some of my work. As a late-blooming photojournalist, I always learn a great deal from his comments. He explained that he was editing for a photojournalism story, beginning, middle, end.

Komenich picked this image as a scene setter. It shows the peoples faces, is about who is there, we can see people we can care about. Additionally he singled this one out for it’s “staying power”, as being a powerful image on its own.

I took these images in Oaxaca, Mexico on the 40th anniversary of the 1968 Mexico City massacre. Students, anarchists and others held a protest march keeping the memory of the massacre alive as well as protesting current injustices. Their message was “Ni perdon, ni olvido Mexico 68.” Neither forgive nor forget — the events on October 2, 1968. Here are Kim’s picks for the story with his comments.



Above, though not a fan of showing other people’s signs, Kominech says this one is another way to set the scene, it tells why they are there.

Image right, Komenich points out, “is full of little gifts”. There is a lot of activity, people reacting to the situation in a variety of ways.

He also points out that the image has it’s faults — is tipped and not taken square on, as it sould have been. But hey, it has it’s “gifts.”

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Image left, he sites for good design.

On the right Komenich begins to drive home the importance of being able to see people’s eyes. The image shows lots of action and reaction.

Below left, he points out, is a young man who isn’t “playing anarchist” as he surmises all the ones with masks are. He is the real thing and isn’t hiding.

I remember working so hard to keep other people with cameras out of my pictures. Kim wisely pointed out that when it’s a “media circus” sometimes you just have to show it for what it is, lower right.


To see the contrast between Komenich’s edit and my original edit of this story click here and check out the slide show. Big lessons here.


Addendum:    This morning, by the bright light of day, I see I missed posting the flag burner (right) that was Kim’s choice. He made a point of the fact that in this one you can see his eyes. Check out the pick in my original edit and compare how much more powerful the image is when you see the young man’s eyes.

Yes, it is indeed very difficult to edit our own work.

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April 9, 2009 at 1:11 am