I had, as always, a blast photographing last month’s Day of the Dead celebrations. It can take a lot of effort to energize yourself to spend two days walking for hours on end, taking the bus from town to town, staying up until past midnight photographing the candlelit altars in the graveyards… all by yourself!
I’ve been asked more than one time by my friends here if I don’t get scared being the in the graveyard at night. Not once. Though last year it was a little weird being one of the only people in the cemetery at 12 a.m. while the Rays’ “Silhouettes in the Shade” blasted through the graveyard.
It was my sixth time photographing the holiday here in Ajijic, Jalisco, and the surrounding area. Last year, a nearby town, Ixtlauhaucan de los Membrillos, set up a block full of altars and this year they shut down four blocks and gave out $150,000 pesos ($7,500 USD) for the best altar, best-dressed catrina and other prizes. This was all the motivation necessary for dozens of groups to set up altars dedicated to national figures as well as local family members.
The mood is not somber. People come from the nearby towns to admire the hours of work the ofrenda makers put into their altars. Sometimes they recognize old friends. One teenager started to comment about how beautifully done the altar was, before she realized who it was for, and shouted to her friends, “It’s Danny!”
The Day of the Dead is, without a doubt, a melancholy holiday for anyone who has recently lost a friend or family member. But the mood can also be happy, with kids running over tombs in the graveyard and bands playing for mourning families. It’s a time for families to remember and pass on the memory of their ancestors with the current generations ago.