A Maya petition at Nima Ha. The brujo says prayers to the spirits who dwell in the cave and asks their protection.
This image is from an old (2004 here) story on the the Maya Underworld. The pictures have sat in a box until this summer. Now my intern is scanning the images, giving them new life. I had long thought, and been encouraged to put the Maya Underworld images together in a more extensive form than the National Geographic story. What that will be, a book or a long web piece I don't know. I do know that I should get it done before the world ends in 2012.
An old picture from Chiapas. It isn't really from the visual diary, but from an old NG assignment on the Maya Underworld. Its been sitting in a box for years dead to the world until my intern Lexi put it in a scanner yesterday. The image, the whole project is being resurrected by going from film to digital.
It is a mark of how much the world has changed that pictures don't seem to exist for me if they are not digitized.
A reproduced doorway of temple 22. It is known as the puerto de los infermos, Doorway to the underworld. The glyphs clearly show that the Maya viewed this door as being in the cave of the temple.
I always seem to be making my lighting technique up as I go. I knew for months that I had to photograph this doorway at Copán, but instead of packing cases of lights, I headed to Honduras with my assistant and little more than a camera bag. We made arrangements with the site director to visit after hours and then headed to the hardware store. For $200 I bought enough copper wire to tap into some power lines near the doorway and we hooked up strings of regular household bulbs to light the place up.
It is always good to be able to think on your feet.
Bill Allard (in The Photographic Essay I think) once said that if a photographer can only work in beautiful light they were going to have a pretty short career. It is advice that I have always taken to heart. Good pictures sometimes happen in bad light. Sometimes they happen because of bad light.
The harshness of the mid day sun in this photo makes the image successful for me. It just would not be as forlorn enough if the light was beautiful...
In keeping with yesterday's religion theme, Don Phillipe, the shaman of Joloniel prays before 3 crosses in a cave in the mountains of Chiapas as part of a Day of the Cross celebration. It is a Catholic ceremony with deep deep Maya roots. Maya religion found refuge within the Catholic church and has existed sometimes happily, sometimes not for centuries. In fact if you ask people in Joloniel they will say that their Day of the Cross service is Catholic. The practice is somewhere between Christian and Maya in a syncretic netherworld.
The cross in Maya religion can represent the corn plant and the day of the cross falls at the end of the dry season in Chiapas. Fields are cleared and planted in anticipation of rains that should come soon. The crosses in the cave are the cross of christ but they are also the Maya corn plant that give Maya society life.
Maya cave ceremonies are notoriously closed events. I was only able to photograph this one with the help of Karen Bassie-Sweet who had been working in Joloniel for years. At one point shooting in the cave my long time assistant Jesus Lopez leaned close to me and said "Stephen, NO ONE has ever seen anything like this before."
My response was, "I know, Jesus, give me another roll of film."