The Seeker #11/52

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Occasionally, I have to reach into the archives and pull something out for this photo of the week project.  This was taken a few weeks back when I was on my family’s organic orchard in Coachella CA.  I wish I had time to shoot every week, alas, I do not, but I am also happy to get to show this image as otherwise it may never have seen the light of day.

9/52 The Beauty Queen

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I have been staying by myself,  at my childhood home in Colorado for the last ten days.  Surrounded by my past, I decided to look around the house and use props available to me to create this week’s image.  The dress I wore to a cousin’s halloween wedding years ago, and the trophy is some antique, team sportsmanship, horseback riding trophy that was on my parent’s mantle piece.  I’m sure someone won it at one time or another, but I don’t really know its history.

The dress is really over the top, and between watching the Oscars this week and the trophy, I just knew I had to portray the runaway beauty queen.  Unfortunately she finds the world is a cold, cold, place.

Thanks to Brooke Shaden for the texture… what a wonderful blizzard it makes! #shadentextures

Princess Buttercup and her Magical Performing Horse 8/52

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I recently had the opportunity to visit my family’s organic citrus farm in Coachella, California.  My parents move out there for the winter and bring their english show jumping horses.  The horse in these photos is my mother’s Andalusian, Penafor or “Pete.” When Pete was young, before he joined our family, he was trained to do tricks for some sort of dinner show in Spain.  Today he will do just about anything for a carrot.  I had the help of my mother and best friend to make these images, as I could not handle Pete and the camera at the same time.  Everything you see here he does for fun and treats.

The idea behind this image was to bring to life the type of crayon drawings little girls do of princesses and their magical white horses.  I wanted to embody every little girl’s fantasy.   Buttercup is a role model princess who is strong, self-aware and poised, but also kind, gentle and loving.

Return to The Ex-Hacienda Jaral de Berrios

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I have already written enough about the Ex-hacienda Jaral de Berrios here, so I won’t bore you with the details.  These are some of the new images I finally got around to editing.  I am trying some new techniques, using textures over the images to give them a little extra sum thin’ sum thin’.  The textures are taken from Brooke Shaden’s texture collection.   I like the effect and I am looking forward to creating a texture collection of my own. Thanks Brooke!  #shadentextures

7/52 The Horror

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Over the past few months, I have been returning to the Ex-Hacienda Jaral de Berio (about which you can read more here), one of my absolute  favorite places to photograph.  Although, I have an ongoing series that generally fits together, this week I veered off from my usual work.  I think in the past I have always, in so many ways, been portraying the spirit that haunts that place.  After shooting all morning, suddenly in the afternoon, I had the urge to be the one that the ghosts were haunting.  I found myself running around, pretending I was in some sort of horror film.  I was hiding, running, trying to survive, and ultimately succumbing to a very Vertigo, moment, when it all gets to me and I commit suicide.  So this week, I have decided not to just show one image for my photo of the week, but a whole little series.  I would love to know which is your favorite, as only one can truly be my ‘photo of the week.’  Please leave me a message in the comments.

6/52 Statuesque

A few years ago, I walked three weeks of the camino Santiago in Northern Spain.  All I carried for a camera was a little Cannon g12, but it served me well and proceeded to kick the bucket just after the trip.  While walking, I tried to stop in each of the little towns, as well as the big cites and do a little sightseeing.  Somewhere, that I cannot recall, I visited in an ancient church that was being renovated.  The day was rainy, but the light was beautiful.  To protect the weathered old statues, workers had covered them in a protective netting.  There was something so eerie and haunting about these figures.  This week, I took these images as my inspiration.  Rather than netting, I chose fabric, but the result is similar.

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5/52 “Blooming”

I made these flowers for an organization called CASA, for which I have been volunteering over the past several months.  The event was a margarita competition, but the word margarita means daisy in spanish.  I was enlisted to create a huge light up installation of eight flowers that hung over the enormous hacienda door way of Hotel Nena in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.  The flowers ranged from three to eight feet across.  At the moment, the flowers are hanging in my home ready to be transported to the children’s library at the organization’s headquarters.

This week I have been very busy with open studios in my home and preparing for a huge black-tie, pop up gallery, event I will be hosing in early april.  In the meantime, I have not been able to prepare much for this week’s image.  At the last moment I headed to the local market and purchased yards and yards of plastic decorations that I formed into a skirt.  Late at night, I set up the flowers and climbed into one of the largest.  I am happy I finally got to use these flowers for an image before they go to their final home.

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4/52 San Juan de los Lagos

Every year, twelve million pilgrims visit the small Mexican town of San Juan de los Lagos.  It is one of the most venerated sights in Mexico, second only to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City (where you can view Juan Diego’s cloak with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe).  The faithful and curious, come to San Juan de los Lagos to see a small thirty-eight centimeter statue made in the 1500’s of sugarcane paste.  Known as the “Smiling” Virgin, “Cihuapilli” in Nahuatl, or just the “Great Lady,” her first miracle is said to have dated back to 1623:

“A family of acrobats had a show which included “flying” over a field of spear points. The seven-year-old daughter fell onto the spears during the act and immediately died. Local women brought the image to the body and prayed over it when the child revived. This miracle made the image famous.[6] Since then, many other miracles have since been attributed to her intercession, often related to recuperation from mortal danger or dangerous illnesses.[7]

Today, many pilgrims still walk on foot to see the virgin, just as they have for hundreds of years.  For this particular pilgrimage, the faithful leave from cites all over Mexico to arrive in San Juan de los Lagos on February second for Candlemas.  Candlemas, is a celebration held forty days after the birth of Jesus, commemorating when Mary was recovered from childbirth and her motherhood was blessed in the church.  This small town of 55,000 inhabitants is mobbed with over two million visitors this weekend alone.  Many flock there to fulfill promises made to the virgin over the past year, lest they be turned to stone!

I was invited to walk with C.A.S.A., an organization for whom I have been volunteering over the past several months.  They provide everything from women’s healthcare, childcare, violence and sexual education programs, GLBT awareness, exercise classes, radio shows, midwife training, and so much more.  On this day, we were walking with the pilgrims as they left San Miguel de Allende to bring attention to the high rates of domestic violence suffered by women across Mexico. Leaving the central square at five am, we walked for about seven hours, as the sun came up over Guanajuato’s beautiful farm country and wild deserts.

Around noon, we headed back to town, and the pilgrims walked on to complete the first of nine days and an over one-hundred-and-twenty-five mile journey.  I arrived home, spent, exhausted, and sore, yet also buoyed, floating, and high.  After a hot bath, and much thanks for a warm bed instead of a night in a tent, I realized I needed more.  Immediately, I made plans to find the pilgrims the following day and continue walking.  Enlisting a good friend, we spent the morning in a taxi chasing down the procession.  They had risen before dawn, to start walking in the cool morning air and had already covered a tremendous distance.  Astounded, it took us almost thirty minutes by car to find them, we could not believe they had already walked more than twenty-five miles in less than two days.  This feat seems fairly plausible, until you realize that at least a third of the pilgrims are over sixty-five and walk with canes, another third are carrying infants or pushing strollers barely suitable for a doll, and the rest are young and able bodied but carry banners, huge crosses, and litter-boxes with venerated saints.  Even so, after the first day, many were limping, their sore feet and nasty blisters the result of walking in miserable cheap sneakers.  Yet they carried on, lifted by the prayer, song, the spirit of the collective and the power of their faith.

A few years ago, I walked three weeks worth of the Camino Santiago in northern Spain, another ancient pilgrimage route dating back to the era of the Knights Templar.  According to pilgrim mythology, along the way, the “angels” of the Camino will often greet you and pass on their blessings.  These assorted souls, generally come out of nowhere and drift back into the ether, but bring you exactly what you need to carry on.  On one very rainy, cold, day, in a section of the Camino where there are no villages for several kilometers, I was feeling discouraged and I had stopped to stretch and rest.  Along came a tiny bowlegged old man, no taller than five feet, wearing a ratty, red, rain poncho and using a long wooden walking staff.

Like a medieval storybook character, his walking stick was adorned with a dangling scallop shell and gourd, both ancient symbols of the Camino.  In his other hand, he had a plastic grocery bag that held a bottle of red wine and few oranges.  Other than that, he carried nothing.  He stopped, pealed an orange and offered me half.  Having walked alone for days, I was in desperate need of companionship, and this was an extraordinary blessing.  We walked together for several hours, and although my Spanish was poor, he told me that he had walked the whole Camino over forty times, and that it was his annual vacation.  This is really something considering the Camino is over five hundred miles long.  Although, I glimpsed him here and there, and he checked in on me every few days to see that I was well, he left me that afternoon with the taste of orange in my mouth and the inspiration to continue my journey.

The pilgrimage to San Juan de los Lagos is no different, and within a few hours of walking on the second day, we met a man in his mid seventies.  This gentleman, had walked to see the virgin every year of his life.  He laughed and told jokes, and then he noted that we had such fair skin compared to his deep walnut brown.  Although, skin color is common topic of conversation in Mexico, and the basis of much classism, what followed was a beautiful discussion of how our hearts are what matter, not our skin color.  This is a deep seated beliefs of mine, but at the moment, it came from a place of such pure love that it was utterly moving. Eventually, our younger legs out paced our companion. When we stopped to wait for him under a tree, even after a long break, he never came, and we were left wondering if he really existed at all.  Repacking our snacks, we walked on, only to encounter even more sweet “angels” on the way.

Along the route, the local villagers come out to support the pilgrims and hand out water, atole, coffee, bread, and fruit.  One of these was a lovely elderly woman, who stopped me as I walked by.  She had pyramids of mandarins, oranges, sweet lemons, and peanuts laid out on a tarp.  She wanted me to photograph the man with whom she sat and to tell me his story.  I am still unsure of their relation, if they were father and daughter, or husband and wife, as their Spanish was colloquial, accented and tough to understand.  What I did glean, was that he was ninety years old and spry, a gift he attributed to previous pilgrimages to see the virgin.  Although a bit hunched over, he fell to his knees to show me that he was still strong enough to dig in his garden, and claimed he was pain free after all these years.  When he laughed, his toothless smile was one of the worlds most radiant and joyous.  We talked to them for a while, taking lots of photos, and when we set off, they handed us a huge plastic bag full of oranges picked from their own trees.  Later in the day, as we climbed a long hot hill, that bag got heavier and heavier, but the fruit was incredibly delicious on our bus ride home and ultimately became the inspiration for this week’s photo.

In both of my pilgrimage experiences, the orange has become the symbol of my journey.  An orange is such a humble offering, yet so full of abundance and the sweetness of life.  Each time, I was overwhelmed with the kindness this gift represented and I hope to never forget the potency of this simple form of generosity.  Thus, for my image, I chose to show a pilgrim approaching the virgin, at the end of her travels, offering an orange.  She has nothing more to give, yet could not give anything more.  The orange in this image, is one my “angels” gave me that afternoon.

The Pilgrimage:

Janelle_Pietrzak-10The doorway to the Paroquia, overflowing with pilgrims as they listen to a 4am mass before leaving for San Juan de los lagos.

Janelle_Pietrzak-12After mass, preparing to leave.

Janelle_Pietrzak-11Locals handing out a sweet hot punch, in front of the church, to warm a chilly morning.

Janelle_Pietrzak-13Traditional dances in the main square kick off the procession.

Janelle_Pietrzak-14Walking along the train tracks as the sun begins to rise.

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Janelle_Pietrzak-16The lights of San Miguel de Allende, still lit in the early morning light.

Janelle_Pietrzak-17Watching the procession.

Janelle_Pietrzak-18The young carrying crosses, banners and saints.

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Janelle_Pietrzak-25Sunrise over the Laja River.

Janelle_Pietrzak-26Local tough guys and their massive cross.

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Stopping for a free breakfast of tortillas, chicken mole, and rice.

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The procession along the road, each church had their own bullhorns and were singing and saying prayers at the same time.  Quite a racket.

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The back of the procession is followed up by men who carry stretchers, so they can ferry any fallen pilgrims along the way.

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A family rests.  These are not massive SUV strollers they push for a hundred miles.

Janelle_Pietrzak-33Much of the way is walked on hard pavement that exhausts your feet.  A crew on four wheelers stops traffic to keep the pilgrims safe.

Janelle_Pietrzak-36So many faces.

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Janelle_Pietrzak-43The path veering off the road into the harsh but beautiful Guanajuato desert.

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Pilgrims in the landscape.

Janelle_Pietrzak-2Resting under a tree.

Janelle_Pietrzak-6Local farmers taking an afternoon siesta.

Janelle_Pietrzak-4The best smile in the world.

Janelle_Pietrzak-5Beer break.

Janelle_Pietrzak-8Naughty kids take advantage of a very tired father.

Janelle_Pietrzak-9Entrepreneurs

Janelle_Pietrzak-7Mobile pilgrims hospital set up in the encampment.

4/52 – The Offering:

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Broken Hearted 3/52

As I intended this project to be an exploration of the photographic medium, I decided to have some fun with this image.  Inspired by the art of my old friend Sandi Calistro, I wanted to see if  I could really make myself look like one of her drawings.  I enlisted the help of another friend Taran Rowe to give me an amazing up do, and then using photoshop, I believe I was able to get pretty close to what I wanted.  This is my first attempt at using photoshop in this manner and I think with a bit of practice I could really have some fun with this technique.

#3 Broken Heart