PDN Photo of the Day

Picturing Día de los Muertos in Tucson

Since 2007, Joe Patronite has been photographing the All Souls Procession in Tucson, Arizona, an event inspired by Mexico’s Día de Muertos (or Día de los Muertos) that today brings tens of thousands to the city’s downtown. His images, made with cameras ranging from a Leica to an iPhone, highlight the costumes and calavera-style makeup worn by participants; as his interest in the subject has grown, Patronite has photographed the three-day festival that usually starts on Halloween and ends on All Souls Day in other places around the Southwest and in Mexico—he plans to be in the state of Sonora this year. (Tucson’s All Souls Procession Weekend actually comes a few days later than the traditional holidays.) An exhibition of the images is on view at Tamarkin Rangefinder Gallery in Chicago until November 2. PDN asked Patronite about the series in an edited email interview.

PDN: What first interested you in Dia de los Muertos, and the makeup and costumes in your images?
Joe Patronite: Over the course of my career I’ve photographed many festivals (Palios in Italy/La Tomatina in Spain/Native American Pow-wows). For me the intriguing hook is how humans celebrate collectively. The Day of the Dead celebrations came naturally as an extension, becoming for me an annual right with my cameras. The All Souls Procession here in Tucson was literally within a short walking distance from my neighborhood when the project started.

Per calavera makeup and costumes, it is interesting to see how people alter the “traditional” look. I believe as the celebrations have become more public, many individuals are inclined to spin the getup to their liking, and many are being creative in their own right.

I do believe in this part of the U.S., and what I have witnessed in Mexico, Dia and Halloween are inter-mingling. With Hispanic populations becoming more prominent in places like the large cities in the Northeast and Midwest, for sure the holiday will grow. Many celebrants don’t have the chance to visit the graves of family/friends who have left our world, so the larger gatherings seem to me to be where they decide to celebrate. Last year in El Paso, Texas, the crowd was several thousand in the cemetery I photographed, literally two miles from the international border.

PDN: What kind of equipment do you use?
J.P.: The majority of the project has been in film. Besides my rangefinders, I have tried Holga/Hasselblad cameras to try differing looks. I continue to work with my Leicas since they are smaller/quieter. With phone cameras [and] social media, for me it seems easier to work the festivals since [people are] used to photos being taken at these gatherings.

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