There’s a common theme in Diego Huerta‘s beautiful portraits of Mexico’s indigenous communities: curiosity. On more than one occasion, the Mexico-born and raised photographer has found himself intrigued by the customs and history of the people of Mexico – searching for answers even if it takes years or long, arduous trips.
“Sometimes you need to cross mountains, and lakes, walk day and night,” he wrote on Instagram about a photo he took on Pátzcuaro. “There are times that you spend all of your energy for one portrait. But at the end of the day, everything’s worth it.”
The Austin-based photographer now knows documenting the Raramuri requires a 15-hour drive to get to Sierra Tarahumara. But after four years of making the drive, he knows his way through the mountains, and he has formed a relationship with the community.
“I know how to talk with them even if we speak different languages,” he wrote.
Huerta began his photo project in 2011 when he launched 31 mil retratos por la paz. He originally planned to take photos of 31,000 men, women, and children all throughout his native country. Instead, he ended up focusing mostly on all corners of Oaxaca, according to NVI Noticias.
Many of his images are taken in the Istmo de Tehuantepec, which is where he first fell in love with Tehuanas. Before the Fiestas de Istmo – which take place in May – he had only seen typical Tehuana dress through Frida Kahlo’s images.
Recently, Instagram’s blog featured Huerta’s stunning images – but he considers gaining the trust of the indigenous communities he highlights as a more important achievement.
Late last year, Huerta shared a photo of Concepción, a Huichol woman, overlooking mountainous terrain. On a 41-degree day, he visited Wirikuta – knowing full well that the Huichol don’t typically visit at that time of the year. After traveling for three hours with his guide, Carlos, he came across Concepción. He showed her images he had taken of the other members of her community, and it got her to open up to him.
“She trusted me,” he wrote. “She even recognized some of the people I photographed. I asked her if I could photograph her, and she agreed.”
Sometimes, Huerta doesn’t offer too many details about his photographs, but regardless, they are always a peek into the lives of communities that are often overlooked. Check out a small collection of the stories he’s gathered below:
I knew that it wouldn’t be easy, the situation was not quite there, the season was not right. Huicholes don’t visit Wirikuta this time of year. But, I couldn’t leave Real de Catorce without giving it a try. The thermometer indicated 41°F but the wind made it feel colder. The few people in town who went out rushed themselves to keep away from the cold and wind. Still, I needed a guide to take me to Wirikuta, the sacred mountain of the Wirrarika Culture, and I luckily found Carlos at the corner of the church and main street. We traveled for almost three hours, around the hills that Carlos knew. Luckily, Carlos was a good friend of the Huicholes and knew the way. We couldn’t talk amongst ourselves that much, the wind blew strongly and we couldn’t be heard. Finally, the mountain was there, we had to begin our trailing from that place. We started our walk and I had this sensation that my camera and equipment weighted four times more to what I’m used to. The cold and wind as well as the height made it tougher for our trail. There it was, a small offering construction at the very top of the mountain and singing from within. Concepcion’s voice, a Wirarika from Navar was heard. She had arrived a night before from a two-day journey to make offerings to the Eagle, Deer and Rabbit Gods escorted by her two daughters. I greeted her, and showed her my iPhone with the photographs I have taken of the Wirrarika Cultura before. She trusted me. She even recognized some of the people I photographed. I asked her if I could photograph her and she agreed. I am sure that I didn’t take more than 3 minutes; two horizontal shots, two vertical shots. No more. Then, it was time to go back. The road back was long, but not as long as the one that got me to meet Concepción.
Nací y crecí en una tierra árida y sin tradiciones, una tierra por la cual nunca he tenido apego o añoranza, son las personas que amo las que me hacen regresar a ella de tanto en tanto, nací en la región de las montañas por eso me dicen regiomontano. Por muchos años oía de Oaxaca lo que comúnmente se ve en los noticieros, una tierra llena de conflictos políticos, magisteriales y pueblos indígenas en la pobreza extrema, eso era Oaxaca para mi, hasta que conocí esta tierra de la cual me enamoré. Desde la Cañada hasta la Costa, desde sus Valles Centrales hasta el Istmo pasando por sus Sierras, cada rincón lleno de magia, cultura, fiestas y tradiciones, sus colores, su gente. No puedo evitar soñar en Oaxaca, y son esos mismos sueños los que materializo a través de una imagen, de un retrato, como "La Tehuana y el Torito", sucedió tal cual como lo visualice en mi mente, ahí estaba ella orgullosa y radiante flanqueada por dos toritos de luces y centellas sucediendo frente a mi. Hoy me siento apegado y añorando a la tierra donde no nací, hoy sus tradiciones son mis tradiciones, sus fiestas son mis fiestas, hoy soy parte de ellos aunque en la calle me digan regiomontano. Hoy no celebro una Independencia nacionalista, hoy celebro la gran diversidad que nos da este gran país que se llama México.
St. Ignacio Mission. Copper Canyon, Chihuahua. As a consequence of the absence of jobs opportunities, the Raramuri men migrate to the States capitals trying to find a better lifestyle for their families. —— A consecuencia de la ausencia de trabajos para los hombres Raramuris en la sierra Tarahumara, ellos se ven forzados a abandonar sus hogares para emigrar a diferentes Estados de México buscando conseguir un mejor estilo de vida para sus familias.
It's that moment in life where you ask "Is life fair?, where you ask "Do I need to renew my photo gear?", It's that moment in life where you feel something missing but you don't know what it is. It's that moment when you find a woman in the middle of the mountain, walking in the snow with just a pair of sandals, covering her body without special clothing. It's that moment when you realize you are a fool and the best you can do is shut the stupid voices in your head, lower your head, look at your feet, feel the ground where you are standing and reset with humility. #chihuahua #mexico #tarahumara #raramuri
Antonia and Mateo. While their mother tries to sell handmade necklaces and craftsmanships to the few tourists in the village, Antonia takes care of his little brother. Here at Copper Canyon; the playground for these kids is life itself. ——————————————Mientras su mamá trata de vender collares y artesanías hechos por ellos a los pocos turistas que hay en el pueblo, Antonia cuida de su hermanito. Aquí en la sierra Tarahumara el patio de juegos para estos niños es la vida misma.
Huautla de Jiménez. The offering. Land of Maria Sabina. She was the first contemporary Mexican curandera, defined as a native shaman, to allow Westerners to participate in the healing vigil that became know as the velada, where all participants partake of the psilocybin mushroom as a sacrament to open the gates of the mind.