by Margaret Williams
Photographs by Cathlin McCullough
Photographer Cathlin McCullough loves Mexico, but her previous trips, usually centered around surfing, had never taken her to the interior of the country. McCullough recalls, “I was craving a photography trip, something that would be relatively cheap and inspiring to me, and I found myself only thinking about Oaxaca. I also wanted a place that comes alive during the holidays, since I’m a single mom and was spending only my second Christmas without my two kids [nine-year-old Henry and six-year-old Cleo].”
The commercial and editorial photographer, who was up for a challenge and most excited to spend time with female artisans, brought only film cameras. “It’s pretty ridiculous, but I brought four cameras along — a medium format; a smaller 35 mm: a Holga, or ‘toy camera,’ for its portability and random light leaks; and a Polaroid to share photos with the women I spent time with,” she says.
The photographer stayed in the central historic district so she could easily walk everywhere. She started her excursion on the rooftop bar of Hotel Los Amantes at sunset observing life in the zocalo below.
“Some of my favorite photos from the trip were taken with the new Kodak Ektachrome film, which is a reboot of slide film,” she explains. “The color is incomparable.”
Known for its indigenous arts, rugged landscape, Spanish Colonial architecture and rich cuisine (mole! tortillas! mezcal!), Oaxaca is a destination both timeless and of the moment, thanks to its opportunities for exploration and connection. Through McCullough’s lens we are shown the landscape, people and architecture of Oaxaca, along with the beauty of weaving, dyeing and gathering around a table.
“One of my main goals of this trip was to get to know female artisans, so I hired a guide to take me to Teotitlán del Valle [a 40 minute drive from Oaxaca] to spend a morning with the women in the collective who make colorful rugs and pillows. Our host, Pastora, started the collective, and through her hard work, women can now sell textiles direct to consumers. They walked me through their process of cleaning the wool, using natural dyes, spinning and weaving. I loved getting to know them and learning about their artistic vision. Pastora’s mother made me a fabulous breakfast. The whole experience was the highlight of my trip.”
“I joke that I ate my way around Oaxaca, and it’s true. You can’t go to Oaxaca without eating mole, hot cocoa, chapulines [crickets] and tlayudas [a type of open-faced tortilla or tostada]. There are seven traditional moles in Oaxaca, and I tried as many as possible. My favorites were the negro and the coloradito.”
“Some of my favorite experiences were meeting fellow solo travelers at Zandunga and the tasting menu at Criollo. Criollo is fun for fine dining, but you can eat well in Oaxaca everywhere. If you want to eat like the locals, I highly recommend having breakfast at Fonda Florecita at La Merced Market. It’s almost impossible to choose a favorite dish because everything was so delicious. I had the best slow breakfast at Casa Oaxaca Café, and my favorite market was Mercado 20 de Noviembre, a food market.”