Mexico’s Day of the Dead Festival by Steve McCurry
The Day of the Dead is one of Mexico’s most iconic, vibrant and symbolic celebrations. Far from a mournful and somber event, this is a festive occasion in which Mexicans honor those who have passed on and invite the spirits to commune with the living. Steeped in ritual and folklore, “Día de los Muertos” embodies this country’s rich culture and traditions. In 2018, when exploring Oaxaca with Silversea, the incomparable Steve McCurry chronicled this unique and magical festival, bringing the Day of the Dead to life in brilliant fashion.
Celebrating the Day of the Dead
While Día de los Muertos isn’t the same thing as Halloween, the two aren’t completely unrelated. The main festivities begin on 31st October and run through All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day on November 2. Over these three days, graveyards are decorated; street processions are full of representations of “calaveras” (skulls), “Catrinas” (a spectral figurine of a richly attired female skeleton), and “alebrijes” (papier-mâché sculptures of mythical beasts); and homes are adorned with homages to the departed. The most important feature of the proceedings, both in the home and at parades, are the “ofrendas,” or altars. These tributes allow family members to pray for their deceased loved ones. They are embellished with photos of the dead, candles, redolent marigolds and specially prepared foods, all of which are meant to lure the dead back to the world of the living. Ofrendas can be standalone works of art, astonishingly intricate and beautiful; it is said that the more elaborate the altar, the easier it is for the dead to find their way.
Through the Lens of Steve McCurry
With Oaxaca’s wealth of cultural heritage, it was only natural that Steve McCurry’s interest was piqued by the opportunity to capture this vivid and colourful celebration of life and mortality. So, in late October 2018, he traveled to Mexico with Silversea to see the pageantry and mysticism of the Day of the Dead for himself.
Upon arrival, Steve was immediately whisked into the frenzy of a comparsa, a costumed parade that celebrates the dead. Not wanting to miss a moment, he quickly jumped out of the airport taxi to follow the procession. Unsurprisingly, Steve’s visit did not go unnoticed and he was invited into people’s homes to learn their stories and meet their families. This is where Steve’s magic really began. Through his lens, he captured the very soul of his subjects: painted with the traditional calavera makeup, each image is more eerily beautiful than the last.
Then came the night of 31st October, when families bedeck gravestones with flowers and candles and hold all-night vigils to honor those who have passed on. Steve’s powerful imagery shows why he is such a master of his craft; his images reflect the intimacy and respect the occasion demands, while also capturing its haunting beauty.
No trip to Mexico, however, would be complete without a little mezcal! Steve enjoyed this spirit worthy of the spirits with a local agave farmer, whose family had been working the same land for centuries. As ever, Steve’s finger was on the shutter, ready to chronicle the stories of love, life and loss he heard on his visit.
Capturing the Authentic Beauty of the World
Steve McCurry needs no introduction. He is most probably the greatest living photographer today. His iconic “Afghan Girl” image has captured the hearts and minds of thousands – the eloquence of her haunted expression, telling the world of her fate through her vivid green eyes – is simply stupendous.
So, when considering our new direction, Steve was a natural choice for us. He is a born storyteller with the soul of an explorer. His unique ability to capture what is left of the authentic beauty and truth in the world and express it with clarity and emotion is just brilliant. A McCurry image not only takes you on a journey, it inspires you to travel the world.
To learn more about the partnership between Steve McCurry and Silversea visit: www.steveandsilversea.com
Steve McCurry has been one of the most iconic voices in contemporary photography for more than 30 years. His work spans conflicts, vanishing cultures, ancient traditions and contemporary culture alike – yet always retains the human element that made his celebrated image of the Afghan Girl such a powerful image.
McCurry has been recognized with some of the most prestigious awards in the industry, including the Robert Capa Gold Medal, the National Press Photographers Award, and four first prize awards from the World Press Photo contest.