RIT Photography Professor Documents Mexico’s Day of the Dead Celebration in Book

Denis Defibaugh captures Dia de los Muertos; Eastman House lecture and book signing Nov. 1




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The people of Oaxaca, Mexico, commemorate the dead each year during a three-day spiritual festival known as Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos in which they believe the spirits return to visit. In a new book, The Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos, Denis Defibaugh, photography professor in Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Photographic Arts and Sciences, documents his photographic vision through the people and their rituals as they honor their antepasados or family members who have died.

Defibaugh will hold a lecture and book signing at George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 1 as part of its Wish You Were Here Travel Photography Lecture Series. He will host a second book signing at Barnes & Noble in Pittsford at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 10.

Defibaugh’s interest in the Day of the Dead began in 1993 when he received a Fulbright/Hayes Fellowship for Mexico and met author/historian Ward Albro. Over the past decade, Defibaugh and Albro, professor emeritus at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, have been welcomed into people’s homes and taken part in the public festivals. The Day of the Dead holiday, All Soul’s Day, coincides with the Catholic tradition of All Saint’s Day and resembles the United States’ more commercial Halloween.

The hardbound book features street photography and intimate portraits, both in color and black and white, shot in medium and panoramic format. Along with Defibaugh’s photography, Albro writes an essay about the background of the beliefs and practices of the Dia de los Muertos observance. Mexican communities remember and celebrate their deceased relatives through altars, crafts and festivities at cemeteries, in their homes and at the marketplace.

“The response to the book has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Defibaugh. “I’m very proud of it. Some of the people of Oaxaca were initially hesitant about me photographing them, especially at the festival in the cemetery. On my subsequent visits, I would give each person a copy of their photograph, and it would change the entire situation. People would line up to have me photograph them. The whole idea of giving photos back to people opens up a dialogue because they feel they are part of the whole experience. That’s reflected in the book.”

The book, published by the TCU Press, is $39.95 and is available online at http://www.tamu.edu/upress, amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and borders.com.

Many of Defibaugh’s photographs in the book have been part of a solo exhibition,Family Ties Do Not Die, The Day of the Dead, that has traveled to Miami, San Francisco, Montana, Niagara University’s Castellani Art Museum and various city museums in Texas.

ADDITIONAL CONTACT: Judy Alter, TCU Press, (817) 257-7822 or j.alter@tcu.edu