Denis Defibaugh, professor of photography at RIT, has sought to document the celebration as a method for examining Mexican culture and its strong focus on religion, history, and heritage.
"The Candelaria Festival nominally celebrates the conversion of Mexico's indigenous population to Christianity in the early 16th century by the Virgin of Candelaria, a well- known prophet and Catholic saint," Defibaugh says. "However, today it has become a means for celebrating all manor of Mexican life, including the fusion of Spanish, African, and indigenous cultures as well as Mexican art, music, and fashion."
The festival begins in late January and runs through early February. Centered in the city of Tlacotalpan, in the state of Veracruz, it includes a religious procession to honor the Virgin, a large music festival, bullfights, and a ceremonial running of the bulls.
"One part religious observance, one part cultural showcase, and one part massive party, the fest illustrates the fusing of different religions, civilizations, and cultures that make up modern Mexico," Defibaugh adds. "It is informative to see this fusion in practice through Candelaria, particularly when compared to the often-segregated cultural expressions seen in American society."
Defibaugh has traveled to the annual celebration on multiple occasions to photograph the festival and its participants. He has showcased the work in a number of exhibitions and is currently developing a book based on his photos with noted Mexican historian Ward Albro. Defibaugh has also made the photographs available to Candelaria organizers and participants as well as Mexican scholars.
The effort was funded by the Texas Council for the Humanities and Innova Corp., and builds on Defibaugh's previous photo project designed to document Mexico's Day of the Dead festival. "Through this project and my previous work in Mexico, I have tried to showcase the beauty and power of Mexican life and provide a deeper understanding of the breadth and depth of Mexican culture," Defibaugh says.