In 2006, the Toronto photographer Vincenzo Pietropaolo travelled to Mexico and had the opportunity to photograph the Day of the Dead festival, El Día de los Muertos in Spanish, celebrated during the night between October 31 and November 1. It is believed that during that night, the spirits of the dead visit the living. The living attend gravesites, bringing candy, food, drink and music to welcome the souls of their loved ones. While making these photographs, Pietropaolo avoided the use of flash, finding it too aggressive and intrusive for the circumstances. Instead he worked with available light, often just candlelight, so he was forced to work slowly, employing a tripod to get long exposures. He spent time interacting with his subjects as they took part in festivities; he didn’t pose them in any special way; he noted their names when he could. The photos demonstrate that the festival doesn’t dwell on the macabre; rather, it turns interaction with death into a commonplace event. As Pietropaolo writes, “It is through this momentary gathering of the living and the dead—the duality of life and death—that Mexicans express an affirmation for life, and not without a sense of the ironic.”
The photos were shown at the Artscape Wychwood Barns Gallery late in 2017 at the invitation of the Día de los Muertos Collective, a community-based organization in Toronto, to celebrate the festival. More of Pietropaolo’s photographs, also shot in Mexico and featuring farm workers, many of whom come to Canada as seasonal workers, appear in his book Harvest Pilgrims (published by Between the Lines in 2009). Pietropaolo’s works are held in private collections and Canadian institutions, including the National Gallery of Canada.