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Geist - - Contents - —An­n­marie Mackin­non

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.

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