Saturday, November 21, 2015

Published 8:56 AM by with 0 comment

All Souls Procession - A Celebration of Life and Death

I was fortunate enough to be in Tucson, Arizona visiting friends at the same time the city was expecting one hundred thousand people to gather together in solidarity. What was the unifying factor? Loss. Specifically, the loss of loved ones yet it was not a solemn event. Quite the opposite was true at the annual All Souls Procession.
It all began back in 1990, when local artist Susan Johnson was dealing with the death of her father. Instead of grieving in the expected way, she chose to create art to memorialize his passing. Her creativity inspired other artists to follow in what has become an all-inclusive yearly procession to celebrate the lives of deceased family and friends.

Although the masks and costumes are somewhat reminiscent of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), there is actually little that ties the two events together. Any similarity is probably influenced by the myriad participating cultures, including Mexico.
Many of those active in the event believe that the living and the dead are separated only by the thinnest of veils at this time of year. The abundant skeleton motifs embrace this idea.

As a photographer, I expected to find image-making aplenty and I did but what I didn't expect was to be so emotionally impacted by the experience. I absolutely felt the vibrant, joyful energy while walking around. I've never seen so many photographers gathered in one place and everyone was more than willing to pose for the camera. What I noticed later, however, while culling my photographs, was a depth of sorrow in the eyes of some of the people I had captured. It was almost like I caught a tiny glimpse of what remained unhealed in their hearts.

A Perpetual Rhythm
Throughout the evening, the DJ played hypnotic music and read the names of people who had passed.

The Ultimate Sacrifice
So many stories integrated into some of the more creative costumes of the evening.

Life and Death
Both exist side by side during this celebration and perhaps it was also a reminder of how fragile we all really are.

The procession would continue into the night but we didn't stay. The couple of hours I spent there had been a learning experience. It was a refreshingly different way of thinking, especially for me as a recovering catholic. In my church-going days I was taught that death was something to be feared, certainly not embraced. On this day, I could find at least a hundred thousand people who would strongly disagree.

My Adobe Spark (formerly Slate) presentation of this post, which includes many more photographs, is available here

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