I went to Antigua in Guatemala in 2013 for 6 weeks during my nomad years, because a friend of mine raved about it and told me it was a great place to hang out, photograph and get some intense Spanish language tutoring. I must admit to knowing nothing about the Semana Santa (Holy Week) and that Antigua holds one of the most elaborate celebrations in the world with huge processions and many thousands of visitors.
I stayed in a b’n’b in Antigua for about 6 weeks, had private Spanish language tutoring every day by a great teacher who came to our b’n’b every morning and I would wander the streets in the afternoon and enjoy the city, especially the incredible coffee, and make some random pictures. And very importantly, get my ‘canoes’, my custom made boots! I do not really enjoy random street photography very much, I need something happening, some event to document, be it concerts, festivals, demonstrations, sports etc. So when Lent and the processions started I was very excited when I discovered that these were spectacular events to experience and to document. These processions started around 10am and then took a route through the entire city, before leaving the city again after sunset. Every Sunday, the route would be different because part of the celebrations is people decorating their streets for the processions. Massive ‘alfombras’ – carpets – are created on the cobblestone out of coloured sawdust and things like flowers, pine and breadsticks. The effort and skill is amazing, truly works of art. And then it is trampled on by a huge procession, and swept up and gone. Fantastic. The procession is loud, lots of people and a huge band plays nonstop. The fact that Antigua is laid out like a grid and that you could get a free map every Sunday morning of that day’s procession meant I knew the route and could meet the procession at interesting corners with good light, and then cut across the city and meet them again at another corner. Repeat all day long and you have so many wonderful opportunities and so much fun all day long – and night. I loved the chaos at night, the smoke, lights, sounds. And how much it means to people. I am not religious at all, but I respect that this means a lot to others. It was a privilege to be a part of it and be welcomed in to photograph it, every Sunday.
Obviously, I made a selection of my favourite pictures during my time in Guatemala and posted a few of them afterwards. But I have never really looked at them since then, lots of other things happened in my life after that trip. I have been using this lockdown Winter to re-organise all of my many old catalogues of photos and during that I discovered that there were a lot of pictures from the processions that I had never really looked at, and that I really liked. For this essay, I made a new collection of all the pictures, reset the development settings in Lightroom and started from scratch, one by one. I selected these 30 pictures out of the thousands. All of them shot on the FUJIFILM X-Pro1 with 18mm XF2 and XF35mm F1.4 lenses.
Now, these are not pictures from Semana Santa, the holy week, these are from 3 of the Sunday processions during Lent leading up to Easter. I was not in Antigua for the actual Easter celebrations. Apparently the processions are much bigger and the city explodes in size from the insane amount of visitors, both from all of Guatemala and tourists from abroad like myself. l do like the work I made but the project is incomplete, I really want to return some day and capture the Holy Week as well. And importantly, have more boots made!
Until that time, here is my rediscovered photo essay of Lent processions in 2013 in Antigua, Guatemala. I recommend reading the captions and stories in between the pictures.
Processions on my street
On the 2nd Sunday, the procession passed right by where I lived but I also meant I was a known face on this street and I could talk to all the neighbours and document as they spent the day and evening decorating the entire street.
Finally, I want to end with a tranquil picture of gorgeous Antigua, Guatemala.