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Mobile Photo Essay – Día de los Muertos by Gina Costa

We are delighted to publish this totally fabulous mobile photo essay by Gina Costa. As this is a very spooky weekend, Gina has written topically about  Día de los Muertos – the Day of the Dead! Don’t miss this (foreword by Joanne Carter).



“I want to introduce readers to an important celebration which parallels the Western World’s Halloween tradition and is becoming ever more popular in parts of the globe: the “Day of the Dead” (Spanish: Día de los Muertos).

mobile photo
Altar by Reyna Rayón Salinas-altar dedicated to her deceased family and autumn.


This is a Mexican holiday that focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and honor loved ones who have died.

The holiday was originally celebrated only inMexico, where it remains a national holiday, but is now celebrated in cities and towns across the United States and is gaining worldwide popularity by countless others around the globe who feel a deep kinship with this special event that honors the dead. Much of the focus of the holiday involves the building and decorating of Ofrendas, altars that commemorate the life of the deceased.

Foremost, Día de los Muertos is a time of celebration. Although losing someone is undeniably a somber and life-changing event, Día de Muertos provides people with the opportunity to rejoice in the living memories of their loved ones.

The celebration takes place on November 1 and 2, in connection with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. Traditions connected with the holiday center on building altars (Spanish: Ofrendas) honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and possessions of the deceased and visiting graves with these as gifts. TheOfrenda Altaris a celebration of life, and a positive affirmation of the cycle of life and death, allowing people to reconnect with the spirits of their loved ones on the Other Side.


Altar by artist Sandra Fernández, dedicated to artist Sam Coronado who passed away this year.


The Day of the Dead festival has its origins in Pre-Columbian iconography, specifically Aztec philosophy and rituals. During the 16th century, contact with European religious practices created this hybrid practice which focuses on the celebration of the dead.  Creation of altars, adorned with food, flowers, and objects which once belonged to the deceased, was central to the day’s ritual.  Families set up altars dedicated to deceased relatives, profusely decorated with flowers–usually yellow and orange marigolds or chrysanthemums.


Mexican Ofrenda


details of Mexican Ofrenda above and below

The foods typically added to the altars are chosen because they were the ones favored by the deceased during their lifetime. For this reason one often sees odd combinations of foods and beverages arranged on the altars, interspersed with objects and tokens from the deceased’s life. Often a photograph of the deceased person is centrally placed on the Ofrenda.


Artist Marcos Raya, dedicated to his deceased family members


Artist Rita Arias-Jirazek, dedicated to writer Gabriel Garcia Márquez


Mexican-American Ofrenda

This tradition has now evolved to the creation of both modest domestic altars, and splendid large-scale public altars.

The images in this essay are typical examples of Ofrendas built all over Mexico and the United States, and demonstrate the variety of styles and range of approaches to their construction. The Ofrenda below is an example of one of the more elaborate structures.

Elaborate Mexican Ofrenda

Detail: upper half of Ofrenda

Detail: lower half of Ofrenda

My Ofrenda dedicated to my father and grandmother Gina

Artist Sandra Fernádez and Gina Costa in front of Sandra’s Ofrenda

I invite readers to share their images of Ofrendas that they will be fortunate to view through the following week. I know fellow mobile photographers in Mexico, Los Angeles, New York, and elsewhere where this practice has gained popularity, can share captivating images of the rich and moving celebration.


Mobile Photo Essay Showcase

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Currently living in Chicago, Gina Costa is a museum curator and lecturer on 20th century art and photography. She has worked at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC; The Art Institute of Chicago and has taught art history at a variety of universities. Gina is currently working on a publication and exhibition that explores the current discourse on the use of mobile technology and how it has changed the way one defines what a photograph can be.