Eileen Mandell, Oct 30–Nov 2, 2014, Photography Workshop

Stampedes, Dark Skies, and Memento Mortis!

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As we drove south on Highway 3, the cameras captured the rural simplicity of the inland farming and ranching valleys. As we neared Rancho La Bellota the photographers were delighted to find the shady, oak lined canyon that is the heart of the ranch. As owner Raul says – “In Baja, where there are oaks, there is a spring. Where there is a spring, there is a ranch.”

We spent Friday exploring the wine country, Valle de Guadalupe, which always offers plenty of photo opportunities. Baja Rancho Art had made arrangements with the owner of La Casa Vieja Winery for a special photo shoot. We brought the ranch donkey, Philomon, to the winery to be the star. While resting near the grapevines, he was giving us some charming shots and the cameras were blazing.

After Philomon was safely returned to the ranch, we roamed the property, capturing the character of the 150 year old adobe buildings still in use. Then we headed to the quiet streets of San Antonio de las Minas, a former gold mining area in the valley. After shooting the old adobes in El Porvenir, we headed to Dona Lupe’s Organic Winery and to L.A. Cetto to wrap up the afternoon on their lovely grounds.

Friday evening back at the ranch, paper candelarias lit our path to the dining room and we enjoyed a delicious carne asada dinner. A special guest joined us for Halloween…Frida Khalo arrived to dine with us in traditional Mexican costume.

Saturday was spent at the ranch and the photographers passed the morning capturing the soft light in the canyon, the horses, cattle, chickens, sheep and dogs, the vintage tack, and the traditional architecture of the ranch buildings and cabins. That afternoon, Raul and Gabriel rounded up the horses – about 25 of them – for a special event. Stationing each photographer behind a tree for safety, the horses were stampeded within feet of them 6 or 7 times for some amazing live action shots.

The results were stunning, and I captured the artists getting their shots.

As day turned to evening, Rick created two stunning portraits of Raul and his wife Caroline, and we all enjoyed chiles rellenos by candlelight in the dining room Saturday night. After dinner, we prepared for a very special activity of our photography weekend. The evening focused on a creative and cultural exploration of the tradition of El Dia de los Muertos – The Day of the Dead, when many Mexican families honor and celebrate the lives of family members and friends who have passed on.

We created several small still life arrangements or memento mortis, and our guests had been invited to bring one or two small personal objects or a photo of a loved one. Baja Rancho Art supplied backdrops, candles, marigolds (the traditional flower of Dia de los Muertos) and other small props. The Ranch supplied the inspiration, and our shots reflected the emotional gravity of the evening.

Almost every evening Rancho La Bellota offers very dark skies and excellent star gazing, and Friday and Saturday nights the photographers brought out their big lenses to capture the moon setting over the canyon hillsides, star trails, and star clusters invisible to the naked eye. Rick got an amazing shot of M-31, the Great Andromeda Nebula and a Double Cluster (a galactic star cluster) in the same frame. Our minds were expanded to ponder the infinite depth of space, and how much we miss from our city-based and light-filled perspectives.

Sunday we took a leisurely horseback ride before a delicious brunch, then reluctantly began to pack up to head home. With so many shots to download and view, I know the photographers were looking forward to seeing exactly what their lenses had captured. I’m looking forward to adding more photos to this post as they become available. Watch this space, and check our Facebook page for updates!

Our October/November Photography Open Studio was a hit on so many levels, it’s hard to pick a favorite activity; but for me, I’d have to say it was seeing the photograph Eileen took of my mother’s Dia de los Muertos altar. Making it brought many memories to mind, and although she’s been gone ten years now, I’ll always have this tribute. Thanks, Eileen for capturing the moment.

All Baja Rancho Art weekends include lodging, horseback riding, all ranch meals, authentic Baja ranch genres, art activities, and winery tours; all based at Rancho La Bellota, a 2,800 acre working horse and cattle ranch. Join us to find out what the Baja Rancho Art Experience is all about.

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