In 1976, I was a newly minted Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology poised to begin dissertation research exploring El Sistema Jurídico Maya and land tenure. Once I'd arrived in Guatemala, my first major decision was to select a field site and thanks to the support of Dr. Clyde Woods, one of my UCLA professors, we set out by jeep to survey the stronghold of traditional Maya communities in Northwest Guatemala where I hoped to settle. Why I was dead set against living in a village bordering the idyllic shores of Lake Atitlan, Dr. Woods was hard pressed to understand. But in my heart, I knew the more difficult the site was to leave, the more successfully I'd adapt to conditions far outside my comfort zone. Besides, the mysterious and raw Sierra de los Cuchumatanes had already cast its spell over me.
Few places seemed as remote as we bumped up the unpaved road into the forbidding mountain fortress looming above the bustling city of Huehuetenango. After navigating the pot holes and muddy wash outs across the windswept páramo of Paquix, the leaden storm clouds that had followed us for several hours dissolved into a soupy fog and bone-chilling cold. Finally, we turned off the "highway" at La Ventosa toward Todos Santos Cuchumatan and snaked down a dirt road slightly wider than a footpath through a narrow crease between the mountains. Around a bend, a deep valley that stretched towards Mexico came into view. And what an eyeful it was: the sweep of emerald maize fields dotted with thatched-roofed ranchos took my breath away.
But it was the Todos Santeros themselves who made up my mind. As we entered the small town center—then only 1200 residents strong—I was struck by their confident bearing, stunning traje, and vibrant connection to their Maya-Mam heritage. The next day, trusting a leap of intuitive certainty, I sought the Alcalde's and Principales' permission to reside in Todos Santos for a year, starting immediately. And unexpectedly, generously, their answer was yes.
Three decades later, in 2007, I traveled to Antigua, Guatemala to donate my Todos Santos photo collection (1976-1977) to the Fototeca Archive, Centro de Investigaciones Regionales de MesoAmérica (CIRMA). The 400+ images capture aspects of daily and ceremonial life immediately prior to Guatemala's devastating civil war and subsequent Maya diaspora. The collection can be found on Fototeca's Spanish language archive and is organized by series, according to subject, at the bottom of their webpage. All of the photographs are in their original state and none—with the exception of the ones featured here on my website—has been edited or retouched. CIRMA and I reserve all rights.