Corazon de Mujer “Heart of Women” women’s weaving collective, Chimaltenango, Guatemala

I travelled to Guatemala during the last week of April as a part of a group of five women from my church, Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church, to take part in a CEDEPCA “Intercultural Encounter’ trip to learn about the lives of women there.  CEDEPCA, the Protestant Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America is an educational institution that works to transform lives by offering education, accompaniment and safe reflection places to wormen and men of diverse Christian traditions and communities.

Guatemala had a 36 year civil war from 1960 to 1996.  Over 200,000 Gratemalans were killed or disappeared; 83 % were Mayans.  The Guatemalan army attacked the Mayans and were particularly focused on wiping out women aged 18 to 25 as a way of extinguishing the population.  They lost their land, their houses, animals, and family members and were forced to run into the woods.  The soldiers would return over and over.  Eventually, they left their homes and migrated to the cities where they could hide to escape being annihilated.

Guatemala is also a macho country, where the indigenous women have had no rights.  They are not considered to exist because they don’t even have a birth certificate to prove that they were born.  Women are in danger of being killed, raped, dismembered and dumped in the streets. This is called femicide. In the last 10 years. over 6000 women have been killed by their husbands.  They are never punished for their crimes.  The justice system just looks the other way.  In 2008, a law giving women rights was passed.  There is system of offices around the country to provide a way for women to leave their husbands when they are being abused and receive child support payments.

As part of our trip, we met with a group of women survivors of the civil war  called, Corazon de Mujers, the Heart of Women, who have banded together to form a weaving cooperative so they can support themselves and their children.  They weave beautiful fabric using backstrap loams. They can work from home, watch their children, cook dinner, while weaving.  They shared their stories of La Violencia with us. Afterwards, I was moved to spend all my spending money on scarves and a shawl to help support them.  Here are portraits of the women we met.

Homage to Vivian Maier

I tried to copy the essence of her images, looking through my camera, reflected back through glass, mirrors and other reflected surfaces.  I also caught my shadow unexpectedly.  I took many shots, played with the angles and camera settings, because sometimes the reflection didn’t show in the photo.  I started to see reflections and shadows everywhere once I was tuned in to them. I don’t mind taking my picture, but I’m timid about shooting strangers.  I took some pictures of people while I was searching for reflective surfaces and it was hard for me to boldy stick my camera up to my face and shoot. I would like to hid behind the Rolliflex hanging on my chest rather than putting the camera up to my eye.  The photographs were taken on Main Street in Annapolis, Annapolis Plaza shopping center and the office building where I work.

Vivian Maier and her self portraits


I first heard about Vivian Maier when I was watching CBS Morning News a couple of weeks ago.  A documentary fi lm has been made about her life and the discovery of her work.  An historian, John Maloof, who was writing about his Chicago neighborhood, purchased a box of her negatives at an auction, hoping to find photographs he could use to illustrate his book.  He didn’t find what he was looking for, but later posted some photos on the internet to learn more about them, and discovered that he had uncovered some excellent work.

Vivian Maier was a reclusive woman who worked as a nanny for over 40 years and secretly took over 100,000 photographs, mostly around Chicago, during that time.  She used a Rollifex medium format camera that hung around her neck and allowed her to surreptitiously shoot passersby as they walked by. Even though she was not sociable, she was a sympathetic observer of human nature. Ms. Maier liked to shot self portraits that show her silently lurking in store windows and mirror, and as shadows draped across the sidewalk or lawn.

I was fascinated by the multiple layers of reflections in the store windows and mirrors, with her taciturn face and Rolliflex camera reflecting  back at the lens. She also took self portraits that show her shadow as a quiet presence presiding over her subject matter.  I was inspired by the images to find windows, mirrors,  other reflective surfaces and shadows to shoot self portraits.