Sunday, 30 September 2007 00:00

Portraits of Remembrance

Written by

Reyes-Cortez on Portraits of Remembrance

“When I die, I want to be buried with her. We met at school when she was 15 years old, 

and I love her now, as much as I did then, when we first met over 50 years ago.” 

The cemeteries of Mexico City


“. . . Her eyes look straight ahead, as if looking at Don Francisco talking to her, the eyes of the image reciprocates the viewer’s gaze. I suggest that at this moment the materiality of the photograph is transformed and the photograph transcends the object, it protects the dead from the ephemeral human body, overcoming the absence of the person. I suggest that the photograph preserves traces of memory and personhood, shifted from the decomposing flesh in the coffin or a cremated body in a cinerary urn to the social body of the photograph. Portraits of remembrance protect the invincibility of the dead as a social person, making the dead visible through the relationships and the value entrusted to the material/spiritual image by its mourners and visitors . . .” p.48-49.

Reyes-Cortez, M. 2010: Communicating with the Dead: Social Visibility in the Cemeteries of Mexico City, in Die Realität des Todes: Zum gegenwärtigen Wandel von Totenbildern und Erinnerungskulturen (Visibility of Death) by Dominik GroßChristoph Schweikardt (edts), pp.33-62, Campus Verlag, Germany.

Upstairs @ the RAI, Friday 31 October, 2014, 5pm

Royal Anthropological Institute

Memorialising and Commemorating the Dead in Mexico City: A critical look at the Mexican Day of the Dead

Research Seminar followed by some tasters with Dr Marcel Reyes-Cortez, Goldsmiths, University of London

In Mexico City, the dead are very present in popular culture and are manifested in the spaces of the living, for example in art, photography, cinema, literature, music, gastronomy and political rhetoric. Claudio Lomnitz argues that death and the dead in Mexico have been turned into a national ‘totem’. This social phenomenon has developed some unique social and cultural practices. This seminar will show how people symbolically represent the dead in order to include them in their social and living spaces and create memory and immortality through material culture and photographic portraits.

Through daily and yearly cycles, people develop and maintain intricate rituals involving the dead buried in the cemeteries of Alvaro Obregon, Mexico City. The conjoined landscapes of the living and the dead are spaces of personal and collective grief, charged with emotions, loaded with ethical and moral obstacles and obligations. Based on his PhD field research, Marcel Reyes-Cortez documents the numerous ways in which the living and the dead remain connected over generations. This involves long-term relationships and a range of activities (cemetery workers, flower-growers, coffin makers, etc.).


Please book your free place:

Royal Anthropological Institute
50 Fitzroy Street
London, W1T 5BT, United Kingdom

European Social Science History Conference, April 2012.

Abstract: ‘Visual research in the cemeteries of Mexico City: Photography, a social research method’

My visual research project explores how through daily and yearly cycles, the bereaved, mourners and workers develop and maintain intricate funerary rituals involving the dead buried in the cemeteries of Mexico City. Commemorative visual and material culture both religious and secular already plays an important role in mourners’ everyday life and activities. A more extensive use of the photograph and the practice of photography became a valuable social research tool, especially when looking at the exchanges and interactions between the dead, memory and the visual material worlds that assist the living, the dead and the ánima (spirit/soul) to stay connected in the spaces in which they interact.

I have chosen to explore the above social and cultural processes in part through a visual methodology, documenting meticulously through photographs as well as text the numerous ways in which the living and the dead remain connected over generations. The practice of photography eased and speeded the entry into the cemetery and mourners private and public spaces, it also opened access to the possibilities of collaboratory encounters within the field and with those people with whom I was working. Thus, I examined and extensively recorded through photography the cyclical memorialising and mourning practices, ritualised routines, and daily habits associated with the dead and the cemetery space in the borough of Álvaro Obregón, Mexico City. A visual methodology in combination with traditional ethnographic methods such as participant observation, formal and informal interviews, investigation of life histories of the bereaved, mourners, visitors and workers with an overview of contemporary Mexican funerary practices in Mexico City offered the project a productive instrument, providing a more nuanced understanding of the bereaved and mourner’s ideas about their relationships with the dead.

11-14 April 2012: ‘European Social Science History Conference’

Programme: University of Glasgow

CFP: What do we talk about when we talk photography?

11-13 December 2014, Moscow, Russia

National Research University, Higher School of Economics, Faculty of Philosophy

Программа международной конференции
“О чем мы говорим, когда мы говорим о фотографии”
11-13 декабря 2014, Москва, ГУ-ВШЭ
ул. Мясницкая, 20


Abstract: Photography as a Social Research Method

In current academic research photography and the use of photographs have opened the possibility for a richer and detailed level of engagement with spaces and people researchers encounter. My paper will discuss the practice and use of photography as a research method and critically look at photography as a source of evidence and memory. My paper will show how researchers can engaged with anthropology a critical forum to discus their experiences. Looking at the practice of photography as an art form in collaboration with the social sciences. Opening the possibility for ethnographers who use or wish to utilise photography to engage with the ways that theory and practice can collaborate in order for photography to engage with the phenomena of the social world, voicing the opinions and emotions of people and researchers alike. Giving greater sensitivity and richness to an ethnography and also for dissemination and analyses.

Through this paper I aim to explore how the ubiquitous photograph becomes a knowledge making practice. Photography with its sensorial and performative qualities opens interaction, creates and cultivates relationships with people. Photography has been found to stimulate and incite the emotions that bind people together. My paper will also look at how the practice and use of photographs and its limitations can open spaces and encounters of collaboration, speed the entry into the field assisting the research and participants a richer multi faceted field experience. This paper will expand the possibilities of the photographic practice and analises beyond the observational or as an illustrative source.

The Higher School of Economics

Moscow, Russia

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