When Stan Raucher decided to study Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala, it coincided with Holy Week, or Semana Santa. It turned out to be a bonus for the photojournalist who knew there would be celebration but had no idea what awaited him. The streets of the city that was founded in the early 16th century and is a UNESCO World Heritage site were lined with colorful carpets and sawdust and were packed with daily street processions of costumed people transporting enormous statues of Jesus Christ on floats; the air was thick with the scent of incense.
Raucher said he considered himself to be a novice photojournalist at the time and wasn’t prepared for the sensory overload and potential for image-making; he decided to return in 2015 with a better handle on both Spanish and photography.
“I had a better idea of what to expect, and I researched the events before I arrived,” he wrote via email. “I was delighted with the difference that preparation made.”
Raucher described the seven days of Holy Week as “intense.” Processions typically last more than half of a day; the centerpiece of each one is a large float with a statue of Christ that can weigh several thousand pounds and is carried by close to 100 people. On some days, different churches participate in multiple processions that add to the carefully planned chaos. Both men and women carry the floats over carpets that are artistically made from flowers and sawdust and are protected and admired until they are destroyed by the processions. “The photographic opportunities are only limited by one’s stamina,” Raucher wrote.
He had also scouted the streets looking for the best possible areas to take pictures.
“I discovered that it was easier to photograph at less crowded locations along the procession routes and that ancient monastery walls make for a better background than a local convenience store,” he wrote.
Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala, is known to be a colorful experience, both in the literal and figurative sense. Raucher, however, is a dedicated shooter of black and white photography even though he shoots digitally these days. “It fits my sensibility,” he wrote. “I grew up looking at Life magazine photo documentaries and black and white movies and television. I think it makes my images more immediate, real, and timeless.”
Raucher’s work from Antigua will be on view in the NW Photography Drawers at Blue Sky Gallery in Portland, Oregon, from April 6, 2016, through March 18, 2017.