Lonely Planet Writer

The indigenous people of Oaxaca, Mexico documented in stunning detail

In south-central Mexico, flanked by rugged, rolling mountain ranges, sits Oaxaca, a state with a rich cultural heritage and a diverse gathering of proud, indigenous people who still celebrate their unique historical identities and way of life. Travelling to the region, Mexican photographer Diego Huerta has created a collection of stunning portraits of these people, using Oaxaca as a colourful backdrop for the images that tell their stories.

El torito- The Bull at Istmo de Tehuantepec, Oaxaca.
El Torito, “The Bull” at Istmo de Tehuantepec, Oaxaca. Image by Diego Huerta

The project, called Inside Oaxaca, started four years ago, when Diego witnessed Guelaguetza (known locally as Los Lunes del Cerro), a week-long festival the state hosts every July that sees participants from 16 different indigenous groups around the region meeting to play music, sing, dance, and celebrate cultural exchange, all while donning traditional dress. The event dates back hundreds of years, with the festival proving popular with global visitors. The festival sparked an interest in Diego, who was intrigued to learn more about the indigenous culture of the people he saw and met there.

A woman from Juchitan captured on horseback.
A woman from Juchitan captured on horseback. Image by Diego Huerta

What followed was a passion project that saw Diego making multiple trips across Oaxaca to take portraits of indigenous communities. “To speak of Oaxaca is to speak of magic. The magic of its people, their colours, their culture and traditions. Oaxaca is the living example of how the new generations are the ones who take the love of their traditions and show it through all their celebrations throughout the year. Maybe I’m short of wanting to capture so much beauty, but I try to do my best. Sometimes you need to cross mountains and lakes, walk day and night. There are times that you spend all of your energy for one portrait. But at the end of the day everything’s worth it.” Diego told Lonely Planet Travel News.

The Devils of Collantes.
The Devils of Collantes. Image by Diego Huerta

The project includes a wide-sweeping collection of dynamic, colourful portraits, including images of women from Dainzú in the Central Valley of Oaxaca in Tehuana dresses (made iconic by Frida Kahlo), a woman from Juchitan captured on horseback and the Devils of Collantes, men who don traditional dress and dance around fires in a special ceremony. Approximately 15% of the Mexican population identifies as indigenous, and in Oaxaca, that figure jumps to 56%.

A woman photographed at Istmo de Tehuantepec, Oaxaca. Image by A woman photographed at Istmo de Tehuantepec, Oaxaca.

“It does not matter if someone born in Mexico or abroad, seeing each one of the portraits of Oaxaca, they find an immediate connection with the spirit of the human being, and that for me, is the most important thing. It is necessary to show people from all over the world the true Mexico, and to tell the stories of Oaxaca is to show the living heart of Mexico.” Diego said.

More of Diego’s work is available at his official website.