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Bolivia – the amazing Oruro Carnival

A post by Flavio

Bolivia rarely comes as a first choice among travel destinations, but it’s an incredibly beautiful country and has a lot of history and traditions that are worth exploring.

One of them is the Oruro Carnival, a unique blend of Christian and pagan traditions that coalesce in a visually spectacular and emotionally charged event. The Carnival is also the economic blood of this mining town, giving work to the artisans and craftsmen all year around to make the costumes for the dancers.

The Oruro Carnival takes place on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday, drawing to the small mining town up to 28.000 dancers and 10.000 musicians that give life to the Entrada, the main parade event, which lasts for more than 20 hours. Sources differ but up to 400.000 tourists and locals flock to the streets of Oruro to see the masked dancers, hear the energetic music and revel.

Last February I went to Bolivia for the 2022 Oruro Carnival Entrada and was wowed by an incredible display of colours and sounds but also an emotional worshipping of the Virgen del Socavón, the Virgin of the Mine. 

Virgin del Socavón worshipped by Diablo and China Supay in the Oruro Carnival

Shooting such an event is not easy due to the sheer amount of people and it’s very difficult to get clean shots where you can get the eye to rest on an easy to find subject. It may seem easy to just shoot the spectacular show and expect the viewer of your image to understand what details drew your eye: unless you make the subject of your image clear you will end up with a very busy and messy image. Relish the challenge and give it your best, and you will be rewarded with beautiful images.

Tincu dancers at the Oruro Carnival

The street photographer will often shoot the spectators of the events, because they will be completely unaware of the camera and offer plenty of opportunities to catch interesting moments happening. I chose instead to shoot the event in a more documentary style, concentrating on the dancers and musicians to show some of the main costumes and dances but also the religious part of the Oruro Carnival.

I shot in a street photography style the Andean Anata, the event taking place 2 days before the main Entrada, seeing the communities from the Bolivian plateau gathering in Oruro celebrating and blessing the produce grown by each community. A blog post about the Andean Anata will follow soon.

Morenada dancers - framed by long boots

I was able to obtain a press pass to be able to stay in the street during the Oruro Carnival, shooting the dancers up close and from the front. I was always aware of my surroundings and endeavoured to be as inobtrusive as possible: you want to really avoid making a nuisance of yourself. You want to make use of your street photography skills as an invisible shooter: they are fully transferable to the documentary and photojournalistic styles and will yield much more natural images.

Morenada mask at the Oruro Carnival

All the images you see here are unposed, candid. I often was less than a metre away from the subject, without disturbing them or getting in their way. A lot of these images, given the sheer amount of people and the narrow spaces, are shot on an 18mm lens on a full frame camera (that would translate into 12mm on APS-C), an ultra-wide angle lens. Not a classic street photography focal length but very useful when needed! Other focal lengths used were 28mm and 55mm (roughly translating to 18.5mm and 36mm in APS-C terms).

Morenada leader

Enjoy the images, and join us for the 2023 Bolivian Oruro Carnival street and travel photography course!

Diablada bears
Morenas dancing under bridge during the Oruro Carnival
Red caporales
Moreno relieving the weight of the costume
Tincu dance leader

Click here for more images!

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