• Past Projects

Education Co-ordinator at the Chiapas Photography Project, Mexico


** 1st May 2010: CHECK OUT OUR WRITE UP! **

Click on the link below and transport yourself into Maya Haviland's fabulous blog 'Side by Side; practices in collaborative ethnography through art". Maya volunteered here at the Chiapas Photography Project in 2009 as part of her doctoral research, and she is currently also showing her own exhibition in Australia.

Have a look at her short writeup of our pinhole work to date:

Side by Side


** 30th April 2010: FLICKR **

You can see a few photos which are not included on this site on my flickr page. Comments always welcome!

Rachel Sokal on Flickr


How exciting, thousands of pinhole photographers from all over the world sharing their work from one day.

AND WE'RE GIVING YOU A SNEAK PREVIEW of our imminent pinhole photography exhibition in their gallery! Have a look at the address below to see photos from Juana Lopez Lopez, Antonia Giron Intzin, Antonia Santiz Giron and myself.

Our Photos for World Pinhole Day 2010

Or just go to www.pinholeday.org
--> 2010 gallery
--> Mexico, Chiapas State (we're the only ones in there at present)



I can't believe that there's only one more session left of the course. Not to mention that in just two weeks I will be spending my last evening in San Cristobal, before returning to put on several exhibitions in the UK!

Today we finished the rough cut of work to include in our final show. How rewarding to see all the work laid out together. Three films, and 6 drinks can photos, two cameras, two months and lots of biscuits later, the participants really do seem to have a grasp on the possibilities pinhole photography can offer them into the future. I'm working on a picture-based instruction sheet on the construction and use of the pinhole cameras we've worked with, and several participants have shown interest in teaching the process onwards...

But before looking too far forward, there's still and exhibition to mount! Time for framing, scanning, printing... and probably a good old British roast dinner at my flat to celebrate!


** 28th April 2010: NOW ON TWITTER**

Ok so Twitter got me finally! I've been pleasantly surprised, it actually is a great way to stay up to date with your interests.

Follow me with day to day news of my work above, or directly: @RachelSokal


Pinhole Photography students Antonia, Lupita and Juana, uncharacteristically serious during the first stage of selection for our exhibition.

[Juana Lopez Lopez, Antonia Giron Intzin, Antonia Santiz Giron; uncharacteristically serious during the first stage of selection for our exhibition.]

Well, its two workshop sessions since I last updated on it. Busy busy! We've now finished the second and third rolls of film, and a few more photos with the drinks can camera.

Such fabulous developments!

The participants are so much more confident both with the methods for taking pinhole photos, but also in their openness to this form of photography.

In this final roll of film Lupita turned the inner tray of the matchbox camera around, revealing the heart shaped aperture she had cut. Heart shaped photos! Juana adjusted the cardboard mask inside her camera, making her photos appear with a lovely soft oval vignette.

All of them have been eperimenting with super close ups -an interesting capability of pinhole cameras -with some great results.

So we've now finished producing work for the course, and we've moved onto the preparations for our exhibition. We'll launch the exhibition here in San Cristobal de las Casas, before touring within the UK and possibly beyond.

Today we did the first stage of selection, with some interesting votes being cast! Its so interesting to see a group show come together, especially with emerging new values of aesthetics coming into play.

We also selected some photos to include in thr World Pinhole Day online gallery! WATCH THIS SPACE FOR A LINK!



Another lovely sunday with visitors. Refugia, a Chol photographer who is working on a photography book telling her family's history, visited me with her son today. Since Refugia is a single mum working two jobs, she didnt have time to take part in the pinhole photography course. Luckily she could make it today so she could construct her own matchbox pinhole camera. Soon Neftali started making the best pinholes I've seen on pices of aluminium, so of course he had to make one for himself too! Unfortunately we won't be able to include their work in the upcomming pinhole course's exhibition, but its great to see the insiration spreading further! Perhaps they can submit some work on this site or on the World Pinhole Day gallery later...



Wokolok, ya stak' jlok'esbet junuk a lok'omba?

"May I take a photo please?" in Tseltal, a local Mayan language.

Following my MA research, I proposed and idea in the project last week: lets make a leaflet giving advice to visitors to this region on when and how it is ok to take photos of indigenous local people and their communities. Its so easy for even the most respectful visitor to cause offence here simply by not knowing local etiquettes around phtoography. So lets make it better for everyone and encourage greater understanding. The photographers agree with the idea and have been working on the content this week... so its full steam ahead! A new Chiapas Photography Project advice leaflet coming soon to local hotels and sites as well as to larger tourism publications.


** 22nd April 2010: MA RESEARCH NOW DOWNLOADABLE! **

Finally. I've navigated the world of pdf files and all that jazz and you can now download copies of the following (lots of pretty pictures!):

My MA Thesis research:

"Intersecting photographic gazes, relations of power and intercultural communication; indigenous photographers and the tourist gaze in contemporary Chiapas, Mexico."

To download a pdf version go to:

Rachel Sokal MA Research

You can delve into this fascinating corner of the world or just look at the photos and learn more about where I'm working at the moment!...

Another piece of MA research I did, this time on a culturally diverse and artistically dynamic area of my home town, Bristol UK.

"Stokes Croft, a site for contesting identities, trajectories and claims for space in Bristol."

For a pdf download:

Rachel Sokal Stokes Croft Article

All rights reserved (Rachel Sokal / AFI)



Juana Lopez Lopez portraits me learning tamales from her

[Juana Lopez Lopez's portrait of me struggling to make my tamales look as good as her's! Note the presence of a nice cup of tea alongside the maize - Juana's a convert!]

Juana puts the tamales into the pot - only one pair of hands, or they won't cook well!

Juana places the tamales into the pot for steaming; "Theres an old saying: only one person can put them in, otherwise the tamales won't cook well."

Today I spent the afternoon with Juana, one of the photographers from Chamula (Author of the book Kichtik / Our Chile). We had a cooking exchange - so much fun! We made 52 tamales with mumo and frijol and 12 pancakes with blackberry sauce. Fed the neighbours and the neighbour's dog too! Its magical when friendship can grow even in a context of such extreme cultural difference and lack of trust. miraculous. Next sunday cooking session: handmade maize tortillas vs. elderflower cordial.



What an immense priviledge to be working with such creative and open minded photographers.

Xuno Lopez Intzin and Antonia Santiz Giron, both Tzeltal speaking photographers originally from Tenejapa, laughing (probably at my terrible Tzeltal!) whilst making their matchbox cameras. 30.3.10

[Xuno Lopez Intzin and Antonia Santiz Giron, both Tzeltal speaking photographers originally from Tenejapa, laughing (probably at my terrible Tzeltal!) whilst making their matchbox cameras. 30.3.10]

Yesterday we reviewed the first film from the matchbox pinhole camera, then we worked on improving the design and method of phtoographing. Even though it was a tester film to get used to the camera and to improve it, there were still some real gems.

We spent quite some time looking over the photos, learning to accept them as their own form of photography and being open to the images in their own right. This is quite a shift for these photographers, who have had minimal exposure to contemporary art photography or abstraction, usually valuing sharp, centred images. And yet this is exposure to these concepts within their own terms and their own world. Rather than showing them mountains of examples, I am helping them open out to these new aesthetics and concepts of photography through acceptance and interest in new aspects of their own work. And they're rising to the challenge with such willingness, its deeply inspiring. I wonder how I would act in their position.

Some comments from today:

Looking at an accidentally overlapping image of two street scenes:
"It feels like confusion"

Looking at a very soft image of trees in a park:
"This is my favourite, it looks like a painting not a photo... the difference is that you can't see all the leaves... so it looks like it has been done with a paintprush instead. Its beautiful."

Looking at a very abstract image which accidentally shows an prism arc of lights against a grey-brown background:
"I really like this photo. I don't know how this happened with the lights...but they look like christmas lights and I really like it."

Looking at a long exposure of a chicken:
"I like this one because the chicken looks strange. You can see the feet but the body is strange and it looks like the shape of a pig!...A pig-chicken!"

Looking at a street scene with heavy lightleak which gives the image a haze of different colours:
"I like this photo because it looks like a painting because it is very soft. Because light got into the camera there are lots of strange coours but it makes it look more artistic and even old fashioned."



Lupita Guzman Intzin, a Tzeltal photographer from Tenejapa finshes up her matchbox pinhole camera 30th March 2010

[Lupita Guzman Intzin, a Tzeltal speaking photographer from Tenejapa finshes up her matchbox pinhole camera 30.3.10]

Some comments from today, on seeing their latest photos and making the matchbox pinhole camera:

"Oh how wonderful! I love my photos. I'm going to have my own exhibition of them after this!"

"This is fun"

"Great! Now I'm going play with my new camera in the [indigenous] communities and take photos of the Easter celebrations!"

"I want to teach other people in my community how to do this. I want to show them that you dont need an expensive camera to take photos."

"This type of photography is different, it has a different feeling. I like it."



After a second session with the drinks can pinhole cameras the participants were experimenting confidently with different aesthetics and techniques. It was wonderful to see them happily explaining the process to the crowd of curious onlookers from the academic staff who work next to the Indigenous Photography Archive. Somewhat of a role reversal - delicious.

One photographer, moving past the common local aesthetic judgement that 'blurry is bad', decided to do handheld pinhole photos today, producing some great ghostly images!


** 23rd March: Rachel at work with a pinhole camera in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico **

Rachel at work in San Cristobal de las Casas

Photo thanks to my neighbour (and new student!) Enrique Ayon


During the first session of the Pinhole Photography Course on Friday we made cameras out of drinks cans. I was aware of how different this type pf photography is from the kind these people know and love. In this context there seems to be a reliance on equipment and specific technical and aesthetic norms to feel comfortable with a photo. This seems to be partly their own development of aesthetic and technical values of photography, and partly from a pervasive sense of subordinace and a search for legitimacy in a wider social context (indigenous Mexicans have had a notoriously difficult time across the country, but particularly in this region).

Pinhole photography, especially the more surreal kind like the image below (also made with a drinks can) challenges the concepts and norms of photography within this group of photographers. The camera is recycled from rubbish, the images do look different. I spent a long while thinking over how to phrase my introduction to this kind of photography, how to help the group open out to it with curiosity, rather than reject it as strange, blurry, not centred, non-representational.

My aim during this course is to open out these concepts of what photography can be - what can be valued in it - along with a growing sense of authority and confidence as photographers.

So imagine my profound delight (and relief) when the first reactions to their images were unusually animated:

"Oh how wonderful! Its amazing!"

"Oh its great! My photo looks like a painting!"

"I really didn't think my photo would look like this, I really like it!"

I feel this will be a gradual process, but I think we got off to a suprisingly good start...


*** 17th March: A pinhole view of the Indigenous Photography Archive! ***

The first session of my two month course on pinhole photography starts this friday, watch this space!


*** 10th March: A week of holding the fort ***

Well! I've been holding the fort here for the past week while the director has been away, which has been a real learning experience and an opportunity to get to know the photographers a little better.

I've been mentoring some of the photographers with current personal projects. Refugia Guzman Perez, a Ch'ol photogrpaher is working on a fascinating book about issues of migration from ethnic, rural communities to multicultural cities through the story of her own family's migration to San Cristobal.

I've also been taking lots of pinhole photos around San Cristobal after work, which is so interesting since there is usually such a strong reaction to a foreigner with a camera - sellers crowd around you, immediately identifying you as a tourist... but not when its made of a drinks can! Instead theres curiosity and more dialogue.



Hello everyone!
What a full and interesting week of work here at the Chiapas Photography Project! Its so interesting to learn how important photography can be as a means of self expression in this context of patchy literacy and widespread oppression.

In such an active yet small project there is always a lot to do, and lots of different projects on the go at once. I have to take my hat off to Carlota Duarte, the director of CPP, she seems to run this charity single handedly! ...Which of course means my days are filling up fast with a really varied array of activities. For now, let me tell you about just one of them:

I'm about to finalise the start-up paperwork for my first 8 week photography training course here: PINHOLE PHOTOGRAPHY! Pinhole photography has such potential here, in a context where many people live humbly and others in extreme poverty. Pinhole cameras can be made inexpensively out of everyday objects like cans and matchboxes, yet they can produce wonderfully expressive photos. I hope to use this aspect of photography to entice a new type of creativity from the local indigenous photographers, who have largely focused on documentary style work so far. I also hope to show how accessible photography really can be...


ps. photos for these updates are on their way!


*** 19th feb '10: COMING SOON: an online version of my postrad research into indigenous photographers in Chiapas, Mexico. It's not just long words, honest! There are lots of pretty pictures to look at too... ***



So, the beginning of my work here in Chiapas begins in earnest tomorrow after a week of house hunting and introductions in the archive and in photographer's meetings. And yes, there have been several tummy issues this past week too! Of course.

Its so exciting to see the photographers I worked with a year and a half ago. Some wonderful projects have been launched in my absence, such as the Migrations exhibition, soon to be available to see on the Side by Side website: http://www.sidebyside.net.au/ and Refugia Guzman Perez's work which is previewed on the same site.

This week I'll be helping Juana, Refugia and Lupita in the Indigenous Photography Archive, where they are deep in the process of digitising the collection. This is no mean feat, since there are in the region of 85,000 images in the archive! This process will not only back-up the physical collection, but it also offers several opportunities for the staff (most of whom are indigenous photographers themselves) to gain new computer, archival and literacy skills.

I'll also be working on a proposal with the photographers to run a workshop in pinhole photography and creative photo processes... WATCH THIS SPACE!


***13th Feb '10: TESCO on Stokes Croft?! ***

Even though I'm far far away from my home town of Bristol UK, I'm still keeping up with local affairs!
...TESCO are planning to open a new store in Stokes Croft, a lively cultural centre of Bristol, which is the theme of my article included on this site. As you can imagine this would be detrimental to the unique local character of this area. If you are interested in attending the demonstration against this or signing the petition, please see:



Myself and Juana, one of the key members of staff at the project

I'm very happy to tell you all that I'm here, in the Southern mountains of Mexico in the town of San Cristobal de las Casas, ready to start work with local Mayan photographers (www.chiapasphoto.org).

I'll be here, helping the general running of the project but also developing their new education programme in the comming months. Read more about what I'll be doing in the section on the menu to the left.

WATCH THIS SPACE for regular updates, photos and slices of life in this remote, colourful and complex corner of Mexico!