Day of the Dead • Magnum Photos

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The Day of the Dead

The centuries-old Mexican holiday is a colorful celebration of the dead

Magnum Photographers

Larry Towell Child with star mask during "Day Of The Dead." Other child in background rolls tire for repair in garage where he works at an adult's job. El Salvador, San Salvador. 1992. © Larry Towell | Magnum Photos
Rene Burri Boy holding a plaster skeleton for the day of the dead. Village of Metepec, Mexico. © Rene Burri | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson Day of the Dead. Mexico. 1934. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Martin Parr From 'Mexico'. Mexico City, Mexico. 2003. © Martin Parr | Magnum Photos
Abbas A little girl holds skulls over her eyes. Skulls are part of the ritual of the Day of the Dead. Mexico City, Mexico. November 1st, 1984. © Abbas | Magnum Photos
Abbas Celebrating the Day of the Dead in the cemetery. Juazeiro do Norte, Brazil. 1996. © Abbas | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson Day of the Dead. Mixquic. Mexico district, Mexico. 2 November 1963. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Eve Arnold Film: Under the Volcano. John Huston, the director, sitting among death masks made for the celebration of the Day of the Dead. Cuernavaca, Mexico. 1983. © Eve Arnold | Magnum Photos
Jean Gaumy SALVADOR. Panchimalco, located 17 km to the south of San Salvador. Celebration of the Day of the Dead, merging indigenous customs with Catholicism. November 1st, 1985. © Jean Gaumy | Magnum Photos
Abbas Catholic cemetery. Two nuns celebrate the Day of the Dead (November 1st). Warsaw, Poland. 1980. © Abbas | Magnum Photos
Patrick Zachmann Day of the Dead. Procession. Sevilla, Spain. 2012. © Patrick Zachmann | Magnum Photos
Bruno Barbey Day of the dead celebrations in the cemetery. Manaus, Brazil. 1966. © Bruno Barbey | Magnum Photos

The Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos – or Day of the Dead – is a colorful and joyous celebration of the deceased through various festivities, where pre-Hispanic rituals combine with Catholicism. On the first two days of November, each year, this holiday is celebrated in Mexico and throughout other parts of Latin America, as well as by many of Mexican heritage around the world. Day of the Dead festival-goers believe death is no more than a natural part of life, and that the dead pass on to live in another realm, with their spirits temporarily returning to our world on this day.

The holiday encourages participants to exhibit joy for, and celebration of, those who have passed.  Altars adorned with ofrendas – offerings – are created for the deceased, with gifts ranging from flowers – often marigolds – to toys and alcohol. Grave sites are tidied and visited, food and drinks are served, music is played and parties are thrown. 2018 marks ten years since the Day of the Dead was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list.

Religion and cultural traditions have long-been imperative subjects for many Magnum photographers: Abbas maintained a lifelong interest in religion and photographed his travels through Mexico in the 1980s; Henri Cartier-Bresson’s early fascination with Surrealism saw him venture to Mexico in 1934, where he believed the avant-garde movement was most prominent, especially concentrated during the Day of the Dead festival; Patrick Zachmann’s career-long interest in diasporas as well as the practice of photographing color at night saw him photographing such festivities in Spain; while Martin Parr’s obsession with documenting cultural traditions and kitsch, seen here in his photos of the traditional candied day of the dead Calaveras skulls, led him to travel to Mexico in the early 2000s, where he covered the festivities.