The Isthmus Look

Thrums author and photographer Eric Mindling took a break from his busy days as “Head Honcho” of Traditions Mexico in Oaxaca to share this story with us. Thanks, Eric!

In 2014 when I first began the photography for my book, Oaxaca Stories in Cloth, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec was on the shortlist of regions I wanted to visit. The regional fashion is undeniably alluring, made of satin and velvet, delicately hand-stitched floral designs, abundant lace, gold, beribboned floral hair arrangements, long sweeping skirts, silk scarves. And all of this elegant clothing, a mixture of indigenous style and Victorian era influences, is the wardrobe of Zapotec women who are renowned in Mexico for being strong. They are not concerned with being lean and lithe, they are concerned with being voluptuous. They are merchants, dance readily, and hold their own with a case of beer.

Photo by Eric Mindling

Artists, authors and poets have long been taken by the culture of the Isthmus. Diego Rivera came through. One of Mexico’s most famous presidents, Porfirio Díaz, amended the course of the Trans-Istmo railway to pass by the front door of his powerful lover, Juana Catalina Romero, in the town of Tehuantepec. Famous Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias fell in love with the Isthmus and wrote a beautifully illustrated book about it called Mexican South. Frida Kahlo’s mother was from here and her style was heavily inspired by the fashion of the Isthmus.

Frida Kahlo’s mother Matilde Calderón, circled in this photo displayed in Frida Kahlo’s house (Casa Azul). The women are dressed in a mixture of Victorian era finery and Isthmus of Tehuantepec elegance.

So I was not the first to head to the Isthmus with artistic sugar plums dancing through my head. Like those who have visited before, I was not disappointed.

 For two years I traveled throughout Oaxaca photographing women (and a few men) in their community fashion for Oaxaca Stories in Cloth. Village after village, region after region. In one after another place I was photographing people who weren’t very accustomed to being photographed, and people who, in general, didn’t overly enjoy the process. Though not often directly stated, “are you done yet” was conveyed in body language with some frequency. It wasn’t an unwillingness, it was more like an enough is enough-ness.

Me hard at work in Tehuantepec.

This was not the case in the Isthmus. Not even close. My favorite quote, after photographing a woman for half an hour and calling it a wrap was a disappointed “you’re done already?” The women of the Isthmus did not tire of being photographed. They thrived in front of the lens. They enjoy their identity, their story of beauty, their unique, outspoken and so proudly worn culture.

They made my job easy. I want to share some of those images here. May they be easy on your eyes…

-Eric Mindling


These are all unpublished photos from the Oaxaca Stories in Cloth photo documentary work. For some truly gorgeous, published images, turn the pages of Oaxaca Stories in Cloth, your eyes won’t be disappointed.

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