Photographer Scott Umstattd Presents Pictures of Aztec Dancers to Americus-Sumter County Arts Council

Published 8:09 am Friday, September 1, 2023

Images of dancers with halos of feathers and elaborate face paint flashed across the wall of Sweat Georgia Bakery, a projector temporarily transporting the watchers gathered from the Americus-Sumter County Arts Council thousands of miles away.
Photographer Scott Umstattd told how he first began photographing Aztec dancers in San Miguel, Mexico.
“My wife and I worked at Habitat for Humanity living here in Americus. She figured out how we could work online. We were traveling the world, living wherever we wanted to live.”
“We went to San Miguel, we were going to spend a year there, maybe even a month. Same way Americus sucked me in, San Miguel sucked in Faith and I and we never left.”
Mr. Umstattd talked about what it was like filming people mid-dance.
“It’s like sports photography.”
He pointed to a dancer. “The reason why her headdress is in front of her face, she was dancing in front of me, and it just fell.”
He described the difficulty of capturing a few shots after thousands of photos.
“Most of them don’t work out.”
Eventually he came to meet the dancers he was photographing.
“These are photos taken from the sidewalk during parades in town. San Miguel is a tourist town, so it has a lot of parades, a lot of culture. Two years ago, I had a meeting with the director of culture and traditions in San Miguel.
All I took to that meeting was my cellphone and some of these photos. He said come back in three weeks, ‘I want you to meet some dancers.’ I printed these books to have something to show and tell with.”
He pointed to a respected cultural authority and head dancer in one of the books.
“General Manuel Cabrera, the first photo in the book, he blessed the project. At the time, I didn’t have a project. What I wanted from the city was access, have a badge and walk in the parade and get off the sidewalk. At that meeting with General Cabrera and some other leaders, there was a whole blessing of the project that didn’t quite exist, so I made this into a project.”
He described similarities between the community in San Miguel and Americus.
“There is a good energy in San Miguel and there is a good energy in Americus as well. I’m working with the city and General Cabrera to tell their story. They are going to take this booklet and they are going to add words. There’s no context to anything, it’s just the photos. I don’t want to be the one to describe their tradition and their history, they need to do that.”
He talked about how the dance was a means to preserve Aztec culture after the coming of the Catholic Church.
“They’re here, they’re not going anywhere. So if we want, we could fight with them, or we find a way for everybody [to] work together.”
He expressed his admiration for how the dance allowed them to continue to preserve their history without violence.
“It’s an acceptance of what is.”
He talked about his plans to continue the project.
“We have a plan in place to have an exhibition in March in San Miguel.”
He talked more about General Cabrera and how his influence had allowed him to continue.
“General Cabrera is recognized throughout Mexico by the Mexican federal government, and he’s recognized in the United States as well.”
Now, that influence has allowed Mr. Umstattd to partner with the dancers as they continue to preserve their culture.
“General Cabrera has opened up doors as far as my photography.”
He mentioned the wide response to his photography by the dancers.
“They want people to see what they are doing.”