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Layers of Being Human: A Tribute to Mexican Culture and Día de Muertos


A month ago I had the opportunity to visit my friends and colleagues in beautiful Mexico. After two colorful and unforgettable weeks touring Mexico, I swore that I would create a “tribute” image when I got home, trying to instill some of the visuals and feelings of the Mexican culture into it.

I consider traveling for work to be both a curse and a blessing—damned be the hours spent away from my family and cozy little home, but it’s such a blessing to see the world and meet so many friends, new and old, during my travels. Often my trips have been a source of inspiration for my work, bringing to me visual images, techniques and traditions of a different world.

During the last days of the trip, I saw this Mexican Maya wall ornament (Circle of Life), which sparked an idea I then hazily sketched in my notebook at the airplane back to Finland.

The idea was to portray a woman with different aspects of her personality as layers, and use Día de Muertos-inspired Mexican Catrinas makeup to differentiate the layers. I saw it clearly in my head: a plain, naked, open person in the core, protected by the hidden dark side as well as flamboyant outside, like the mask we need to put up sometimes just to show everything is ok.

I put up a casting call for a model after the trip, trying to find the perfect dark-haired woman for the shoot. Through some recommendations, the model Ellakerttu saw my message and I think I casted her on the spot when I saw her picture—she was a perfect match for my vision.

All the flowers for the image were contributed by local flower shop Rosanna, and my dear friend Laura Puntila was our makeup artist. Believe it or not, she made all the headpieces and earrings and necklaces herself! The dress seen in the image was a handmade traditional dress I brought back from Mexico as a souvenir for my wife.

We shot the material needed for this image in a single day. Makeup and the photoshoot for three different looks took something like 5 hours in total, but seeing the RAW images in my computer, I was confident that this image would turn out just as I had imagined it.

So here it is… image is called Layers of Being Human. Thank you, Mexico! Hope I did justice to your amazing culture.

About the author: Antti Karppinen is a photographer, digital artist, and retoucher based in Finland. He is an internationally award-winning commercial and portrait photographer. You can find more of his work over on his website and blog. This article was also published here.