Daniel Ochoa de Olza is a Spanish photographer who works for a news agency in Madrid. These photographs document the feast of Las Mayas in the small town of Colmenar Viejo, which happens every year at the beginning of May.
I was born in Pamplona and studied in Barcelona. Neither place has a deep connection to central Spain and when I moved to Madrid, I realised I was in my country, in the capital, but I felt a bit like an outsider. I got more and more interested in rituals and traditions.
When you start digging, you realise there are super small, super interesting ones. In Spain we have some traditions that are brutal and cruel, and some like this that are really tender.
It’s a different way of telling the story of your country – here in the 21st Century, in the heart of Europe you have these traditions coming from 500, 1,000 or 2,000 years ago.
The families of the village gather one month before to choose which girls will be La Mayas. There are only four or five every year. In the morning they go to pick wild flowers and each family builds its own altar. They make up the girl, dress them in this special way and she sits there for two hours.
There are four or five spots in the village – in the main square and the streets. It’s a bit weird that you leave a bar and find a Maya. There are also ten little girls dressed in white, with flowers in their hair, sitting under the altar with a little brush. They want to brush your clothes and ask for a tip for La Maya.
There are bands playing music for each Maya so they don’t get bored. Then they all gather and they go to the church for Mass with their families. It’s complicated because it’s not a religious ceremony; it’s just to welcome the spring but there is no patron saint or anything.
Sometimes you just need to show what is in front of the camera. It’s like cooking with really good ingredients – if you make too many sauces, you lose the taste. I thought by framing the pictures in this way it would make it a bit surreal, like a dream. People would wonder what is going on. I am more interested in pictures that ask questions than pictures that give answers.
What is going on here? Why is she so serious? It’s the relationship we have with flowers, with nature, with the blooming of the spring in many ways.
I will keep going to as many traditions as I can. I am not only interested in breaking news that will be thrown away in a week. There are ways of telling stories that will last longer, and when you look back at Spain in 20 years, by looking at what we were doing now, we will understand better where we are going in the future.
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