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The faithful frame of the everyday

Monday, 02 June 2014 18:21 Written by Angélica Abelleyra    
She was fascinated by the moving images of the cinema. However, still photography flows through her veins, as her paternal grandfather was a portraitist in Tlaxcala and her father enjoyed taking slides of family gatherings. With this legacy Ángeles Torrejón (DF, 1963) became used to cameras from a young age and learnt how to avoid chopping off the heads or feet of her subjects. She pursued her interest in the still image, moved into photojournalism  and then took her time to acquire a slow, attentive gaze and capture the lives of women and children in the mountains of Puebla and the rainforest of Chiapas.

She studied Communication at the Xochimilco campus of the Autonomous University of Mexico, believing that this would enable to enter the world of cinema. This was not the case, although her attachment to images remained. She was working as an editor of the newspaper Tiempo de Niños when she met the team of photographers at the new agency Imagen Latina, Pedro Valtierra, Andrés Garay, Marco Antonio Cruz and others who gave her child-related graphic material. After graduating she joined the agency in an administrative function, became Cruz’s partner and plunged into photography.

With a camera given to her by her mother, she left her desk to produce portraits of public and anonymous figures in the House of Representatives, at political marches and banquets. With a great deal of intuition compensating for her lack of laboratory study, journalism provided her with a dose of adrenaline and pleasure to capture the perfect moment in an episode in Mexico’s history. She became fascinated with the world of images, first in the agency then at La Jornada and Proceso.

Later, after a year working at La Jornada, she returned to Imagen Latina. There, she changed her focus, from everyday visual reporting to producing more long-term photography, through essays and reporting. She began in the northern mountains of Puebla, in Pahuatlán, and soon derived great pleasure from establishing a relationship with the subjects of her portraits, returning regularly to the communities and improving her work whenever she perceived faults in it.

It was with this new research-based focus that she produced her portraits of women and children. She sought women in natural settings, at parades and sessions of the chamber, and would go to the sewing factories and produce portraits of compulsive smokers. Chiapas was a great leap forward for her. She was frustrated by not having witnessed the events of the Lacandón rainforest in the wake of the Zapatista insurrection, so after the Discussions of San Andrés she said: “Now I will go there”. With a simple, clear approach, and despite the desperate attempts by her photographer colleagues at San Cristóbal to dissuade her, she accepted the offer of a borrowed truck and drove into the Lacandona. That same afternoon, and against all odds, Sub commander Marcos accepted her project, to produce portraits of the everyday life of Zapatista women, both soldiers and sympathizers. Everyone assumed that she would only be there for three days, but she spent a month there and then returned several times a year between 1994 and 2000.

She was patient and did not take out her camera immediately. She had learnt from Nacho López and Mariana Yampolsky that a photographer must first become familiar with communities without taking pictures, so that the camera is not regarded as an intrusion. She therefore bathed with the women in the river, slept in their hammocks and chatted at length, until the camera was a part of herself and the Zapatistas. Then, every time she returned to the jungle, she held an exhibition, stretching out a rope and hanging the images using clothing pegs.

Text originally published in La Jornada Semanal (October 10, 2004).
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