Even though Alejandra Rajal was always interested in visual images and photography, that’s not how she began her career. She studied near her hometown of Puebla, Mexico, and started working in advertising, focusing on visual communication and design. Then, three years ago, she saw an opportunity to attend a documentary photography workshop in Quito, Ecuador, that was hosted by the Native Agency and supported by the IWMF. She applied.
Before that, it had been difficult to conceive of something like photojournalism as a full-time career. “I always knew I wanted to be a photographer, but I was a bit scared because in Mexico that’s not considered a profession,” Rajal says.
Even though it wasn’t part of her job, Rajal had already been pursuing her own documentary photography projects when she applied to attend the workshop, including a series called Cultus that examined the diversity of faith within Catholicism. For the series, she followed a man who undertook a pilgrimage to the Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City, traveling there from Puebla during a 12-hour trip through the night.
When she was accepted to the workshop in Quito, Rajal says she felt like she experienced a catalyzing moment that allowed her to think more seriously about documentary photography as a profession. “I feel [that] was my breakthrough point, where I could start to meet people and understand how everything works, and get the confidence to keep doing it,” Rajal says.
In the three years since she attended the workshop and made the pivot from advertising to documentary photography, Rajal has honed her style. When she started, she focused primarily on developing her technique, although she retained some of the elements of advertising that are driven by aesthetic and composition. At the same time, she has shifted her focus to think about building a narrative through her series and capturing natural moments.
“It has been a good challenge because it has made me more aware of how the world moves, and how to approach it,” Rajal says. “But it has changed in the sense that I need to learn how to tell the stories better because it’s not just a good photo but you also have to tell a story with the photos that you’re taking.”