Alejandra López-Zaballa enjoys bringing cultures together

The Spanish photographer believes that places "stay with us in our eyes, skin and memories, but we also make an imprint upon the places we go to with our own emotions and energy."

"Thousands of hopes" was taken at the Kumbh Mela festival at Allahabad, in northeast India. (Photo: Courtesy of Alejandra López-Zaballa (c) 2013 )
English 13/04/2016 11:15 Actualizada 10:58

By Giselle Rodríguez

Alejandra López-Zaballa is a Spanish photographer that moved almost three years ago to Mexico City. She has lived in 9 countries, visited over 60 and shown her work in three continents. 

But it was her photograph: "Thousands of hopes" taken at the Kumbh Mela festival at Allahabad, in northeast India, at the confluence of two sacred rivers: Ganges and Yamuna, that caught my eye at her recent exhibition "Places" at the Alliance Française in Mexico City.

"Very early in the morning, before the sunrise, many pilgrims start bathing in the holy Ganges. Feeling the mixed energies of so many people gathered there with the intention of cleansing their souls of sin and also witnessing this generational transmission of values was a life-changing experience," she said about the Hindu festival -the world's largest congregation of religious pilgrims with 30 million participants in one day- along with the Hajj to Mecca and the day of the Guadalupe virgin at Mexico City's Basilica.  

Since this festival happens at this place every 12 years only (the photograph was taken in February 2013), "I thought it was something worth photographing. Hindus believe that thousands of years ago Vishnu spilled three drops of the elixir of eternal life, and one of the places where one of them ended was this spot."

At her studio in Roma neighborhood she also showed me another photograph that she took at the end of that trip: a woman at the doorstep of a poor house in India dressed in a purple and golden saree with floral patterns and neatly polished toenails.

"I loved the mystery in this photo because you can just see her slim covered figure and the tip of her nose, but you don't know for sure if she is opening or closing the door. To me this trip was the end of a cycle and the beginning of a new one, among other things because it helped me overcome certain prejudices about religions that we are not really familiarized with."

In Alejandra's words we "are born, grow, live and die in places that take us in and surround us, sharing with us the experience of living. Our life is finite while theirs is endless, places witness infinite lives come and go, stay or pass by. Places watch us and humbly unfurl before us their smells, colors, textures and emotions. Travelers and visitors are the receivers of this constant flow of experiences that define the character of each place, experiencing the energy treasured by them in the process."

The Spanish photographer also believes that places "stay with us in our eyes, skin and memories, but we also make an imprint upon the places we go to with own emotions and energy that end up merging with their own infinite flow of existence."

It was in this context that I asked her what was her impression about Mexico's energy, to which she replied:

"As I moved from Thailand to Mexico the first thing that struck me was the similarities shared by the two countries, even though one of them is in Latin America and the other one in Asia. The entrepreneurial spirit of people, spicy food, kindness. The moment I landed at Benito Juárez international airport I said to myself: 'oh, this feels like home,'" Alejandra said about the country where she is currently residing and working as an art photographer and photography teacher.

For her Asia is a very mystical continent, Europe is the continent of social causes, Africa is the place where everything remains to be done and the Americas is the continent of entrepreneurship. Also "Mexico has a very interesting cultural mix, and that is something we share in common because Spain was also conquered, by Moors, Romans, Greeks, Phoenicians and Celts." 

Alejandra believes that photography, like the rest of the arts, has the power of transforming people and making them be more aware of the common features that we share as humans instead of the things that set us apart. That is why she does not believe in the idea of building walls to divide people, as Republican hopeful Donald Trump has proposed to do at the U.S.-Mexico border.

About the energy of the U.S. as a country, she said that was a question very hard to answer because, to her, the United States does not even feel like one single country, as the people from New York or the coasts are quite different from those that live in the Bible Belt, just to name one example.

Apart from using photography to tell stories and portray beauty, Alejandra also enjoys giving voice to those forgotten by society through it, such as orphans and retirement homes, particularly in a poor Mexican state like Oaxaca. For this reason she turned her lens to tell their story in an exhibition called "Beginning and end", open at the Cultural Center of Spain (Guatemala No. 18, Centro) in Mexico until May 14. Part of the photography sales will be donated to the children and elders staying at the institutions that she photographed.

López-Zaballa is specialized in documentary and travel photography. She studied at the London School of Photography and the International Center of Photography of New York. One of her mentors was Mary Ellen Mark, who received the 2014 Lifetime Achievement in Photography Award from the George Eastman House as well as the Outstanding Contribution Photography Award from the World Photography Organization.

She has also studied with Peter Turnley and Karl Grobl. Before becoming a photographer Alejandra worked for 15 years as human resource specialist, manager and director at American and British multinational firms. 

"All my life I have loved photography and its power to communicate about our lives and the world around us."

For info contact her at www.alejandra-photography.com or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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