Through the lens
Through the lens of Ana Paula Alvarez
On family, emotional landscapes, and the art of photography
Photos — Ana Paula Alvarez
Ana Paula Alvarez studied photography in Mexico City. She ended up worked in advertising agencies for a few years before finally diving into independent photography full time. Her main focus has been landscapes—predominantly of various sailing trips, a family tradition that started with her grandparents traveling along Mexico’s southern Pacific coast in the early 1970s. Her father introduced her to the art and techniques of photography when she was a child. But time and experience lead her to artistic-documentary photography as a narrative and storytelling technique that makes visible the aesthetic, social, and emotional intersections of humans and nature.
She became a certified yoga teacher in Bali, Indonesia, in 2019 and has integrated her physical and mental practice into the art of photography, linking both to her pursuit of focus and balance.
What sparked your interest in photography?
I became interested in photography when I discovered my parent’s huge stock of photo albums and home videos. I remember feeling as if I had found gold: that I could relive my family’s past life through paper and film was the spark. My father would bring his camera everywhere. He had every event organized in slide storage boxes by name and date. I remember staying up late looking at tons of images with his slide projector at home, completely amazed by how my parents were full of life, pursuing adventures, sailing the Pacific, always in constant movement and in contact with nature.
This made me realize that photography can be an opportunity to communicate and inspire others. I’m eternally thankful for having had this gift at home, for having seen these images, since they’ve had a huge influence on my life choices and the person I am today.
What do you love most about Mexico?
I’ve always had trouble answering this question because Mexico is a complex and very diverse country. It depends on the time and place; Mexico can be very welcoming and warm, as well as give you an incredibly hard time (especially Mexico City). Despite its extreme dualities (as most countries have), I do know that in essence Mexicans have an enormous heart and look after each other and constantly improve what needs fixing. Its rich land and wildlife have been important teachers in terms of expanding my mind and learning about how nature works, how there is a reason for everything.
No matter where I travel, I always think that I’m extremely lucky to be Mexican and to have grown up in a country that allows me to improvise in life, to be free to do what I love to do.
Is there a specific adventure or place that sticks with you?
I had the opportunity to visit Iceland in 2016. It’s the kind of place that I can’t describe in words; it was all extremely visual and introspective.
When I arrived at the airport, I noticed a phrase by Björk written somewhere that says “I feel emotional landscapes, they puzzle me.” It stuck in my head throughout the trip until at some point I understood what she meant and connected with the sentence. The landscapes are so exceptional that they become strong enough to touch and move you on a personal level; they grow inside you.
This trip is particularly special because at the time I was there, a strong earthquake hit central Mexico leaving many people dead, injured, and trapped under collapsed buildings. I saw the news online right after the emotional rush of coming out of a waterfall. The fact that I was lucky enough to be alive right then and there when this happened gave the whole trip a different purpose and perspective. I appreciated life even more, but continued on this trip with a broken heart. I encountered many feelings.
What do you seek to capture in the subjects you choose?
It has a lot to do with natural light, natural situations. I search for the beauty of things in their original state. I don’t feel comfortable changing (too much) about what I come across in order to improve the aesthetic. It’s the rawness and reality of life that I’m fascinated with. I like fiction and the freedom to explore other perceptions of reality, but I also think there should always be some foundation of fact behind the story.
I love observing people in action, doing what they love, especially when it’s in a natural environment. For example, sailors at sea: setting sail, pulling ropes, cooking indoors while moving with the waves, sleeping in tiny spaces—the details and struggles behind everything it takes for humans to survive in nature in order to reach their “goal.”
Nature brings people closer together, creating solid crews that can only get by if they work as a team and look after each other.
The universe speaks to us in these adventures. I try to grasp those messages in a more abstract style (like the flickering light above the surface of the ocean). It’s not only about framing an action or subject per se but also about how they’re affected by everything that surrounds them, how seasons and times of day have an effect. I can see how the story comes alive when this happens, and how this adds a kind of mystery and background meaning to things.
The whole search for the introspective side to photography, or the hidden messages, is something I’ve linked to my personal experience with the practice of yoga and how it revolves around finding our place in the universe. This practice has helped me define my vision of myself, from within and without, which continues to shape my purpose as a photographer.
How can photography on social media play a meaningful role in conserving wilderness?
Social media definitely revolutionized the word “share.” Images fit perfectly into this equation to spread perspectives to and open the minds of many people who still need to “see to believe.” Words are powerful, but images are still a more tangible way of showing the truth. This helps raise awareness of many issues on a global scale, as long as the content is on the right track of communicating facts.
This modern boom is also extremely questionable considering how reality is now extremely digitally altered thanks to editing programs or people just creating fake scenarios/situations. It can also create a lot of confusion and over-populate sacred places that have a domino effect with influencers revealing locations. Eventually tourism grows where it shouldn’t.
I think we should just try to be careful with what we want to say and how, and always speak the truth.
Are you involved in any cause or social initiative that you would like to tell us more about?
I make a monthly donation to Proyecto Habesha, which is a Mexican humanitarian organization that helps Syrian students whose studies have been interrupted by the country’s political conflicts be able to travel to Mexico and find new opportunities to finish their education. This program aspires to prepare them to go back to their country when the time comes and help reconstruct its future. Syria’s problems have had a lot of us extremely worried, especially since we don’t know how or where we can help. I found this program through a friend of mine and instantly started donating because it is a direct and secure way to help out. It involves a small amount of support from a personal point of view, but it represents a huge amount of support collectively speaking, which I’m sure is making a great impact..
Name 3 Instagram accounts that inspire you.
Tom Hegen’s aerial work: @tomhegens.de / I love his ability to frame motion, colour, and texture, which build a strong sense of personality and mood into his images. They definitely expand our perspective of what the earth looks and feels like from above.
Chiara Zonca: @shadowonfilm / Beyond words. She has a perfect way of expressing nature in a very magical way. A complete visual pleasure.
Antonio Gallardo @quetaladro / A friend of mine who has been a true inspiration with his cycling travels in so many amazing places. He has a well-curated feed of the people, nature, and stories he encounters. It is work like his that motivates me. Photography can take you as far as you want to take it.
Where to find Ana Paula
@anapaula__a / anapaulaalvarez.com
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