HomeInterviewAlejandro Cegarra: "I'm not going to be cruel to the camera"

Alejandro Cegarra: “I am not going to be cruel to the camera”

He began his professional career in Últimas Noticias. Today, his work is investigated by media in several countries around the world. His greatest training, she says, has been being born in Caracas.

Alejandro Cegarra had been working for two days on Últimas Noticias. It was 2012, she says, “and they paid me like nine thousand bucks. For my 21 years old that was a crazy luquero, hahahahaha. Then I discovered overtime and Pfff! "I almost didn't leave there."

But before that happened, it should be said that Alejandro became a photojournalist in this newspaper by chance.

Últimas Noticias I was looking for a photographer and the guy who was reviewing the resumes was ordered to look at a photographer who had a long career at the newspaper 2001. “Cegarra. Elixandro Cegarra, don't forget it."

But, here comes the but of the story, right above Elixandro's folder they had placed one that arrived that same day at the Human Resources department... that of Alejandro, our character. Then they called him for a job interview. “They thought I was Elixandro, from 2001… now it makes me laugh, but I told them the truth: I am Cegarra, but Alejandro, a high school student with no experience, and what I want is to learn to take photos,”

Someone must have been moved or perhaps the other Cegarra had already gotten another job, and since the little boy was already there, they decided to give him a month's trial. A month that turned into two years… The rest appears in his biography.

Getting started in the profession of writing Últimas Noticias.

Ale Cegarra (@alecegarra), as he is known professionally, has taken photos for major media outlets in America and Europe. Jobs that she carries out with professional solvency and a style cultivated in this nation of beaches, jungles and perpetual snow.

Not in vain has he obtained more than twenty international scholarships and awards. The most recent was in the world press photography contest: World Press Photo 2024, in the Long-Term Project of the Year category. A work titled “The Two Walls.”

For this project, which has occupied Alejandro since 2018, he got into the lives of the people who embark on the adventure of crossing the border from Mexico to the United States, from there he looks at them and makes us look at them. From the same seat, within the same river, through the same mudflats and deserts... dodging the same bullets.

—Alejandro, how nice to be able to talk to you and greet you… Congratulations!

—Thank you, crazy, thank you.

—I have a lot of questions here, let's see what comes up.

—Come on, I'm ready.

—Well… Alejandro, youHis photography delves into hard, difficult, often ignored topics. What do you think brought you closer to those themes?

—For a long time I have followed the work of Larry Towell [1953, Canadian photographer, poet and oral historian], a photographer who focuses on long-term projects, from the place where he lived. This has allowed him to be well within the daily dynamics. I say this, because the work that I have done arises in the places where I am and, in one way or another, I am part of those daily dynamics.

In that sense I would tell you, and speaking of the award-winning photos, that I am part of that group, of this migrant community. That led me to conceive the project, but, to answer the question, I would say that it is something that comes from within me, and that finds its reflection in others, in social dynamics or in the social problem.

—I understand that you have a social inclination, let's say, but in addition to Towell, who you already named, Do you have any other reference that inspires or drives you?

-Yes of course! I always look at the old school, the references with which I have grown up. I trained by watching the photographs of Sebastião Salgado, Larry Towell, Stanley Green, Eugene Richards, who was one of my favorites. I'm mentioning photographers much older than me. But, personally, I always felt referenced by Larry Towell's work. Then there is a reference, I would say, more from my time. A colleague. His name is John Moore [1967, American photographer. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2005, for the photo of a two-year-old girl crying in front of a Border Patrol]. I met him on the border between Mexico and the US. I was shocked. Imagine! I was next to a colleague I admire. And he turned out to be a humble, kind guy, who helps the people around him. He became a reference for me, not only as a photographer, but as a person.

—Speaking of references, I'll cite one, let's see. In the song “I am not a stranger”, Charly García says “I know this city, it's not like in the newspapers, from there”. Alejandro, you don't stay far away, you get into the story, with your feet, your nails, haven't you ever felt like you are invading the privacy of the people you photograph?

—There is an issue that always, always worries me and that is how far we photographers are allowed to go. For me, that point is as far as they allow me. While I work in difficult situations, like with migrants, I never get angry. I always ask: Can I accompany you? Can I sit with you? Can I ask you a couple of questions? Can I take this photo of you, a portrait while I accompany you? Then I explain to them: You tell me how far you want to talk. Behind my photos there was always an agreement. Look Ernesto, for me it has always been a privilege that a person lets you enter their life at a time like this. Even if it's five minutes or a couple of kilometers.

“I don't like to impose myself with the camera.”

Let's see, I don't like to impose myself with the camera because, this is not supposed to be said by a photographer, but I don't really like the camera as an object. I'm not attracted to her, I don't think she's pretty. It is a “something” that, at times, can hinder my photographic actions. Ironic! I know, because it is precisely what allows me to take the photo. But for me it is a heavy thing, somewhat annoying to carry, and that wobbles and sticks with all its might. I go until the moment when they tell me: no, or until the situation extinguishes itself. You have to understand the subtleties.

—You say subtleties, details, and one of those phrases that come from popular wisdom comes to mind. The one that says “the devil is in the details”. I mention the phrase because I think about that important part of your work that is not seen. An adventure on that border will surely throw you into an abyss of things that you cannot control (drinking water, getting a bathroom, etc.) How long did it take you to learn to move in those scenarios?

—Get this. I think there is something that needs to be demystified about photographers. It is believed that we sleep on the street, that we are as if without support. In my case, wherever I work, I always return to a hotel. Among other things, due to security regulations imposed by the newspapers I work for. It is something that they make clear to you from the beginning: you go and sleep in a hotel. Now, the quality of the hotels is for another conversation. There are hotels where you can't sleep for a minute. In Mexico, the issue of encountering “the drug trafficker” is always a concern. You go to those places knowing that you shouldn't bother or get in the way.

—You have just touched on a very delicate issue in Mexico, the drug trafficker “does not play tricks,” but there is something that I believe applies to other professions… No photography school prepared you for a scenario like the border between Mexico and the United States, right?

-I agree with you. But now that I think about it, my first training was growing up in Caracas where I learned not to be a fool. That was my first training. Nothing gives you a better Sixth Sense, than having been born in Caracas. The second thing was, from a very young age, learning to solve. Roberto Mata said it to me a lot: A photographer is a person who solves, who solves problems.… Because if you want to be at a certain point at 6 in the morning, you have to think about what problems you have to solve to be there: what time do you get up, where are you going to have breakfast, if it's hot or cold, if there's dust . Another lesson, perhaps the most unforgettable, was when I had my first job in Últimas Noticias. I was brand new. One of my first days working, my editor, who was Iván González, approached me and said: Just so you know, I post photos, I don't post excuses.. Since then, every time I think I can't do a job, I remember Iván.

—Alejandro, is there anything about your work that obsesses you?

—At the beginning of my career I was obsessed with discovering how to start the story I wanted to tell. When I met photographers, correspondents, I never asked them about their cameras, or the framing, but rather how did you get to the middle of nowhere in the Amazon. Who brought you? Some gave me answers like: I took a plane, then a motorcycle, then a boat. But I wanted the details of each place... Well, later I realized that it also happens that you never know what you are going to find and you have to improvise.

“In this job, your life is risked.”

—That idea of ​​improvising is what always breaks down the rigidity of a production that does not take into account unforeseen events, right? and there must be many when you undertake a journey like the one that takes you from Central America to the United States. There it is risk your life, that's what they say. At any point during that journey on both sides of the border, did you feel afraid for your life or is that just a story?

—You know, the thing is that I am very clear about this matter. I know that your life is at risk. But I feel like a photographer who is very careful, I know what I'm getting myself into, especially here in Mexico. I always repeat to myself, I don't want to pay the hazing of meeting the drug dealer face to face. My work has been successful, to the extent that I tell the stories, avoiding drug traffickers, which is the big problem in this country. When you arrive at strange, ugly places, you must keep in mind the issue of your safety. It's not just about entering, but you have to leave there with the photo. So it's not all a story, Ernesto.

—To take a series of photos, like these ones with which you won the WDo you make a great production or do you throw yourself into the ring in the “as it happens, let's see” style?

There is a bit of both. In this case of the series “the two walls”, I imagined the title of the project, and in my head everything made sense. I imagined that I was going to find many people stuck on the wall, or desperate, tired people. Afterwards, it is true that I did not know what photos were going to appear, but I had a clear idea like a blackboard. Because regardless of everything, I know that stories must be supported by current, verifiable events, and not just show the sentimental part.

Finally, once you arrive at the site, something I call “free drawing” begins for me, a kind of improvisation work.

—Your award-winning photographic series is titled “The two walls.” What is that second wall that migrants face?

—Ah, well, the first wall is the one that we already have in our memory, in the popular imagination: the wall of the United States that we have seen in a thousand movies. The other wall is south of Mexico, on the border with Guatemala. An important point for Mexico because it is a highly militarized area. The hardest part of that other wall is the administrative part. To obtain a visa, a residence for humanitarian reasons, is a super cumbersome, very difficult process that lasts many months. You are not allowed to leave the town, you cannot continue advancing, you cannot work legally, you do not have the right to many things. There you are a third-class citizen, a straggler. For me, that is the second wall, the one that uses physical force and bureaucracy to stop you, to try to break you psychologically, so that you decide to stop moving forward.

"I'm not going to be cruel to the camera".

-AND Watching that journey of others, as a spectator, puts you in a complicated situation, don't you feel that it can be something cruel?

—Yes, I have thought that it could be something cruel, and that issue is a very current conversation in the world of photojournalism. For me, the way to avoid it is not to forget one of my mantras, which says: I'm not going to be cruel to the camera. I try to think if the person photographed would like to see themselves portrayed like this. I don't like to show them in a negative light, desperate with an unbearable amount of pain. I'm not going to take that photo! I tell myself, even if I have it from the front. I do not take photos of fainted people, nor of others who are being resuscitated, nor in full physical pain. I don't do them because I decided that I wasn't going to be cruel to the camera, because I don't want to be a vulture. From the beginning I have been clear that I wanted to show humanity. There is a particular photo in the series, that of a couple who fell in love during the migration trip. A Venezuelan (Ruben Soto), and a Honduran (Rosa Bello). When I saw the image I felt that we have all been in love, and we have all seen someone or been seen with those same eyes. In an image like this, anyone can feel represented, and from that positive feeling, I was able to reach out to others with more empathy.

Rosa Bello and Rubén Soto, in love on the road, photographed by Alejandro Ceagarra.

—And hasn't it happened to you that that high exposure to drama, do you become desensitized?, as happens to event journalists, for example...

—That has always bothered me. I have never achieved that level of desensitization, perhaps because I am the son of my mother, Elinor Zamora, who has always put humanity first. I could never put a wall with the other. I understand that some people do it for self-preservation, but I couldn't. I preferred to opt for self-preservation in therapy, and I tried that there, rather than being cold toward people who are suffering.

—With that journey you have, I would like to know How has being a correspondent in large, sometimes complicated events marked your career?

—It is an honor to be able to say “I was there. In the middle of that event that the world was watching.” For example, I went to cover Fidel Castro's funeral in Cuba. I was photographing for him The Washington Post, it was my first assignment abroad, and one feels honored, one feels part of humanity. Let's see, I'm small, but you feel part of something bigger, and that is a difficult feeling to express to people who are not journalists, or are not correspondents.

Did any part of this photography project prove to be harder?

—When I heard, for the first time, the Venezuelan accent. I was walking in a migrant march and someone spoke next to me, and I suddenly picked up the Maracucho accent, and instinctively said: Shame! Finding Venezuelan people, on that Central American migrant route, made my project become more personal.

I change the subject, Alejandro, are you one of those who always carries a camera with you?

—No boy! If I'm not working I don't have cameras with me. Never! never. That produces mental fatigue. It would be very exhausting. It's like expecting a jazz musician to carry his trumpet everywhere. Being a photographer is not about carrying the camera all the time. Apart from that I like to nourish myself with many things. I consume a lot of new music. I once read that people stop listening to new music after 30, and I decided not to be that person. I watch current and old movies. I read a lot, I watch series, I go to museums, I see a lot of contemporary art, and all of that sits in the back of my head. And suddenly! When you are working, a scene from a movie that you really liked appears, a specific frame, a frame. In short, I am always feeding my photographic work, but I am not always photographing.

—Finally, what is the importance…

—Come on boy! There is another thing I want to add. I have a lifelong hobby: video games. At 34 years old, I still play video games, and I'm a video game nerd. My wife sometimes tells me: there are people who must think you are terribly cool, un rockstar, and when you get home you can sit for four hours playing video games. It's true! I know the entire history of the video game. Because the storytelling modern video games, and even the artistic direction, make some as impactful as a movie. There are things that I take away that are visual references of stories that I have been able to apply in real life. Also, I am a huge fan, does that word exist? well that, from Formula 1 and I find a lot of inspiration in the drivers. I'm not a pilot! Nor an athlete. I'm also not competing against any colleagues. I like it, yes, the determination that a high-level athlete can have is something that motivates me to try to be the photographer I want to be.

—I'll finish with this question. It's the second time you've won in the W What importance do you give to this award?

—When I received the email with the notification (they notified me on February 28 and announced it on April 2) I felt that it was something big in my professional life. The first time I won it, I felt that it was a validation of my determination, by not giving up, and I felt that I had fulfilled, in one way or another, the task that fell to me. This time I had many doubts. I doubted if I could be as much of a photographer as I was in Venezuela. At times, I had the feeling of being a fake. Once I left Venezuela I had to test myself with very experienced photographers who come to Mexico. Sometimes I felt like I wasn't making it, the important media no longer called me... But when World Press Photo arrived, a weight was lifted from my shoulders. I took off the weight of self-demand, and it was a feeling that led me to trust more in my work and experience.

—Ready Alejandro, thank you very much…and congratulations again.

—Go for it!


Ernesto J. Navarro is a journalist and writer, author of three collections of poems and the novel Puerto Nuevo. Winner of the 2015 National Journalism Award. RRSS: @ernestojnavarro

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