Ever since I was 19, when my mother died, I’ve been fascinated by the different ways people grapple with spiritual questions about life, death and faith. But I was especially captivated by the parts of Mexico where Catholicism has fused with indigenous, pre-Hispanic beliefs — and where notions about the afterlife feature prominently in people’s daily lives. Here, locals worship the Virgin of Guadalupe (a dark-skinned, 16th-century apparition of the Virgin Mary) and the Pachamama (the earth mother) in the same rituals. The figure of Santa Muerte, or Holy Death, has millions of Catholic devotees as well, even though the church rejects her as a saint.

In 2015, I traveled from my home in Argentina to several Mexican states to photograph practices that professed to include magic, sorcery, shamans, santeras and people who said they’d encountered the devil. In Mexico City, my landlady’s aunt, María del Rosario, said she could communicate with the dead. Three months after I left, she called me to say that she’d spoken during the night to my deceased mother, describing her correctly as an “elegant, tall, thin white woman with tied brown hair.” She wasn’t looking for money or anything else; she simply told me my mother was on Earth, protecting me.

I am godless and unbelieving. When syncretist Mexicans told me about their experiences, I was skeptical. But for the first time in my life, this tale weakened the confidence of my beliefs. I began to have nightmares. I had come to chronicle other people’s outlooks, but suddenly my own cosmology was wavering. And I found my photography changing, too: My project had become a record of my uncertainty and fear. The pictures were no longer documentary and anthropological; they were also autobiographical — an effort to transcribe my confusion, to capture images seeking to describe that which has no words, to search for an answer that will never come.

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