PDN Photo of the Day

Documenting Alien Believers in Ecuador

This spring, the City Museum of Quito hosted an exhibition about spirituality in the city, based on the work of students and teachers at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito. The show examined the diverse spiritual and religious practices in the Ecuadorian capital, and assigned several photographers to cover different topics. Alejo Reinoso, a Quito-based photojournalist, photographed Mission Rahma, a group of alien enthusiasts with ties to ‘extraterrestrial contactee’ Sixto Paz Wells. Rather than taking a straightforward documentarian approach, Reinoso’s images are subjective and impressionistic, describing the otherworldly feeling of the group rather than showing its routine meetings.

“During the project we had total independence in the way we planned to approach the photography, the image,” says Reinoso in an email interview with PDN. He approached Mission Rahma members before he began shooting in an attempt to establish a relationship with his subjects, but was told that “the meetings had to be with a student or teacher from the University,” he says. With that restriction, “I started to get nervous about [building] intimacy with the subjects to get some close pictures that tell [something] sincere about them.” But after taking a workshop with artist and photojournalist Cristina De Middel “I started to think about the thin line between documentary and fiction,” says Reinoso. The workshop “reshaped that vision and my interests,” he says, leading to a less literal approach to his shoots with Mission Rahma, which included a meeting in a hotel where Wells gave a lecture, and an evening of meditation in a park in the city.

At the lecture, rather than focusing on the participants, Reinos decided to imagine the hotel as a spaceship and record suggestive details, such as a wall sconce shaped like a UFO. But he regrets not photographing Wells himself. “He was wearing a suit and tie, and I never imagined a Rahma leader like that, so I didn’t wait to the end of the lecture to make a portrait of him.”

At the meditation session in the park, “I planned to give a supernatural look to the pictures, evoking the color of the Manasic sun—a concept I’d learned in the lecture [at the hotel],” says Reinoso. “I picked some red transparent paper (papel celofán, in Spanish) and a flashlight, and started to play with the paper covering the light and covering the lens of the camera.” He explained his plans to the Mission Rahma members, who were cooperative. “They were open-minded and generous with telling me some personal experiences…Some of them wanted their faces shown in the pictures, most of them didn’t have issues with that, so I felt I was working in a friendly space.” The results are surreal, red-cast images that suggest the heightened internal state of his subjects.

Reinoso’s work with Mission Rahma has had a lasting effect—it inspired him to create an Instagram account for Claxo M., an imagined alien visitor to our planet who posts grainy, filtered images of empty spaces and shadowy figures. “Rahma led me to start shooting that project, because I got interested in the group’s faith and philosophy, not as a follower but as a curious beholder,” says Reinoso. “I created this character, Claxo M., in a subjective narrative that suggests a visitor among us. Now that I know more about their leader, Sixto Paz Wells, I take into consideration that a visitor also can wear a suit and a tie.”

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