This story appears in the November 2016 issue of National Geographic magazine.
I always want to know what goes on backstage. Whether I’m photographing baseball or ballet, I like to peek behind the curtain and see what people’s lives are really like. So when I got a grant to spend three years documenting Roman Catholic nuns cloistered in Mexican monasteries, I jumped at the chance.
In Puebla, Mexico, where I grew up, some Catholic churches are more than 400 years old. The first sisters here helped the Spanish spread Catholicism in Mexico. But many of the nuns stay secluded in their convents, forbidden to engage with the world. When I was a kid they seemed like legends to me.
Gaining access to their world wasn’t easy. When I’d knock on a convent door, they’d tell me to go away—then slam the door in my face. But I was stubborn and persistent, and eventually they let me in.
When I asked the nuns why they’d taken their vows, some told me they’d received a calling. Others said they wanted to avoid marriage. And then there were two sisters who used to play in a rock band—they became nuns to find spiritual meaning.
Each morning I’d start my day when they did—at 4:30. Their devotional singing was my alarm clock. Then I’d shadow them as they did their daily prayers and chores, washing and cleaning and cooking.
I soon learned that they have fun. They laugh and dance, play cards and games. They listen to rock-and-roll. One nun I met is a big soccer fan. She’d watch TV and follow the teams she liked, praying for the players and jumping for joy when they won.
My aim with this series is to show the daily lives of people whose seclusion makes them invisible. I want everyone to see how alive they are, how human and feminine. Maybe one day their centuries-old way of life will be extinct. But it’s not yet.