AP Latin America desk photo editor Leslie Mazoch reflects on career covering the region

  • By
  • November 29, 2016

By Sarah Jasmine Montgomery*

In 2001, American photojournalist Leslie Mazoch landed her dream job at the Associated Press (AP), one of the most well-known, international wire services. She moved to Venezuela to begin her career where for the next six years she would photograph financial, political and social issues in the Latin American country.

Fifteen years later, she now works as a supervising photo editor in Mexico City, AP headquarters for the Latin America and Caribbean region. Throughout her long career, which began at The University of Texas at Austin, Mazoch has traveled across the borders of Latin America to create hundreds of memorable and award-winning images for AP and personal projects.

“As a UT freshman, I chose Spanish as my language requirement, and knew that choice would steer me to Latin America,” Mazoch said. “Growing up in a border state, Texas, Castellano was the most practical foreign language to learn.”

While studying at the University of Texas at Austin, Mazoch began working as a photographer at the college newspaper, The Daily Texan. After graduating in journalism, she began a job as a photographer for The Brownsville Herald, a local newspaper located near the Texas-Mexico border.

“It was the closest I could get myself to Latin America directly out of college,” Mazoch said. “I wish I had stayed longer than just one and a half years, to gain more experience and learn more about the people there.”

Mazoch fell in love with photography as a teenager and, to her, AP photographers represented the best in the field. With the decline of foreign bureaus at newspapers, AP presented a good opportunity to travel and be placed in a position abroad.

 Fireworks explode from a contraption decorated with a bull sculpture, as a man runs around with it through the crowd during Semana Santa celebrations in Oaxaca, Mexico, Sunday, April 12, 2009. (Photo by Leslie Mazoch)

“I looked up to AP photographers because they were the cream of the crop of photojournalism,” Mazoch said. “It was my dream to work for AP, specifically in Latin America. I wanted to actually use my Spanish and explore new places.”

She landed her first position with the AP in Venezuela, but the learning curve that followed proved to be a big challenge. Even though she studied Spanish in college, she wasn’t fluent. Mazoch went from working at a small newspaper on the border to being responsible for the coverage of an entirely unfamiliar country.

“It took time to get my bearings. This is naturally part of exploring new places, but I was not a tourist and needed to hit the ground running,” Mazoch said. “Luckily, when working for a news cooperative, one joins a team of seasoned journalists to learn from.”

Mazoch also adjusted to a 24-hour news cycle. She never waited to be given assignments. Instead Mazoch tuned into TV and radio news constantly, and made sure she was always available at all times for breaking stories.

“There is no "off" time or work schedules, like at a U.S. paper,” Mazoch said. “For example, one night just as I'm getting ready to sleep, a TV news channel announced a car bomb had just killed a man likely to be a well-known public prosecutor. I grabbed my equipment and got a cab to the scene.”

 Alexandra Braun, a beauty pageant candidate representing Nueva Esparta state, or Margarita Island, prepares her make-up during practice sessions, days before the Miss Venezuela pageant in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2005. (Photo by Leslie Mazoch/AP)

In 2007, Mazoch decided to leave her dream job to take on a new position as an AP photo editor at the Latin America and Caribbean photo desk in Mexico City. She initially joined a small team of editors, but is now supervising editor. The photojournalist went from dealing with one foreign country to dozens.

Transitioning from a photojournalist to a photo editor, Mazoch discovered the escaramuzas: female horse riding teams in Mexico who mounted the horse’s sidesaddle while wearing dresses.

“I'm drawn to subjects that surprise me and others I can learn from. They are projects that let me work on them long-term,” Mazoch said. “For example, with the escaramuza project, I was drawn in by their old-world riding style.”

The escaramuza project presented Mazoch with an opportunity that she had never before experienced as a photojournalist: unlimited time. Unlike the photo assignments she worked on in Venezuela, Mazoch had no due date, no one to turn the photos into and no immediate critique of her work.

In a blog post about the project, Mazoch wrote, “My experiences as a photographer became private. I turned inward, both photographically and psychologically.”

Mazoch took about five years to complete her photo package on the Mexican escaramuzas, which included an audio slideshow in addition to the photos. The project won two awards from National Press Photography Association, Mazoch’s first in her career.

The use of audiovisual storytelling is something Mazoch has incorporated into several of her projects.

 Amazon riders compete in sidesaddles during the escaramuza event of a charreada in Mexico City, Saturday, April 4, 2009. The all-female sport evolved from Mexico's national sport of charreria, when six children in the capital took horse riding horses in the 1950s. (Photo by Leslie Mazoch)

“People's voices and ambient sound bring imagery to life, and it brings the reader closer to the subject,” Mazoch said. “Instead of me narrating or writing a story, the subject tells the story through their own voice.”

Recently Mazoch began shifting her focus to stories on nutrition, health and the environment. Her latest project focuses on two trees native to Mexico that are healthy alternatives to coffee.

“I spend most of my "off" time from AP reading about these issues, staying mentally and physically healthy and working at a community urban garden to learn to grow organic vegetables,” Mazoch said.

Mazoch’s experience as a photojournalist and photo editor is a career of passion. After falling in love with photography as a teenager, working for her college newspaper and eventually pursuing her dream career in Latin America as a photographer and then photo editor, Mazoch has never stopped telling stories with her images.


*Sarah Montgomery (@withalittlejazz) is an undergraduate journalism student at the University of Texas at Austin and a member of the course Reporting the Americas. She plans to pursue a career in magazine journalism after she graduates in May 2017.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.