Colette Urbajtel was born in Paris in 1934. She studied in the Institut d’études politiques (Institute of Political Studies) in France during the 1950s.
She came to Mexico in 1959 in the framework of a French Mexican cultural exchange program to do a dissertation in Economics. For this trip, her brother gave her her first camera, which she brought on her earliest photographic explorations. She has lived in Mexico since 1962, when she married photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo. She was his assistant and printer and has contributed to disseminating his work. From 1969 to 1981 she worked as an administrator, assistant, and photographer at the publishing house, the Fondo Editorial de la Plástica Mexicana, founded by Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Rafael Carrillo, Carlos Pellicer, and Leopoldo Méndez.