The Mexican Drug War: A Photographer’s Story
I didn’t go to Mexico with an agenda or even an idea of the kind of pictures I wanted to take. But as soon as I got there in 2008, it became clear what a widespread impact the conflict was having. I wasn’t interested in creating a story about violence that happened to be set in Mexico. I was inspired by Mexico’s present situation, which includes violence but is also a window into a time that will be referred to for decades, as people try to make sense of Mexican society. I want the work to convey a sense of Mexico, her colour, her complexity and her culture.
I remember just before I got off the train that we passed a field filled with fireflies. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. There were so many it was as if they were a reflection of the stars in the sky. I think my work is a true representation of how I experienced Mexico while I was living there. Unspeakable, atrocious things were happening in parts of the country but there was still an intense beauty permeating the atmosphere.
I want people to feel as if they had been standing in the same spot, in the same moment in time, that they could have seen the exact same thing.
I was struck that many of them were going back to the US to return home – not go to a foreign land. They had lived in the US for years, had children in the country and, for a variety of reasons, had returned to Mexico or were deported. Now they were risking everything to reunite with their families. They all told me this trip was more dangerous and they were more fearful: the migrants and drug smugglers were now sharing the same space and the migrants faced new threats. Some had been forced to mule drugs across the border, and many now had to pay an exit tax to the cartels to leave Mexico. The threat of kidnapping, robbery and murder had drastically increased with the rise of the drug war. Migration routes, and what migrants were willing to risk to achieve their dreams, had been drastically altered by the conflict.