Photographers' Blog

Keeping it snappy

Mexico City, Mexico

By Henry Romero

When I saw him walking in his baby blue suit, I immediately recognized the dancer in him – the Mambo move in his hips, his Danzon step, his sense of swing as he walked amongst the hundreds of people rushing past.

Pachuco Nereidas and I had agreed to meet after I encountered him in the Los Angeles dance hall of Mexico City. I was intrigued by the sub-culture of men like him, who are known as “Pachucos”. Their elegant attire, their passion for dancing, and their gentlemanly behavior reminded me of myself when I was a teenager back in Cali, Colombia.

Dancing is part of everyday life, especially in Cali. We would get dressed in tailor-made flares and shirts, and go to a dance hall every Saturday night with a group of friends.

We behaved like real gentlemen towards the ladies and they loved it. Those were the times when you would send girls messages on “esquelas”, little colored cards sometimes in the shape of hearts, to invite them to go out or come to a dance.

Some say that “Pachuco” comes from the Nahuatl word “Pachoacan”, which means “place where one rules.” Maybe that was an important statement to make for the Mexican migrants who are supposed to have popularized this movement, while living in the racist and hostile environment of segregated Los Angeles neighborhoods in the 1930s and 40s.

NBA goes up in smoke in Mexico

Mexico City, Mexico

By Edgard Garrido

I was to photograph an extraordinary basketball game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the San Antonio Spurs as part of the NBA Global Games schedule for the 2013-14 season.

The day before, the players met with children from the indigenous Triquis tribe and played a game barefoot in the tradition of the young Triquis’ team. It was a fantastic moment and I have no doubt that the journalists and everyone present, enjoyed it as much as the young Triqui players. It was a delightful opening to a grand game to be played the next day.

On game day everything looked perfect. A temporary court had been set up; benches, bleachers, baskets and scoreboards were in place. A press room for 200 accredited journalists had been prepared with high quality wi-fi and hundreds of ethernet terminals. There was a plan with our designated positions courtside and in the bleachers marked with stickers pinned to the floor. There were chairs and tables exclusively for the press, plenty of printed information on the players and the teams, signalized access to all points, antennas, remote cameras and cables, cables and more cables. Everything was impeccably set up for us to enjoy the occasion, an event worth millions, where people had paid between 160 to 5600 Pesos ($12 to $430) to watch elite players compete or at least catch a glimpse of the beautiful cheerleaders jump and fly through the air.

Home is where the Beetle is

Monterrey, Mexico

By Daniel Becerril

The need to find a place and make it your own is sometimes the only way to cope in a life full of surprises, hardship, sorrow and joy. It’s unbelievable how humans are capable of accommodating themselves in any space and under any circumstances.

I first heard of Oscar Almaguer, or Don Oscar, on a local TV program. It was the story of an 83-year-old man who had been living in a battered VW Beetle for the last 10 years. Don Oscar’s story was the perfect one to show life’s full range of social complexities and I thought it would definitively make an interesting picture story.

In these times of economic hardship it’s not that uncommon for people to live in their cars after falling on hard times but Don Oscar’s story is a little bit different. He and his wife got divorced 10 years ago and sold everything in order to split it in equal parts. Instead of leaving Don Oscar with half, she disappeared with everything, or almost everything. What she did leave him was their 1967 VW Beetle, known here by the Mexican nickname “Vocho.”

The crime of dog kidnapping

Mexico City, Mexico

By Edgard Garrido

A woman approached me while I was taking pictures of a leaflet with information on a purebred dog that had gone missing in Parque Mexico. She was on a bike and she had a dog with her whose head easily reached my belly. She asked me if I was doing a story and she introduced herself as Mariam Luzcan “a protector of dogs and a true dog lover”. She was dressed in black and covered with what I suppose was dog hair and lots of dirt, she smelled like dog too. But I liked her so we agreed to meet again in a couple of days and do a story together on missing dogs.

In Mexico City, dog kidnapping has become another way of making an illegal, but quick, buck. It is becoming more common as many of the capital dwellers own lots of dogs. And I mean lots – not one or two, but four or even six or seven pooches at a time. Of course there is a wide range of businesses dedicated to the well-being of man’s best friend. There are dog hairdressers, dog clothing lines, specialty food stores, dog hotels, companies that arrange adoptions for “orphaned” dogs, security for dogs, massages for dogs, crematoriums for dogs, you name it.

In a country where half of the population lives in poverty and where drug violence has killed more than 70,000 people so far, I find this overwhelming love towards an animal which I have never been able to relate to, a bit disturbing.

Along the deadly Southern border

Along the U.S./Mexico border

By Eric Thayer

I’m running through the desert outside a tiny town called Encino with a Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter flying above me. As I move through trees and bushes, the sand is soft and every step is an effort. It feels like I am running on the spot as I hold my cameras close so they don’t swing into my sides. Border Patrol agents are all around me and the only noises are the helicopter above, my own labored breathing and the sound of footsteps in the sand.

GALLERY: SCENES FROM THE BORDER

In south Texas, the Rio Grande River separates the U.S. from Mexico. It is a brown river that varies between 50 to 100 yards across. On the surface, the water looks calm as it meanders through the brush, but it hides swirling currents – just one of the many hazards faced by those who cross. The line between the two countries is imaginary here, but if you could see it as it appears on a map, it would be right in the middle of the river.

At this moment, the border is about 60 miles south. I’m with the U.S. Border Patrol after a report from a local rancher of a group of people crossing over his land. If they make it across the river, through the brush and past the Border Patrol there are vehicles that will take them north. From this part of Texas, there is basically just one checkpoint left, called Falfurrias. If they are able to bypass that, they can move up into other parts of the state and to the rest of the country.

In the shadow of Mexico’s guns

Mexico City, Mexico

By Edgard Garrido

Days before last Christmas, city authorities initiated a program of voluntary disarmament for citizens encouraging them to swap their pistols, revolvers, guns and the occasional 60mm mortar round for bicycles, tablets or cash. Thousands flocked to the swapping stations set up in different neighborhoods by the police and military.

Some weapons were destroyed on site but I wondered where the rest of the collected weapons would land. So, I decided to issue a formal request to the Mexican Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA) asking if I could access their storage facilities to take pictures.

The military is in charge of storing and destroying weapons, not only those handed in by the civilian population sometimes including those inherited from an ancestor who might have fought in the revolution but also the weapons confiscated in the six-year-long, ongoing drug war that has so far killed some 70,000 people. Those are generally larger calibers than great-granddad’s Winchester Rifle from the early 1900s. They confiscated everything from custom-made, gold-plated Colt Super 38 Automatic to rocket-propelled grenade launchers and lots of Kalashnikov AK-47s, the narcos’ weapon of choice.

Church, faith and rock’n'roll

Saltillo, Mexico

By Daniel Becerril

When I first heard of Adolfo Huerta, or Father Gofo as everybody calls him, I thought it was a joke. I thought he just liked to drive a motorcycle and to wear his hear long and that he wasn’t even a priest, just a guy who liked to pretend to be one.

He was packing his things the day I met him as he was moving to another parish. They were sending him off to a neighborhood with social problems, or a “hot” area as it’s generally called. I looked around Adolfo’s room while chatting with him – it looked more like the room of a teenager. I saw heavy metal and alternative rock CDs, books piled high on different topics, all had his nickname “Gofo” written on them. A poster of Che Guevara adorned the wall, another of the latest Batman movie and a double-spread picture of a lovely young lady showing her assets “au naturel”.

FULL FOCUS GALLERY: ROCK’N'ROLL PRIEST

Adolfo discovered God and the priesthood while studying philosophy at the Pontifical University of Mexico City, and working with HIV-positive patients and sex workers as an activist for social causes. But he seems to break the mold of a Catholic priest, he likes rock music, dyes the ends of his hair red, dresses in black, and likes to ride his motorcycle. He is a member of a motorcycle club called the “Black Wings”, he goes to bars, drinks beer, smokes, swears and tells jokes while officiating mass. He likes pictures of naked women. Although his female friends complain about the posters, he says he is an admirer of the female body, its beauty and its ability to give birth. No filthy or profane thoughts behind it, he said, in order to live a chaste life.

The lost dogs of Ciudad Juarez

Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

By Jose Luis Gonzalez

As a photojournalist living and working in Ciudad Juarez I’m used to seeing dead people being picked up off the streets.

The last few years have been brutal, with violence and shoot-outs every day and dead people everywhere. But it is much calmer now and corpses lying in puddles of blood are not as common a sight as they used to be. Nevertheless, some weeks ago I drove through a neighborhood and saw a couple of men dressed in hooded, white coveralls picking up another kind of corpse: a dead dog. They threw it into a container pulled by a truck and when they took off I started to follow them.

They stopped every so often, picking up another dead dog from the streets and throwing it into the container. They were collecting a lot of dead animals and when I approached the truck, I could see that there was a whole pile of them.

A bloody summer

Mexico City, Mexico

By Edgard Garrido

The truth is that there are lots of viewpoints, myths, interests, ignorance and bigotry when it comes to bullfighting. It’s undeniable – beyond being against or for it – that bullfights are a historical and cultural event, and a reality that I couldn’t ignore as a photographer in Mexico.  During a month this past Mexican summer I photographed bullfights, ones that in the end were not particularly bloody for the toreros but certainly were for the bulls and, I have to admit, for my emotions as well.

Stepping into the world of toreros was easy and difficult at the same time. Easy because the people are friendly, and difficult because it was, and still is, an unfamiliar world to me.

I went to the Plaza Mexico, the largest bull ring in the world, to get permission to photograph a bullfight. Indoors there were photographs, sculptures, capes, muletas, and swords, and outside there was the arena. Everywhere was the smell of animals. On the day of my first bullfight I found myself standing in a hallway in front of a horse dressed in yellow padding, banderilleros, matadors and monosabios (workers who pick up the dead bulls).

Stopover in Mexico: The train to dreams

By Edgard Garrido

What really happens when a man, or a woman, or even a child, abandons their home motivated by the idea of a better life? How do they imagine it? What do they wish for, what are they missing?

There is violence, overcrowded neighborhoods and gigantic infrastructure on the outskirts of Mexico City but there are also hundreds of thousands of people who walk day and night; different people every day and every night for weeks and months next to the train tracks, trying to jump on a train car filled with merchandise as the train passes. Fear is engraved in their faces and makes their feet heavy. Solitude, hunger, the cold and above all a painful uncertainty, are carried with them. They left behind their homes in a land without miracles and few joys, like the last of the deserts.

In Huehuetoca, 67 km (41 miles) from Mexico City:

Edgard: (photographer) “Hi, what’s your name? Where are you from?”
Carlos: (migrant) “Hi, I’m from Honduras, and you?”
Edgard: “From Chile”
Carlos: “From Chile! How are you Alexis (a reference to Chilean soccer player Alexis Sanchez), have you been to Honduras?”
Edgard: “Yes, I lived in Honduras for several years”
Carlos: “And you’re not afraid of migrants?”
Edgard: “No, why should I?”
Carlos: “Because people say we are thieves and gang members. That we rape girls and that we only do damage.”
Edgard: “But not all of them. From what part of Honduras are you?”
Carlos: “From Tegus… (the capital Tegucigalpa)”
Edgard: “What neighborhood?”
Carlos: “Did you get to know Little Hell?”
Edgard: “Behind the Basilica, going down the staircase. Are you a member of a gang?”
Carlos: “You’re definitely not afraid of migrants! You wanna have a beer?”
Edgard: “How far are you traveling?”
Carlos: “Well, up north, to Uncle Sam (laughs). I’ve been there and they have deported me nine times, but here I go again. I know the tracks like no one else. Come on, let’s have a beer.”