An Epic, Grisly Look at 50 Years of Crime Scenes in Mexico City

The Photo Blog
March 11 2013 11:00 AM

An Epic, Grisly Look at 50 Years of Crime Scenes in Mexico City

Enrique Metinides
Chapultepec Park, Mexico City, 1995: "A young woman cries as she sits next to her boyfriend, who had been killed in a robbery that went badly wrong. He looks like he is asleep." (All captions written by Enrique Metinides.)

© Enrique Metinides/courtesy of 212berlin

Enrique Metinides’ photographs of accidents and crime scenes in and around Mexico City for La Prensa, have been published by Aperture in an incredible new book, 101 Tragedies of Enrique Metinides, with work from it on view at Aperture’s gallery through April 20.

Metinides, who worked for more than 50 years as a freelance and staff photographer for La Prensa, got his start when he was 10 years old. Via email, Metinides writes, “When I was 10 or 11 years old, I was assisting a professional photographer who worked for La Prensa, and I used to join him in fire trucks, ambulances of the Red Cross, and police cars.”

Enrique Metinides
Mexico City, April 29, 1979: "Adela Legarreta Rivas was a Mexican journalist. She had a press conference later that day where she was presenting her latest book. She had been to the beauty parlor that morning where she had her hair and nails done. On the way from the beauty parlor to her home, she was killed, hit by a white Datsun on Avenida Chapultepec. This photograph was not the one published the next day in the papers. Often the photographs that later went on to become important were not those chosen by the editors for the paper."

© Enrique Metinides/courtesy of 212berlin

Enrique Metinides
Highway to Querretoro, September 1967: "Red Cross workers take a young woman, who was on her way to a party, from the scene of a crash."

© Enrique Metinides/courtesy of 212berlin

While today the authorities restrict access to such scenes, back then it was still possible for a photographer to approach the scene of an accident or crime, and Metinides turned those early connections into relationships he has maintained to this day.

Advertisement

Metinides is quite a fearless character himself. He has had 19 accidents, breaking numerous bones, and has never left Mexico. Perhaps he works too much to have considered doing so, rarely getting a day off and working most nights during his 50-year tenure. About his body of work, Metinides says via email, “I’m really excited to know that all the time invested in this job with such great passion is now spreading all over the world. I never imagined this could happen. I used to work 15 hours a day, with no break or vacations, and I shot pictures which appeared in front pages and now are famous, and that gives me a lot of satisfaction … that people like the work I did for over 50 years.”

Enrique Metinides
Colonia Doctores, Niños heroes, Mexico City, 1966: "This woman did not have money to buy a coffin for her child, who had been killed when a bus ran over him. She went to a coffin shop near the hospital and started praying and begging, crying for help. After some time, she was surrounded by people, who asked what happened. Together, they each gave a little bit of money to help her out. With that and a discount from the coffin maker, she was able to buy a coffin and bury her child with some dignity. She had to walk nine kilometers with the coffin to her home"

© Enrique Metinides/courtesy of 212berlin

Enrique Metinides
Mexico City, Sept. 19, 1985. "The Regis Hotel in downtown after the earthquake of 1985. The hotel was close to the store my father owned years earlier, when he gave me my first camera. Not only did the hotel collapse, but so did stores, restaurants, and cabarets halls nearby, as well as the Salinas y Rocha building. You can see the Torre Latinoamericano in the background."

© Enrique Metinides/courtesy of 212berlin

Enrique Metinides
Mexico City, May 25, 1971: "I was high up in the building opposite when I took this sequence of photographs. I was in a dangerous spot. I’ve had many accidents, 19 in total: seven broken ribs, one heart attack, broken fingers. I fell into many ditches, but I always managed to take my action photographs. With this story, La Prensa ran, 'I wanted to know what death was like,' said Antonio N., 45 years old, after two rescue workers persuaded him not to jump. The man had no work and a lot of worries."

© Enrique Metinides/courtesy of 212berlin

Filmmaker Trisha Ziff’s introduction to the book provides a fascinating overview of Metinides’ body of work and, by extension, of a specific aspect of the Mexico of a few decades past, which provides an unfortunately immediate resonance to today’s constant, awful headlines from the region.

Many of Metinides’ images can be difficult to view; and yet, despite this, they possess a filmic quality that enables the viewer to witness these events rather than quickly avert their gaze.

Enrique Metinides
Lake Xochimilco, Mexico City, 1960: "Someone dumped the body of a murdered man in the canal in Xochimilco. The lifeguard, attached to a cord for his own safety, swam out to the body. On the opposite bank you can see all the onlookers reflected in the water. I call this photograph, detective photography with art!"

© Enrique Metinides/courtesy of 212berlin

Enrique Metinides
Extract from La Prensa, May 25, 1969: “Hundreds of people gather to look at an overturned bus, which fell into the San Esteban River after its brakes failed on the route between Mexico City and Huixquilucan. Inside were 23 screaming children. When they turned the bus over, they discovered the body of a dead child, who had fallen through an open window.”

© Enrique Metinides/courtesy of 212berlin

Enrique Metinides
Polanco, Mexico City, Aug. 9, 1967: "I saw these kids, who were North Americans, having fun in the midst of this natural disaster. They were car surfing in a sudden flash flood on the corner of Horacio and Presidente Masaryk! When they saw me taking photographs they turned and waved!"

© Enrique Metinides/courtesy of 212berlin