DPP Home Profiles Ron Haviv: The Impotence Of Authority

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Ron Haviv: The Impotence Of Authority

Ron Haviv is the epitome of the modern global photojournalist and one of the founders of VII Photo Agency. Along with his travels to faraway nations, he also documents a war zone that’s much closer to home.

This Article Features Photo Zoom
One of Ron Haviv's most recent projects, "Invisible Lines," explores the implications of the long-running unrest in Juárez, Mexico, a border city central to drug trafficking between Mexico and the United States. Above: Outgoing Juárez Mayor José Reyes Ferriz speaks to an empty plaza on the eve of Mexican Independence Day on September 15, 2010.

Imagine a big-city mayor, the chief executive of a city of more than 1.5 million people, giving an historic speech in front of no one. No one to hear his rhetoric or cheer his charges, only a single photographer at his back and his closest confidantes crowded together in a suite. The mayor is José Reyes Ferriz, the photographer is Ron Haviv, and the city is one of the most dangerous places in the world: Ciudad Juárez.

Left: Dignitaries attend the celebration with the mayor. Right: A cake made to celebrate the occasion.

Ciudad Juárez sits along the desert border of Mexico and the United States. It's one of the largest border-metropolitan areas in the world, straddling two countries and two economies. It's a major point of entry into the United States for trade spurred by NAFTA. But the real story of Juárez is how another trade—drug trafficking—has taken a city by siege and inspired fear and anxiety in communities on both sides of the long border.

In 2010, while much of Mexico was celebrating the country's bicentennial, Juárez was caught in a war between drug cartels, with police and its civilian population stuck in the middle. By the time Mayor Reyes gave his last Independence Day speech before an empty square—denizens of Juárez were forbidden from attending and were forced to watch the remarks on television—more than 7,000 people had died of cartel violence during his term.

An impressionist take on bullfighting.
With Reyes preparing to leave office, Haviv made his first trip to Juárez. "The story had been going for a few years," Haviv says as he describes why he wanted to see Juárez with his own eyes and camera, "but it seemed like after a little spike, it had dropped off the radar. Some colleagues had been working there, but there was more to understand about the impact of that spike."

Haviv's coverage of Juárez took place during the bicentennial—a period of national celebration and pride—but his photos aren't dominated by fireworks and parades. He shares a photo of a young girl who has returned from an Independence party, the colors of the Mexican flag still painted on her face. "She had just come home from school, and there was a body a couple hundred feet away." She was flanked by heavily armed police. "The person had been decapitated," says Haviv.

The despair on her face speaks for an entire city, and it runs through Haviv's entire piece, "Invisible Lines." He has captured grisly scenes of what makes up Juárez, from crime scenes to bullfighting rings to a low-key celebration of a nation's great milestone. Nearly every shot seems to capture a sense of angst. "Some Americans, guys in places like Watts and in the hoods, can relate to this better," says Haviv. "It's a very low level of violence that's always there and always part of the conversation. It's insidious."


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