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.


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Bodies are a constant theme in the photographs included in "Invisible Lines." They're not particularly gruesome shots; some are splattered with blood or sometimes there's a distant shot of a corpse. The horror is in the faces of those left behind and a city struggling with the carnage. "When tourism was big, people would walk across the border from El Paso," says Haviv. "Now there are gun battles, and innocent people are being killed."

Left: A Mexican Independence Day parade. Right: A Federal Police officer stands at the site where a man was executed.

Haviv's pictures are reminiscent of the classic crime-scene images that seem cliché in American media: yellow tape, police vehicles, gawkers at the edge. But somehow, shots from Juárez are different. As an artist, Haviv looks for the composition and color. His photograph of three boys under a graffiti-covered overpass impresses him. "I like the expression on the boy's face, the light." But in this shot, the boys are trying to peek at the scene of a decapitation, the same scene that spoiled the young girl's Independence celebration.


Residents of a neighborhood in Juárez try to see authorities as they investigate an execution-style murder.
Of the many images from "Invisible Lines," Haviv is most haunted by a shot of a small family huddled in their kitchen. The bloody scene is where a girl's uncle was killed. She, her parents and the family dog are together in the kitchen. "We are looking at the dog licking up the blood—the look of horror in the girl's eyes—and we think what the dog is doing is so brutal."

Juárez is brutal. A local journalist told Haviv that, on average, nearly seven people are killed every day. This amount of violence isn't new to a trained photographer like Haviv who has dropped into hot spots all over the globe. Haviv calls the project "Invisible Lines" because Juárez is different than the other war zones he has photographed. "I chose 'Invisible Lines' because in Juárez you don't really know where anything is going to happen," he reveals. "One of the reasons is that there are no lines, no borders, like in Libya, Bosnia or even Watts. There, you know where you can go and where you can't go. People are being executed all over the place in Juárez—policemen ambushed at a red light, a photographer killed in a shopping center. And then the violence moves, going from place to place."

He continues, "I was wondering what was going on and I wanted to understand it better. It's important to realize that, as Americans, we're completely involved with this story."


A member of the Federal Police at the crime scene.
Haviv makes it clear that he sees a larger story in "Invisible Lines," and one can sense his own disappointment with the mainstream media coverage of the war that's gripping Mexico's border cities. "We're buying the drugs, selling the guns, supporting the Mexican government with weapons and training," he says. "The entire struggle is about access to sell drugs in America. The American coverage isn't fair to the Mexican people."

His images include heavily armed police officers—many of whom may end up as victims themselves—who come from all over the country and are moved quickly from crime scene to crime scene. "The scene is reminiscent of 1980s Central America—funerals of policemen, attacks on the government, the impotence of authority," Haviv says. He features several shots of officers at crime scenes, and the impression is overwhelming. How can they appreciate the gravity of each death? "They're heavily armed, and they drive around," he points out. "There's a cursory investigation and only a handful of detectives to follow up on all these murders. It's a ritual they go through, but they aren't achieving much."


 

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