Ciudad Ju rez 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 Ju rez 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.
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.
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."
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."
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."
What will become of Juárez? There's a shot of an empty house, the wiring and piping stripped out of it. "People who can afford to leave, have left," he says. "They've returned to other states, leaving Juárez behind."
Those who stay will try to piece together an existence. Juárez is still a big city after all, and the violence hasn't claimed all of it. There's an attempt at normalcy. Despite banning spectators, the mayor's celebratory address was still made, albeit only heard from the safety and relative calm of the people's homes. The bullfights, which are disappearing throughout Spain and other Spanish-speaking nations, thrive in Mexico and the border cities. The nightclubs and stripper bars—hallmarks of many a border town—endure in Juárez. Haviv tells us, "Culture goes on.""
Haviv plans to continue to return to Juárez to document the evolution of the city and the people. In the spring of 2011, he did a piece for ESPN Magazine about a high-school football coach who has built up a successful program and, in doing so, has created a sanctuary of sorts for the athletes. Such success stories are under-reported, which is one of the motivations for Haviv to venture back with his camera. Ritual, culture, despair and horror—"Invisible Lines" and the continuing story are about the people who must survive through this and despite this. The little girl will go to school. The precocious boys will run around under the bridges, except in Juárez, they're trying to get close to another crime scene.
Says Haviv, "It's everywhere in Juárez. Every day, they run a picture of a dead body on the front of the newspaper. It's ingrained into the way people are living. In the first photo in 'Invisible Lines,' a bus drives past another crime scene. It's everywhere—the newspaper, the media, talking to the neighbors. Everyone is being touched by it."
Ron Haviv is one of the founding members of VII Photo Agency. You can see more of his work at www.ronhaviv.com and www.viiphoto.com.