Photography and Words By Reggie McCafferty
Recently, I travelled through Mexico and shot these photographs during a time of political turmoil (The disappearance and murder of 43 dissident students.) The populace was horrified and outraged. You could feel that electricity coursing through every aspect of daily life, its presence palpable in each interaction. As an American I could observe the events, the protests that descended on the city at nightfall, feel the emotions, the terror and dread, but I was still culturally disconnected in a way that kept me alien. These photographs depict the mood of the city as I felt it during this period of time, an outsider looking in to capture the immense weight of the political murders.
The sky is dark overhead. Rain pours down in bouts, falling steadily for a time and letting up again. The night recoils only to twist itself taut once more, wringing each droplet from its matted hide.
The doors to the bus station are locked. A young man waits alongside the others who have arrived before him. Water drips, a small pool forming at his feet. There’s a hole in the canopy overhead and a tension in the air. He feels uncertain. Or rather, he’s unsure as to whether he should be. The 43 missing students hang heavily upon the city’s consciousness, everyone seems on edge. The weight can be felt in each aspect of daily life, a palpable presence in every interaction. Attorney general Jesus Murillo had appeared on television just the night before to announce the discovery of charred remains a few kilometers from where the students disappeared. People were horrified, outraged; certain that the bodies had been those of the students. “Ya me canse,” (“Enough, I’m tired”) Murillo had muttered, turning away from the camera and cutting the news conference short. He was tired of all the questions.
The young man looks up expectantly each time a car pulls into the lot, as if waiting for someone. The headlights cast long, steady beams as they bob their way towards the station through the concrete pasture of bumps and potholes. Most times the car turns out to be a taxi, making its rounds as it searches for passengers to carry off into the labyrinth of streets that wind their way through the city. Other times the car comes to a stop and someone steps out, pulling his bag from the trunk and moving to wait at the door beside the others.
Three men stand near the entrance to the station. They wear suits, the faded grey of their twill jackets blend into the concrete façade behind them. An older woman stands adjacent to the three. She wears slippers in spite of the rain and stands shivering, her bare arms wrapped tightly around one another. One of the men recalls a story he recently heard somewhere. It’s about a man named Julio Camara whose job is to dive through the city’s sewer system and unclog the drains. “He stays down there for six hours at a time,” the man says. “Making 5,000 pesos a month to swim blindly through pitch black shit. He breathes through a tube that runs back to the surface while his partners direct him by radio. He might find anything down there, car parts, weapons, dead horses and human bodies, lots of human bodies.”
“This guy has the most important job in the whole city, he keeps this place running. We’d be up to our necks in the shit if it weren’t for him. Fuck Nieto, fuck Murillo and fuck Mancera too. They think they’re so damned important. Camara is a real hero and no one will ever even know his name.” The others murmur in agreement, nodding solemnly and shifting their feet in the cold.
“This whole thing with the students is nothing new,” one of the other men says. He speaks slowly, bearing dark bags beneath each of his eyes and long, leaden wrinkles that have worked themselves deep into the folds of his course skin. “It’s just never out in the open like this anymore. I thought they’d gotten better at hiding this stuff.” “It’s offensive,” the first man replies. “They ought to at least have the decency to pull together a proper cover up.”
“Decency!” the old woman interrupts him. “These are our grandchildren we’re talking about! It was different with the laundering, but these are human lives, murdered in cold blood!” The young man listens intently, eavesdropping on the conversation. He says nothing. His brother is one of the disappeared students. There is a commotion at the far end of the building and he looks over anxiously, visibly shaken. Someone shouts, a bottle breaks and a dog begins to bark. No one else seems to notice, or care.
A few kilometers away, demonstrators march against the president’s ceremonial palace. They clash with police and set fire to the wooden door. In Guerrero protesters burn vehicles and throw firebombs at government headquarters. The unrest spreads like wildfire, enveloping the provinces in blazing fury. A crescent-moon shines dimly through the swaying treetops and black clouds race through in desperate flight. The night is restless in more ways than one. The rain falls lightly now, but the air has grown noticeably colder. The young man walks around the side of the building to urinate against the brick, an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips. He is tired too, they all are.