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Heavy Hand, Sunken Spirit: The Costs and Consequences of Mexico’s Drug War
In the three and a half years since Mexican President Felipe Calderon escalated the battle against the country’s drug cartels, more than 20,000 people have been killed and kidnappings have skyrocketed. The cartels in Mexico are ruthless, meting out an awesome brutality where heads are rolled into crowded discos and dismembered bodies are abandoned on busy streets. Heavy Hand, Sunken Spirit is a project about the societal costs and consequences of Mexico’s violent drug war. It frames the violence as a symptom, as opposed to the problem, and one of a variety of symptoms that will haunt the country for generations. This country is in the midst of a “conflict” in every sense of the word, and when documenting this conflict it is important not to reduce what is happening to a series of nearly anonymous images of carnage that could be happening anywhere.
I am not creating a story about violence that happens to be set in Mexico, but rather a story about Mexico’s present situation, offering a snapshot of a time that will be referred to for decades as people look for answers to make sense of Mexican society. I want each image to convey a sense of Mexico, her color, and her culture. The wounds of this war bleed into every corner of the country, staining the very fabric of Mexican life with violence, death and fear. The psychology of the country is also changing, as people become accustomed to horror and distrust, weakening an already fragile democracy. I am most fascinated by the space between what Mexico has always been and what this carnage is creating.
The heat of the conflict is melting two worlds together, making a singular Mexico defined as much by violence and tension, as by history and culture. I chose to work on this project because it represents how a grand, intense struggle can be transformed into quiet, daily dramas that are woven seamlessly into the lives of those involved. I am drawn to extreme crises that become internalized, even routine, to the communities that they touch. Many in Mexico are forced to make sense of a situation that is, simply, irrational. Their faith in democratic institutions is being tested and their sense of normalcy is being assaulted; what appears to an outsider to be a horrific campaign of violence and intimidation is simply a routine part of life for many Mexicans.
This project is meant to expose the evolution of deep changes that this conflict has brought about, as well as the scars that will remain long after the violence subsides.
David Rochkind (b.1980) graduated from the University of Michigan in 2002. Shortly after graduating he moved to Caracas, Venezuela to begin working as a freelance photographer. He was based in Caracas for 6 years and recently relocated to Mexico City, Mexico. Mr. Rochkind’s work has been published in a variety of media, including: The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, Stern, Le Monde Magazine, Glamour, Rolling Stone and others. In addition he has worked for several development organizations, including: the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Mine Action Center for Afghanistan (UNMACA), CARE and The Carter Center. His work has been recognized by : the Center Project Competition (Santa Fe), the Anthropographia Human Rights and Photography Award, the National Press Photographer’s Association, Photo District News, the Magenta Foundation and others. In addition to his project on Mexico, Mr. Rochkind is in the process of creating an education program about Tuberculosis based on his photographs.