Javier Arcenillas – Violence in Latin America

Javier Arcenillas

Violence in Latin America



Sociological essay of Latin America, the most violent zone in the world in its most dramatic and painful form. The impotence of pain and hell asocial victims of murderers in a daily theater of war where violence is always the news of the day in his red note.

It is very necessary to expose and teach this story to show the true nature of violence because newspapers, television and magazines do not offer current. And that’s too bad because it’s terribly necessary that these stories have a voice in society.

Latin America is considered one of the most violent places in the world. Every day in the streets of cities like San Pedro Sula, Guatemala, Tegucigalpa, San Salvador, and Mexico City, the murders, robberies and violence are increasingly present. Ineffective internal politics of the area is unstable, drug trafficking into the U.S. is uncontrollable and unsafe zone of Maras, or control of the Zetas in the border is the closest thing to a daily war. The report of the Organization of American States notes that in a country such as Honduras violent death occurs every 74 minutes without war there was, in 2011, the most violent nation in the world, totaling 7104 killings documented by police.



In these places the use of youth and children to train as Sicarios is a regular job. They are attracted by the ease of earning money that gives them respect and fear. In the process of training the young killer from the poorest strata of society consumed becoming true heralds of death. Deprotection of these societies for the defense and protection of children in these situations of violence is alarming.

I need to expose and teach this story to show the true nature of the violence that the media today do not offer.




Humanist, member of Gea Photowords and Doctor in Psychologist at the Complutense University of Madrid. An award winning photographer, among these, could be mentioned, Arts Press Award, KODAK Young Photographer, Scholarship of  European Social Fund, Euro Press Fujifilm, FotoPress ’05 Prize,  Finalist Oskar Barnak Leica Prize 2013, Sony WPA, Atlanta Photojournalism, Fotoevidence, POYI Finalist World Understanding etc.

His most complete news articles outside Spain can be read in Time, Der Spiegel, Stern, GEO, Le Monde 2, IL Magazine, La Repubblica, El Mundo, El periodico de Guatemala or Miami Herald as most important magazines. Their final reports and publications can be seen in Esquire and fronterad. In 2011 his book Public Sicarios also present at the Exhibition of PHE11.


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Javier Arcenillas


9 Responses to “Javier Arcenillas – Violence in Latin America”

  • I’m afraid still more fuzzy photos of violence in Latin America isn’t going to change much.

  • Strikes me as very brave, well-shot photography on an important subject which hasn’t been extensively covered. It even spurred me to spend an hour or so reading about violence in Central America.

    My criticism of this kind of thing is that, lacking a significant amount of context, it amounts to little more than rubbernecking a fatal car crash. We slow down, look out the window, then drive on by. Maybe we wonder who the victims were or what caused the accident, but there is no way to learn anything much by simply looking at the wreckage.

    I read several reports about the violence there. The consensus is that the causes are a combination of global communications, trade patterns, illicit drugs, a new kind of poverty, and delegitimization of the state for a variety of reasons. Despite having much in common with the failed states, Nicaragua and Costa Rica work significantly better.

    So how does one hope to enlighten people about horrible situations such as this? Just show the grizzly violence and depend on the driver-by to do their own research? Worked with me in this case, but I suspect that it’s not going to work with very many. Accompany the photos with a written essay? Yes, that’s essential. Many things simply cannot be explained by a still photo.

    But although photography without text has its limits, I don’t think this essay comes within a mile of those limits. Looking through the academic consensus on the causes of the violence, most of them could conceivably be captured, or certainly suggested, in a photograph. Without providing any of that kind of context for the horrific violence, I’m with Jim in failing to see much of point in taking those kinds of risks which for what essentially becomes a few seconds of entertainment for rubberneckers.

  • Horrific. The quiet, contemplated, reflective and even subdued nature of the previous essays suddenly shouted over by the scream of wrath and terror. It leaves me feeling helpless.

    The photos are excellent, of course, the photographer gutsy. If I were a religious man, I would pray for Javier’s safety and continued survival. In fact, consider this statement to be such a prayer. There may be no God and it might not help, but there might be and it certainly won’t hurt.

  • Congratulations Javier, this is very powerful work, skillfully done.

    We’ve had this discussion before, many times. I second all of Frostfrog’s comments. Yes, another Latin American drugs-misery-and death essay. Do we really need another one? Will this one or the next one help bring attention and eventually change? Or, like Frostfrog, do they just leave us feeling helpless?

    Like MW,I shrink from this stuff. I won’t watch “Criminal Minds” or any of the other grizzly cop shows either (not to mention trash TV like “Honey Boo-Boo). It is hard not to wonder if essays of this type, well intentioned as they are, serve only to feed the appetite of the public for another train wreck to watch.

    In any case Javier, you are clearly risking your life to make these photographs. I cannot question your motives and commitment, however, I hope you are sure that what you are doing is worth the risk.

  • Gordon, it’s not accurate at all to say that I shrank from that work. As I said, it inspired me to research about the situation it depicted, which is a very good thing for that kind of photography. And I appreciate that the photographer went to Central America to document out of control violence, which to my knowledge hasn’t been covered much, if at all. Had it been more pictures from Jaurez, I would have been very disappointed. I think this is an excellent example of great hi-end journalistic magazine photography. The assignment is to produce photographs showing violence in Central America. They, or it, will be used to illustrate a written story. There’s nothing wrong with that.

    But I don’t see it as an essay about violence in Central America. I see it as a bunch of photos of violence in Central America. There is no story that I can discern other than “look, violence!” Touching on Gordon’s example, I think it’s more like the difference between violent movies and movies about violence. I don’t usually care much for violent movies, but two of my favorite films — A Clockwork Orange and Natural Born Killers — are, although very violent movies, serious meditations on violence that illuminate many interesting things about ourselves and our culture. Or to use the television example, while I don’t watch shows like Criminal Minds or any of the CSI’s or Law and Orders, I’ve watched all sixty hours or so of The Wire and recognize it as a great achievement in world cinema. Shows like Breaking Bad and the Sopranos aren’t bad either. That’s because they are about things much larger than their putative subjects.

    In that vein, I’d like to see this become an essay about violence in Central America rather than a bunch of photos of violence in Central America. And I’m pretty sure having more contextual photos would make the violent ones exponentially stronger. For example, according to my research, one of the root causes of the violence is the fact that with modern television and internet, very poor people in poorly developed countries get to see how the wealthy of the world live. We know that people can live happily in what we consider great poverty if that’s all they know, but when they see people living it up with all the modern do-dads, they get angry and lash out. Similarly, people looking at photos can see 1000 pictures of shacks in slums or poor children and feel next to nothing, but when you contrast that reality with mansions and jet setters, the effect is much more powerful. Visually delving into the causes of the violence is doable and would make it a much more interesting work. Great magazine assignment work is valuable and most certainly nothing to be ashamed of, but one can, and I think this one definitely should, shoot significantly higher.

    On a somewhat related note, I saw via DuckRabbit that a photo contest declined to choose any winners because, although there were many great individual photos, none of the submissions told any kind of story. Visual storytelling through a sequence or layout of still images seems to be something of a lost art. Declining anyway.

  • Mike – very well thought out and expressed comment. I believe you nailed it. “Unforgiven” would be another movie I would put in the class of being about violence.

  • mw, I agree with a lot of what are saying. It’s no longer enough to simply “be there,” regardless of how good you are at your craft. There is someone (actually a lot of someones) everywhere these days, and with some kind of photo acquisition device.

    Photos are simply not enough. I’m not sure there is a place for someone who is exclusively a photographer anymore. The photographer needs to be a writer, also, and a writer who has taken the time to really understand the story, and achieved a high enough level of writing craft to tell that story. There is so much BS out there now that you have to be working at the top of your game to capture the scarce attention of information consumers.

  • mw, yes, I realized that after I posted. Sorry to mis-characterize your thoughts.

    I can agree with pretty much all of your comments. With regard to story-telling and violence, yes, I was completely drawn into “Sopranos” and more recently “Vikings” Amazing story telling fascinating characters etc.

    Perhaps, before taking on a cause such as this, more research and thought would result in a more informative and powerful piece.

  • I think the images are powerful and I respect the photographer’s perspective, but I have a problem with blanket statements claiming that Latin America is the most violent zone in the world. To say that there is a daily theatre of war in Mexico City is unprofessional and blatantly false.

    The murder rate in Mexico City is actually less than it is in Washington, D.C. for instance. Mexico City had a murder rate of just 8.4 per 100,000 residents in 2012, while D.C.’s was 14 per 100,000 residents. That’s almost two times more than DF.

    It’s false information such as this that continues to give Mexico and other countries in Central America a bad reputation and allows a stigma to be attached to countries that do not necessarily deserve it.

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