From 1948 until his forced retirement in 1979, the Mexican photographer Enrique Metinides took thousands of images and followed hundreds of stories in and around Mexico City. And what images and stories they were: car wrecks and train derailments, a bi-plane crashed on to a roof, street stabbings and shootings in the park, apartments and petrol stations set alight, earthquakes, accidental explosions, suicides, manslaughters, murder.
To Norteamericanos encountering the work of Metinides for the first time, "The Mexican Weegee" seems a natural epithet.
The book opens with a photograph of a crashed glider sticking vertically out of a field, with about fifty people looking agape behind the two long wings that hold the plane in this dramatic position. It continues with an incessant parade of twisted metal, upside down vehicles, lifeless bodies and open flames, a collection of extraordinary and everyday accidents across Mexico City from the 1950s to the 2000s.
Although he hasn’t published a photograph in almost fifteen years, Metinides can safely be called the most prolific news photographer of his generation. Between 1946, when he was barely twelve years old, and 1993, when he was muscled out of his “nota roja” newspaper job, Metinides was a tenacious documenter of death and brutality in the chambers of Mexico City’s hospitals, police stations, and morgues. He shot murders, suicides, auto and aviation accidents, fires, drowning, and crime scenes—sometimes in action. He breathed his work, sleeping at night with a police scanner always near his ear. He rode along to the scene of an accident or homicide on ambulances and fire trucks.
In the series entitled Republic, the Rencontres is presenting six contemporary Mexican photographers: Enrique Metinides, Maya Goded, Dulce Pinzon, Daniela Russell, Inaki Bonillas and Fernando Montiel Klint.
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I guess part of me naturally felt that I should be shocked or horrified by the subject matter that Metinides photographed—for almost fifty years during his career as a tabloid journalist he captured murders and car crashes, criminals and catastrophes. However, when I first saw his images, around the time of his New York exhibition in 2006, I felt neither of these things.
Visitors to Enrique Metinides's recent (2007) show at Anton Kern Gallery were greeted by a sign warning, "Due to gruesome content parental discretion is advised." ... Metinides was Mexico's most famous and finest crime photographer, a man who spent fifty years documenting violence and death for the millions who follow la nota roja, or "the bloody news."
Enrique Metinides photographed his first dead body before he was 12. It was as if he had caught a fever, because after that he couldn’t stop. For years while he slept he kept his radio in Mexico City tuned to emergency stations so that he could be awakened by the latest news of disaster. He would often throw on his clothes and rush into the night to see yet another car wreck or fire or murder.
He found a cornucopia of gore: suicides, jumpers, accidental electrocutions and exploding gas tanks. (In that case petty thieves drove off from the pumps with the hose still inside their car.) We feel somehow we shouldn’t gawk. But how can we not?
So we do. We stare at the mangled corpses and at the crowds who stare back into Mr. Metinides’s camera, which means they stare at us. The cycle of voyeurism is complete.