Whiffs: I Can See Tomorrow

El Mariachi (the real one), Juarez Photograph ©BruceBerman1999

There was a day when you could think of Juarez and think in color. I get whiffs of it lately, but one is so cognizant that under that shiny surface is a black and white heart that has been ripped open for all to see and it will take a long time fill with the energy and joy that was -and will be again- the hallmark of Ciudad Juarez. It will happen. It is happening now. A generation has now come that learned to live abajo, and carefully. There has been damage. No one can live under that cloud forever.

It’s nice to look back, now and again. But here, on the border, it has been years since people have allowed themselves to look forward.

There are “whiffs.”

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House of the Abandoned

Maria Full Of Grace, from The Other Truth (T.O.T.) series,

Juárez, May 2011

Photo and Text by Bruce Berman

Juárez —

 

Maria. Full of grace. And other emotions.

A permanent resident of CREAMAC, in the hills of Juárez, way up there, near the Guadalupe, the last place on one of the last streets, near the top. Some people call it an “insane asylum.” It started as a place the mayor of Juárez sent “street people.”

He took an old police station and created a shelter and ordered the tourist police to “get those people off the streets.” That was 34 years ago. There are still people there…from then!

I go there, driving through the anxiety streets of the troubled city, eyes are out, sharp, both ways. These days, if you keep up with the ever terrible news coming from the Cartel War, there’s a game you play, while driving in Juárez. You match up news with the locations where it happened, that you’ve heard about: “Oh, there, that’s where the drug rehab place is: 16 murdered in three minutes. Oh…there is where the mother and son got shot. Up that street, that’s where the family got wiped out but one kid hid under the bed and survived, yeah, and over there, that’s where they put the bomb inside the guy and dressed him as a cop and called in the Cruz Roja and Policia Federal and then blew him up, right there, over by the old market.”

And so it goes.

It could go on forever on a long ride, but we race through the streets, purposely. There is no leisure in Juárez, only meaningless purposefulness.

On this day, we’re heading to the “Insane Asylum,” which seems like a more positive mission than chasing down murder scenes.

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Prom Night: The Boogie Man Is A Long Way Away

 

Prom Girl, El Paso, Texas -May 2011

 

Murder schmurder! It’s Prom Night in El Paso.

Those buildings in the background are downtown El Paso. The space behind, the mountain, that’s Juarez. That girl there, in the foreground, the one with the whimsy and the joy and the hopes and the fragility, she’s a million miles away from this borderland desert, that stupid and brutal war (Juarez), that trying parking lot monotony (El Paso), at least for this night.

What is the news anyway? Is it what “they (in my case, us)” say it is? Or is it the dreams of a young girl (or boy) on one of the most remembered nights of one’s life?

I’m thinking the news, the significant events of our world are days and evenings, like this. Viewpoint. Remember that (!) as we become addicted to trouble and stress and our live’s of “quiet desperation (you wouldn’t know it if you looked at TV commercials would you?).”

One can hope it’s that way.

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The Light in Juárez

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Is there any Light at the end of Juárez’s tunnel?

There are a lot of things in Juárez these days: widows, widowers, killers,  thugs, riddled bodies, drug addicts, every day normal people, kids going to school, people being married, bombs and death across the street (almost) from the old “City Market.” Everything.

There is very little Light.

The city seems to have turned from sunny and bright and colorful to Black and White, like an old photograph, one that wasn’t “fixed,” very well and is losing it’s contrast and fading away. The brightness is gone. Light is at a premium, right now, for sure, in Juárez.

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Letter to my friend: I’m On My Way Martin

Martin, man of dignity and courage, Lomas del Poleo, Summer 2009

Dear Martin,

I said I would be back to Lomas and I haven’t been back in a year now. It’s crazy. I drive to work in Las Cruces three times a week and I look to the west and I can see you, I can see Lomas, right there, the flat top mesa poking out from behind Cristo Rey.

No, I haven’t been back. I am sorry. Life caught up with me and I had to do my labors, take care of biz, run around like a chicken without a head. And, in the meantime, I have fallen in love with a photo project, far away from here, up in Nuevo Mexico, and I have given it a lot of my attention.

All weak excuses.

I said I’d be back and continue the work we began and I haven’t.

You -and sus vecinos, sus compañeros in Lomas del Poleo- are never out of my thoughts.

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Do You Have Shares In Hell?

Street kids on Avenida Technologico, Juarez – 2010

Pictures?

More pictures of dead bodies in the streets of Juárez?

Hard to want to do. I’m not visiting. I live here. It’s better when you have to get the images for your boss/editor and then high-tail it to the airport.

But, I’m not working for a daily paper anymore.

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Sequesterer(alleged) Sequestered

la acusación (perp walk) en Juárez, May 15, 2010

Iasi Emanuel Rodriquez Gamez , aka “El Enano (the dwarf),” 22, is led down a hallway, by a member of the Federal Police at the Ministry of Justice (Procuraduria de Justicia del Estado) in Cd. Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico.

He is accused of being the leader of a kidnapping gang that kidnapped at least 19 people.  Authorities alleged Rodriguez, 22, took orders from suspected kidnappers Ernesto “El Neto” Piñon de la Cruz and Jesus Eduardo “El
Lalo” Soto Rodriguez. This group is accused of committing 39 kidnappings since December 2008. The “El Lalo y de Neto,” gang has operated in Juarez over the past three years.

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Half Dead City Is Fully Alive

Zaragoza (Juarez), Chihuahua, street kids at scene of a murdered woman, 05/08

©Bruce Berman 2010

Two border towns.

El Paso and Juarez.

One city is half dead and the other is in a coma. Guess which is which?

As always, a trip to Juarez puts everything in perspective and raises big questions. For openers:  We don’t have to do all the things we think we need to do, there are worse things than physical death and injury, watch out for what you hear, and, we should never believe anything except what our eyes  feel.

My eyes tell me Ciudad Juárez is alive.

I salute you, injured Madame Juárez.

FOR SLIDESHOW, GO TO NEXT PAGE:

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At least 6 police and one sicario killed in Juarez

Dead Police and Murderer in Juarez by heroic

by anonymous El Diario de Juarez photographer

Today in Juarez. More of the same. If this were anywhere else we’d be sending aide and 120,000 troops. Instead we send DEA Agents (under the terms of the “Merida Initiative”) and clandestine military “trainers,” to train soldiers and police…to do what, exactly?

The last time I heard the term “trainers,” it was the early and mid sixties and the trainers were being sent to Viet Nam.

How’d that work out for us?

More importantly, how’d that work out for Viet Nam?

Watch out Mexico, there are many many dollars seeking calamities. Buy cheap, wait, sell strong.

Anyway, six Federales and one murderer (sicario), today, so far.

Same old…

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A Warm Farewell

A piece written to my photography students at the end of a fine semester at New Mexico State University. Forgive the “first person.” Originally posted on their class website at www.nmsu.documentaryshooters.com:

CrazyHands_WarmBlankie LoRes

Brucini w/New Blan­ket from a Good Friend, El Paso –Dec. 9, 2009

So it comes to this, the semes­ter ends, we go our own way, we know more for hav­ing known each other.

We have had our ambi­tions and we have had our dis­ap­point­ments but, what we mostly have had, I think, is a jour­ney of discovery.

At least, it’s has been that way for me.

I was given some­thing won­der­ful today: a very warm blan­ket from a very good and thought­ful friend (she had heard that my Loft is frigid in the win­ters, a con­crete old fac­tory build­ing of a palace, not designed to be lived in).

I stopped on the way home for some Christ­mas lights. First time in my life I have bought any. How can one not suc­cumb to this Sea­son when such kind ges­tures are extended?

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“Rats” in a bad spot (or is it pretty?)

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Pretty spot/bad times-Juarez 2009

Juarez / October 2009

Murders continue.

Record year.

Day of the Dead is coming. Like every day hasn’t been that.

The streets have an eerie decay to them. Litter. Boarded up windows. Still a lot of hustle but the nights are empty and in the shadows are things no one wants to see.

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I Am Free

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Johnland,  El Paso – June 2009

Been thinking about this guy and borders and the idea of the Big Picture versus the small picture ever since I made it (the photo) this summer, on an almost rainy night, in the northeast section of town, out by the military base.

John Hughes.

Angry. Joyous. Funny. Dangerous. Sweet. Full of love, hate and ambivalence. Boozed up, half mad, half brilliant.

“I am free,” he shouts at the night. “I am free and I am in hell.”

I ask him if he ever goes across the border?

“I am borderless,”he replies, “aren’t you?” He shakes his hand and does a twirl, almost stepping into busy Saturday night traffic.

He does a little dance and steps so close to the edge of the curb that I go to grab him but he spins back onto the sidewalk and does a very theatrical bow. He is a tight rope walker and it looks like he has done this toe dance forever.

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Murder Is A Teaching Moment (Editor Says…)

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Picture 10

Local TV Handles Vilolence In Juarez (at least Art about violence)

  • SEE FULL VIDEO ABOUT THE ART CONTROVERSY:
  • >http://www.kvia.com/
  • >Go to page #6 of videos
  • >Hit:”Controversial border art makes waves”

Your Editor Stumbles Into a Defense Of Decapitated Heads (Art) At El Paso’s Library

July 9, 2009

Editor’s Note: Here is what they left on the “cutting room floor”

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Que Miras Musico: Change

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Musicos, El Paso – April 2009

Wary eyes.

Everyone’s wary, in El Paso/Juarez, these days. The border is at war, with itself, with it’s two yin/yang sides, with the Interiors of each of the two sides.

Everyone’s wondering where it’ll end, where they will fall on the have and have not scale, what’ll be left of this little rough Shangri La (not a Shangri La of paradise but a refuge for those who have fallen from paradise. Sort of a suburb of Shangri La).

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No Futbol War

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“Maleno,” Juarez – March 2009

Juarez, March 13, 2009/ Estado Benito Juarez, Juarez, Chihuahua/Mexico

The Juarez Indios are a professional futbol team(soccer). They are in the middle of the Cartel Drug War. Much of the city of Juarez has rallied around the Indios, finding some “normalacy,” in the middle of the troubled Juarez violencia. Julio Daniel “Maleno” Frias is a star of the team, a “striker,” a troubled city’s hero. The city loves him, he’s a hero in the middle of bad news caused by rats. When Maleno,” was younger he joined a gang. He got shot. He decided to change his life and he did. Maybe this is why the city fell in love with him, he’s a living metaphor for a city’s hopes. Maybe they just like the way he plays: smooth, quiet and intense.

Some players have left the team and others have sent their families back to the cities they came from (some in Mexico, one in Argentina), trying to avoid the touch of violence that has afflicted Juarez, Mexico’s third largest city.
The team is struggling to stay in the top tier of Mexico’s professional soccer league.
Attendance is sold out.

Futbol is trumping the war.

So far.

Life goes on.

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Border Magic Eye

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Cordula at the fence, March 23, 2009

Anapra, NM/Colonia Anapra, Juarez, Chihuahua

Yesterday I worked with an incredible journalist from Der Spiegel (the German equivalent of Time). She is German, from the north of Germany. Works out of the DC Bureau. Sharp and smart and witty and ironic and puro journalist. We did a story at Fort Bliss. She was bright and lively and brave and charming and funny and we’d had a successful day and did a great story together. She wanted to see “El Paso.”

So we head for the border (I’m a one trick pony. To me, the border is El Paso).

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Lomas del Poleo revisited

Protest for Lomas del Poleo, Jan. 2008

Protest for Lomas del Poleo, El Paso-Jan. 2008

It was only a year ago that the plight of the people of Lomas del Poleo was the highest priority of cross border activist politics. The people were systematically being robbed of their land, their court actions were, basically, being stonewalled, the injustice of the top to the bottom was blatant and a coalition of forces stepped up and, on this day did, a bi-national protest at the Mexican Counsulate in El Paso and the Mexican Counsulate in Jaurez.

That seems like long ago.

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Santa? Juarez needs one

Santa en Juarez-Dieciembre 2008

Venga Santa….come on!

If ever there was a place (other than certain parts of Africa right now) that need some kind of Devine Intervention, this is it.

Come on Santa! Forget the regalos. Paz, baby. Bring on the Peace.

If there is a Santa, bring on the Peace.

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Two way island

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FBA#20-El Paso/Juarez-Dec. 2008

First block of America (FBA).

El Paso Street. La Frontera. I’d call it Texas but it ain’t. Everyone knows it if they’re from here. Texans hold their arms out, full length. Americans think it’s part of Mexico…or hell. New Mexicans…furgidaboutit! It’s all they have to really feel superior to.

El Paso, the nation-state of nowhere.

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Tender mercy

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LBI #7 Pano.series-Carlsbad, New Mexico/December2008

Been working on the Land Before the Interstate (LBI) series for a long time. Every chance I get to go there I grab. Time machine. No Interstate. No giant concrete suppository running right through your heart. The kinds of places Duvall would crash down in in Tender Mercies.

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Mexico’s other border

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SEE VIDEO: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/video/player?titleID=1372185572

 

Borders. North and south. Mexico is a yin yang of the first order.

See what’s going on on the southern border and get some insights into what’s going on on the northern one.

Article by the always interesting and powerful Charles Bowden with cut-to-the-bone humane photographs by superb Magnum shooter, Alex Webb.

 

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Immigration abuse never ends. Jacob Riis: Concerned Photographer

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“Slept In That Cellar Four Years,” 1890-92

“Slept in the cellar (of a Ludlow Street tenement)

where the water was ankle deep on the mud floor”

View more work -and hear an excellent NPR audio clip- by the great Danish-American documentary photojournalist. He was one of the first to use “flash,” (first introduced in Germany in 1887). Riis cast the mold for what a “Concerned Photographer,” is, and launched a century of relevant, motivating and society-changing “witnessing.”

Editor’s Note:

For more images and audio clip: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91981589

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