Mexican photographer Fernando Brito, who hails from the city of Culiacan, Sinaloa, comes across a ton of dead people while working as the photo editor of his local newspaper, El Debate. In the last two years, he’s won countless awards for his series Tus Pasos Se Perdieron con el Paisaje ( “Your Steps Were Lost in the Landscape”), which unsurprisingly features pictures of stiffs.
These days, there is no shortage of grisly images coming out of Mexico thanks to the brutal and ever-present battles between cartels and the government. But Brito’s work stands out because he seems to treat the cadavers as one with the landscape. There is a certain sense of tranquility in his pictures that softens the inherent horror of seeing the dead. Although he leans more towards art photography than journalism, Brito says his main goal is to bring attention to the crimes he sees on a regular basis, crimes he feels the world needs to be aware of. Inspired by his macabre work, we called him up for a chat.
VICE: How did you start creating artistic work, despite working for El Debate?
Fernando Brito: It made me sad to see these dead, forgotten people day in and day out. They go from real humans to statistics and old news overnight. At the same time, seeing the work that was printed in the news made me realize that none of those photographers had any experience and none of the photos had value. I realized that photographs in the papers do not withstand the test of time. For that to happen, a photo has to be entered in a contest and turn some heads. But really, my interest has never been to win as much as it has been to show what is happening. I focused on putting my photographs in galleries, recontextualizing them as art, and seeing what happened from there.
Did the pictures that you took for the newspaper overlap with the ones you put into galleries?
At first I worked on the series for myself, I never showed anyone. Those photos were never published in the paper. I thought of the work I did for the newspaper as something they would print. I took photos for the series separately.
What did your coworkers think? Did they find it strange or curious?
They never thought anything because I never showed anyone. The truth is, I only showed the photographs to people years after I took them.
How do you manage to take these photographs without anyone around?
I’ve never been alone with a corpse. I was never the first on the scene. There are certain people that we call, like the police and funeral services. There are also usually other reporters there from other newspapers. We rely on each other so that we’re never alone. When I’m through with my tour around the body, getting the photos I need for the paper, I stand in a place where I will get the shot that I want and wait for everyone to move out of the frame. Sometimes I take a ton of photos, sometimes I only take one.
When will this project be complete?
It will go on indefinitely. Every time I go out in the field and see an opportunity to take a photograph for the series, I jump on it. I’ve rejected a few proposals to turn the photos into a book. A book of dead people doesn’t really appeal to me.
Why do you think your series has drawn so much interest?
It’s simple: Every time someone sees a photo, they know more about what’s happening in Mexico and they’re more inclined to question it and possibly take steps to end it. That’s also why Pedro Pardo won a prize at the World Press Photo Contest, because he shows exactly what is happening.
What other stories do you want to document?
I’m interested in many stories, but I can’t abandon my protest of these crimes. There are still so many parts of the story to tell. We live in an extremely corrupt country with very little governmental transparency. The reasons are obvious. No one can guarantee honesty.
What comes next in your career?
I’ll probably continue as the photo editor of El Debate, but I have some projects on the horizon. I’m investigating the displaced people in Sinaloa. There are so many people being affected by it and I think that story needs to be brought to light. The more people that talk about what’s happening in the world, the better. I hope that I won’t be the only one.