He photographed crime scenes in Mexico City for 50 years. How did we not know about this guy until now? Here, Metinides talks to <i>Vice</i> about his life and his work. Imagine if he was your grandpa
He photographed crime scenes in Mexico City for 50 years. How did we not know about this guy until now? Here, Metinides talks to Vice about his life and his work. Imagine if he was your grandpa.
hen I was ten years old my dad had a business where he sold, among other things, cameras and rolls of film to tourists. The business was on downtown Mexico City’s main street, Avenida Juarez, in front of the Alameda Central. That’s like Mexico City’s Central Park. When they knocked down the building where my dad’s business was in the 1940s to build a big department store, he gave me a camera that he hadn’t sold and a bag full of film. I started taking pictures around downtown Mexico City.
It was around that time that I started taking photos of crashed cars. When there was an accident in the city, the police used to tow the cars to the front of the downtown police station. I would go over there to take pictures of them. I was a big fan of gangster movies, Al Capone, and any sort of cop movie. I used to go see those movies in the theaters downtown. I was fascinated by those movies.
The year after I started taking pictures my dad opened a restaurant and the local cops used to go there for lunch every day. I got to know a lot of them, and they started taking me to the station to take pictures of the people they arrested and the corpses they would pick up.
I remember when I was 11 years old I went to the police station one day and they had just brought in this guy who had been decapitated on the train tracks. Somebody had tied his neck down and the train wheel ran over it. It was the first time I’d seen a dead body so close-up. I took a picture of him with his head in his hands. Later on, when I began working as a crime-scene photographer’s assistant, I would see 30, 40, 50 corpses a day.
I really wanted to be a crime reporter at that age, and I used to collect crime stories from the press, from all around the world. I would cut them out of the paper and paste them in an album I had. One day there was a car accident right next to a restaurant my dad had opened in San Cosme. I ran out to take some pictures. A photographer from the La Prensa newspaper showed up to take some pictures too, and he saw me there and invited me to come work as his assistant at the newspaper. That’s how I got my first job.
I started taking pictures all over the city, and the newspaper always used my pictures because they thought they were the best shots. I was still in grammar school then. By the time I was 14 I was on the payroll at another important paper, called Zocalo, and I was working with famous Mexican crime magazines like La Alarma, Crimen, and Nota al Crimen.
The police and the firemen back then were very helpful, not like nowadays. Back then they would let you ride in their trucks, they’d let you get into the crime scene. Now they won’t let you get anywhere near the scene because they don’t want people to know what’s happening in Mexico.
I worked for 50 years as a crime photographer. I started taking these pictures when I was ten and I stopped when I was 59 years old. I’ve seen more corpses than anyone. I’d say that I’ve seen more corpses than Weegee himself, and I love Weegee. I’m a huge fan. I have like seven books of his at my home. In fact they once published a book in France that is a mix of my work and Weegee’s.
Weegee had a police radio in his car. I was the first photographer in Mexico to do the same. As soon as the police were informed of a crime I would know exactly where it was and would even get there before them. When I would get to a crime scene I would photograph the house, the weapon, the witnesses, the onlookers, the photographs of the victims when they were alive… everything. I actually used to give my photographs to the police to conduct their investigations. They once solved a crime thanks to one of my pictures. I used to photograph the people who would come to look at the crime scene, the onlookers. On one occasion, I photographed all the onlookers at a murder scene and it later turned out that in one of the photographs I had captured the murderer, who was also the victim’s best friend and had claimed to be out of town on the day of the homicide. He was in the picture looking at the crime scene, but when they had interrogated him he swore he had been out of town visiting friends.
In Mexico City there’s always been a lot of accidents and a lot of deaths. I can remember so many cases where bodies were cut up into little pieces and sprinkled throughout the city. Mexico City is full of the worst crimes that you could ever imagine. I’ve seen more accidents and crimes than you’d believe. But I really wish I could have been in New York for 9/11. What a spectacle that was!
AS TOLD TO SANTIAGO STELLEY
This is a picture of one of so many poor people who, to this day, continue to steal electricity in Mexico City. They connect a cable to their home and then climb up the post to hook into the system, but they often get electrocuted.
This picture was taken on Avenida Chapultepec and Calle de Monterrey in Colonia Roma. She was a very famous journalist who wrote some really good books. That day she had a book-release party and was on her way there. She was all made up, going to pick up her sister to go to the event. Crossing the street, two cars crashed and then ran her over. This picture is great because she has all her makeup on and she just doesn’t look dead even though she is.
Click on images to enlarge This lady went to Chapultepec, Mexico City’s biggest park, and asked which was the oldest tree. She went to the tree, pulled a rope out of her purse, and hanged herself. When they took the body down from the tree, they found a photograph of her daughter in her purse with a note that read: “My husband left me and took my daughter when she was nine years old, and today, when she turns 15 and I still haven’t seen her, I can no longer take the pain and I’m taking away my own life.”
Commandos assaulted a bank and killed three police officers. After killing the officers they took the money and ran. When the police cars and ambulances started to show up, the criminals went into a shopping center on Avenida Universidad. Once they got inside there was a big shootout, and many of the customers were injured. The robbers got away through the back door. They never caught them. I’ve been caught in the middle of so many shootouts! I remember being at one where some commandos had assaulted a factory. They had killed four people. As the police were catching up with them, they hid in a movie theater. The police surrounded the theater and there was a huge shootout. The police officer that was standing next to me was shot in the stomach.