’Sicarios: Latin American Assassins,’ a photo-book by Javier Arcenillas, won’t be to everybody’s taste. Violence, death and bloodshed stain virtually every page, and not in a subtly suggestive way either.
Arcenillas explores a culture of ’murder for hire’ in Guatemala, where anyone can have anyone else killed, for any reason. It is not only the brutality of these murders that Arcenillas portrays, but the incredible frequency of them. He states that this is one of the realest stories he’s ever told, and I don’t doubt him for a second.
Some might argue that to photograph a dead man, not yet even removed from a crime scene, is disrespectful… gruesome… even perverse? And yet, none of those feelings come across in ’Sicarios.’
There is no sense of Arcenillas attempting to shock for the sake of sensationalism. This is photo-journalism at it’s rawest and most unadulterated. The photographs are only as violent as the violence that was truly there in that moment. Consequently, it’s a sense of tragic hopelessness, rather than disgust, that these images provoke in me.
’Sicarios’ goes beyond being a typical fly on the wall project. Arcenillas is no outsider looking in. He’s right at the centre of the action with a pistol pointing straight at him, or his camera lens stuck in a car of dead bodies. That action is portrayed in the movement that his images capture, and consequently so is the sense of real danger.
This photo-book addresses a real problem that affects real people, presented it in a way that no television documentary ever would. There is no sugar coating for our ’sensitive’ eyes, as there is none for those who live with this problem everyday.
It’s a collection of work that’s full of authentic grit and crude truth, and it’s this that makes ’Sicarios’ such a brave and stunning feat of photo-journalism.
’Sicarios: Latin American Assassins’ is available in hardback and now also as an iBook. You can download it here.
Reviewed by Francesca Bassenger. Photography © Javier Arcenillas, with thanks to FotoEvidence.