From nannies turned into thieves, men committing armed robberies, pickpockets and murderers, Stefan Ruiz’s new book published by GOST has it all. From his personal archive, Ruiz welcomes readers to his collection of photograph from an archive, which help to shape out a time in Mexico’s history of crime, violence and corruption.
The photographs themselves are what you would expect from police photographs, yet there is something about crime images of this nature that the photography world can’t get enough of. These are not images where the photographer has spent a while planning a shoot, getting the right lighting, playing around with props and different locations. The photographs are to serve a simple purpose, to document the criminal in front of the camera, nothing more and nothing less. Yet with these simple portraits, they open up a deeper social and political context of the times the photographs were taken in. Creating their very own genre and aesthetic, without intending to.
As you turn the pages, some portraits and scenes will grab you more than others. A wide range of ages, both male and female exists within this book, adding a punctum which different readers will take way. Personally, images of young men, staring down the lens and sizing themselves up, not older than myself made them instantly relatable, would we be in their shoes if we were part of the crime culture in Mexico? Rational people, who turn to extreme circumstances to get by, whatever the answer is, this book feels respectful and well articulated to those whose faces appear within each page. Which is important. Photographs of this nature carry a weight not only to the past, but the present and future. Although this is an archive, the issues it delves into, are still issues present today.
A book of this nature, the chances of the police portraits becoming repetitive and loose the viewer’s attention is high. But with some clever editing, we are given more than we can chew. And any feelings that you’ve seen books like this before are flushed down the photography toilet of prejudice thinking. Police illustrations of possible suspects and scenes of bank heists unfolding come into play. Crinkled pieces of paper, circle stains lifting off the image, to suggest an officer’s cup of coffee has rested upon the image whilst taking a statements from possible an eyewitness.
Then, we get introduced to Alejandra Hernandez Ramirez. A nanny who has gone rogue and turned to the crime world. Eyes filled up with tears, one woman looks as if she can just about hold up the plaque of numbers to her face before breaking down. One can imagine what drove her and the rest of the people within this archive to make such crimes as armed robbery, battery and murder. And these questions are answered with the informative and fitting text at the back of the book. One thing GOST does better than any other book publisher, is make photographs and text work together in unison.
Rather than drowning the reader in art talk or academia, it’s a well-balanced and enjoyable read, keeping you hooked to find out more about the faces that linger in the photographs. The text like so few photography books helps to add a layer of information and context rather than drowning the reader in art speak or an academic language which isolates your regular audience member.
The text itself acts not only as an informative addition to the work, but a whose who in the world of Mexican crime. Revealing the identities and crimes of a few of the subjects in the images, there are brief accounts of some of those within the images, whilst after the text itself we are left with a long list of names. Some have the crimes committed are mentioned, some are absent with just a name and a face to go by. This adds another layer to the work, what crime did they commit? Why? Answers which should not be revealed to easily to the viewer, both the publishers of GOST and Stefan Ruiz are aware of this, keeping the reader firmly on the edge of their seat and hooked by these fascinating photographs from an archive, tantalising our taste buds. Another serving please Ruiz!
All images are copyright of Stefan Ruiz.
Mexican Crime Photographs / from the archive of Stefan Ruiz is available for purchase from GOST Books HERE