Jordi Ruiz Cirera: On This Side There Are Dreams, Too
Drugs, corruption and violence: the border region between Mexico and the USA is most commonly defined by negative headlines. The Spanish photographer is interested in the people behind the headlines, revealing their daily lives and questioning their hopes and dreams. His documentary and empathic series is made up of fascinating yet quiet images.
Ciudad Juárez may well have the worst reputation in the world. Located on Mexico’s northern border, it is regularly responsible for negative headlines: drug cartels, open violence, and migration conflicts. Between 2008 and 2012, the city of 1.5 million citizens, was considered the most dangerous place in the world. Blackmailing and kidnappings are the order of the day. Ciudad Juárez gained worldwide attention when the city was shattered by a series of brutal murders of women. The term ‘femicide’ was first coined there. Very few of the crimes get solved. In more recent years Mexico has strengthened its justice system and invested in the city’s administration. As a result, the city is no longer among the 50 most violent places in the world. Even so, many of the causes that led to Ciudad Juárez’s troubles remain to this day: badly paid jobs with no chance of advancement, street gangs, drug syndicates and corrupt officials, more billboards that trees, as well as the tempting proximity of its neighbouring country, the USA – on the one hand, a place migrants long to reach, on the other, a country with an insatiable appetite for drugs and practically inexistent gun laws, which make up a toxic contribution to the situation in the region.
“Photography is to me a way to tell stories.”
It was precisely this region that Ruiz Cirera chose for his photo series. He began the project in 2017, at the time when Donald Trump had decided to further extend the border wall between Mexico and the USA, and completed it last year. Undisturbed by the headlines, Ruiz Cirera concentrated on the people, on their stories, their everyday lives, their dreams and hopes. Initially, he wanted to explore the border situation from the Mexican side, and also the consequences the extension of the border wall would have. “However, the focus greatly changed as I got to know the region and eventually ended up focusing on the landscapes and people behind the newspaper headlines,” the photographer remembers. In some areas he worked with stringers, local people with connections. It was only with their aid that he was able to get a sense of what or when it was safe for him to take pictures. This also allowed him to keep a professional distance from the harrowing stories and realities of the migrants’ lives – their extremely vulnerable existence, so often impacted by violence.
“As a documentary photographer what I look for is a photo that brings both the context of the person or situation and an artistic approach that makes it visually relevant.”
It is no coincidence that Ruiz Cirera titled his series “On This Side There Are Dreams, Too”; and it is no coincidence that his pictures primarily feature individual and isolated people. The viewer can not fail to agree wholeheartedly with the photographer when he says: “The motif of loneliness is quite present: I wanted the work to show the invisible tension I often felt, the distances and the disconnection and isolation that I perceived in the region.”
They mostly speak of sadness, whispering about ways out and plans, but never of complete hopelessness. Considering the context of this violent and conflict-ridden region, the shots are surprisingly free of feelings of agitation, and full of documentary empathy.
Ruiz Cirera’s project was proposed by Zelda Cheatle, who was among this year’s 60 international LOBA nominators.
Jordi Ruiz Cirera
The documentary photographer and film maker was born in Barcelona in 1984. After achieving a BA in Design, he completed studies of photography with honours at the London College of Communication in 2011. His work appears in publications such as The Guardian, Spiegel and The New York Times. He has received international award and been exhibited around the globe. His first monograph, “Los Menonos”, was published by Éditions du LIC in 2014. Cirera is a member of Panos Pictures and the laif Agency.
Portrait: © Anna Huix