Henry Grabar is a freelance writer and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.
A group of photographers set out to reinvent the image of Ciudad Juarez.
Like many a proud citizen, Luis Pegut wants to promote his home. But the task is daunting: Pegut is from Ciudad Juárez, a city whose reputation is defined by drug-related violence and a murder epidemic that has left hundreds dead in the last couple of years, 60 in the first six months of this year alone.
Still, the Mexican border city is home to over 1.3 million people, and Pegut and his colleagues are determined to prove that there's more to Juarez than grisly newspaper reports. "There's violence, yes, but there's also culture," he says.
Pegut, a well-known juarense photographer, has organized a handful of local photographers to capture the positives of life in the city. The group, Juárez: Ciudad que se restaura, or “Juarez: A City on the Mend,” is working toward compiling a database of 1,500 images of good vibes in a city with a lot of bad news.
If there was ever a city in need of some civic boosterism, this is it. The report this January that Juárez had dropped from the murder capital of the world to second on the list (behind San Pedro Sula, Honduras), may signal the beginning of a turnaround but hardly seems like something to celebrate.
Pegut came up with the idea of a Juárez photography collective towards the end of 2010, and the group made its debut last fall at a local gallery, part of the nationwide Fotoseptiembre festival. This June, it opened a second exhibition, at the Ciudad Juárez University of Technology. A third is scheduled to open in September at another university gallery in Juárez. Pegut says he is in the process of bringing the project, which is supposed to last until 2015, to Mexico City, Phoenix, and Washington D.C. It's not the only citizens group that has taken on the responsibility for the city’s reputation—in April, local designers organized a fashion show with the slogan "Amor por Juárez."
The vision of Ciudad que se restaura is loosely defined. There is no prescribed subject beyond the city and its environs. The images are not peppy or saccharine, and they don't have the controlled focus of an advertising campaign. Instead they give Juárez a visual reputation that belies the headlines, an insistence that normal life goes on here, or what the group has called “the human face of the border.”
Top image: Alberto Garcia.
All images from Juarez: Ciudad que se restaura.