Skip navigation
Help

violence

warning: Creating default object from empty value in /var/www/vhosts/sayforward.com/subdomains/recorder/httpdocs/modules/taxonomy/taxonomy.pages.inc on line 33.

Joziane Shedid - that was her name. After a difficult search, we had managed to identify the blood-soaked young woman in a picture taken by Reuters photographer Hasan Shaaban in the wake of a...

0
Your rating: None

LightBox presents an exclusive look at an interactive, narrative documentary about gang violence in Guatemala told through the story of Alma, a young former gang member.

“In an isolated house, there was a girl older than me. Blond, begging to be spared…my whole body was telling me not to, but in the end I killed her. I knew I would get killed myself is I did not obey.” —Alma

Alma was only 15 years old the first time she took a life. As a member of one of the most violent gangs in Guatemala, the Mara 18, Alma spent eight years of her young life in a world ruled by violence. After a brutal beating caused her to suffer a miscarriage, Alma had enough, but her effort to leave the gang was met with an assassination attempt that left her a paraplegic. Today, at 26, Alma hopes to help stop the kind of violence that ruled her life for so long.

Gang violence is an enormous problem in Guatemala—a country of just 14 million people with one of the highest murder rates in the world. Alma’s story is indicative of a pattern that has affected a generation of disenfranchised youth in her country. She grew up in a cardboard and plastic shack in one of the most dangerous slums in Guatemala City. With a largely absent mother and an alcoholic father, gang life appealed to a 15-year-old girl looking for protection and comfort.

“I feel I have never received love from anyone,” Alma said. “I looked for another family in a gang, in which all members were like me, undergoing lack of love…for the first time in my life I felt loved and respected. ”

Miquel Dewever-Plana—Agence VU

At the age of 22, Alma told her “homies” (the members of her gang) that she wanted to leave. The retaliation came on the same day when two of them attempted to murder her. She survived, but is now paraplegic.

In 2008, Alma met photographer Miquel Dewever-Plana, who has been photographing the violence in Guatemala since 2007. Intrigued by Alma’s beauty and candor, amid such a cruel environment, Plana stayed in touch with the young woman, eventually realizing her story could be a powerful way-in to explain the larger tale of violence in Guatemala.

“I became convinced that her intelligence and forceful nature made her the icon I was looking for,” Plana said in an interview with Le Pelerin weekly’s Catherine Lalanne. “She was the key to understanding the most secretive twists and turns of the gang phenomenon.”

After a year-and-a-half of consideration, Alma agreed to collaborate with Plana and writer Isabelle Fougere. Her story is at the center of a new, multi-platform project centered around an interactive web documentary that presents Alma’s narration in a straight-forward confessional format. Plana’s photographs of her Guatemalan neighborhood and its gangs help to visualize the violent world in which she lived and powerful drawings by Hugues Micol illustrate troubling scenes from Alma’s life.

Working with a team of designers at the French creative studio Upian, Plana and Fougere, say they intended to create a final product—with a sensitive and innovative approach to a narrative— that would be interactive and accessible. The final product, which took two years to develop, is incredibly in-depth—allowing its audience to explore the story through the innovative web piece, two books and a film, all available in four languages. Supplemental materials were also designed for classroom use.

“This combination of media communicates Alma’s reality in the most effective way,” Plana said. “The web documentary was designed to inform young people about the dangers of gang life. That was my ultimate goal.”

Plana and Fougere recognize the confusing emotions that came as their relationship with Alma developed. “I see Alma as a friend,” Plana said. “But I never forget what she did, and it is impossible for me to justify her deeds.”

Plana has worked and studied in Guatemala’s since 1995 and has documented the country’s gang violence since 2007. It was this experience—which included extensive interviews with mareros in prison—that prepared him to understand and contextualize Alma’s situation.

Despite the risk of exposure and the discomfort of reliving such painful experiences, for Alma, the project was an opportunity to bear witness to her past and to attempt to prevent other youth from choosing the same fate.

“It was very painful for Alma to talk without feeling judged, to empty her haunted conscience of all these gruesome memories and guilt,” Fougere said. “This web-documentary is her path to redemption.”

Watching Alma speak on screen, it is difficult to connect the words with the woman. Soft-spoken, with long black hair and soft features, Alma slowly describes in brutal detail taking the life of another woman and enduring beatings at the hands of her “homies.” But it is precisely in this disconnect that the power of this project lies—it emphasizes that Guatemala’s gang violence is not the result of a few crazed individuals, but a tragic consequence of social problems so endemic that they can turn a young girl into a brutal criminal.

“Alma’s extremely violent story seemed emblematic of the desperation of youths from shanty town, totally abandoned by a society rife with corruption and impunity,” said Fougere. “[she is] Both victim and perpetrator of this endemic violence.”

Today, Alma lives a quiet life. Confined to a wheelchair, she works as a gift-wrapper  in a shop and lives with her boyfriend, Wilson, in a rented room. Further retaliation from her former gang is a constant threat, but she focuses on her dream of going to college to study psychology.

“I hope that [one]day I have the means to help these young people fascinated by the world of gangs,” she said. “And to finally break this chain of violence which only leads to a certain death.”

Miquel Dewever-Plana is a photographer represented by VU’. See more of his work here.

Isabelle Fougere is a French journalist, writer and director focused on human rights.

Alma: A Tale of Violence was released on arte.tv on Oct. 25, 2012. It was produced by Upian, a French creative studio that has won numerous awards for their web documentaries including First Prize in World Press Photo 2011.

All quotes by Miquel Dewever-Plana and Isabelle Fougere are from an interview with Le Pelerin weekly’s Catherine Lalanne, which is a component of the Alma project.

0
Your rating: None

“There has never been a shortage of bereaved mothers in the sprawling, violent Caracas barrio known as Catia,” writes correspondent Tim Padgett in last week’s issue of TIME International. Caracas, he notes, usually suffers some 50 homicides a week, making it one of the world’s deadliest capitals. As many as a third of them occur in Catia, where gunmen even use hillside garbage chutes to more efficiently dispose of corpses. Few of the killers are ever prosecuted.

The black-and-white photographs of Oscar B. Castillo, a Caracas-based photojournalist, accompany Padgett’s bleak dispatch. Documenting the violence of the barrio put Castillo at immense risk—from both gang members and the police.

“I felt safer when I was with the gangs than when I hung around the city by myself,” he told TIME. Although never far from the shadow of gratuitous violence, Castillo acknowledges that codes of respect and solidarity run deeply through the community.

“The people took care of me and protected me in risky situations,” he said. “When I told one of the guys involved in gang violence about the story, he told me to talk about their bad situation…to tell the kids that inside gang life, there’s no life at all.”

Castillo began photographing the street gangs of Caracas almost three years ago. Since then, he’s endeavored to use his photography as a way to explain to outsiders the complex layers of life in Catia.

“I would like to share a more complete and sincere vision of this moment in Venezuelan history. I am focused on this because it is my hometown, my country, my family—it is my people that are wounding and killing each other.”

Oscar B. Castillo is a member of the Fractures Photo Collective. View more of his work on FracturesPhoto.com.

0
Your rating: None

Years ago, someone shot my friend and tried to shoot me. The experience compelled me to travel across America documenting the carnage created by the estimated 270 million guns in circulation nationwide.

Over a two-year period I encountered scenes both bloody and harrowing: hospital emergency rooms, morgues and the confused aftermaths of random shooting sprees. After every new massacre, the newspaper headlines were always the same: “We thought we were the safest place in America.”

The headlines are always followed by psychological profiles of the gunman, along with portraits of the victims and endless memorial services. And always the same bewildered question, “Why did it happen here?”

Nelson’s photographs originally appeared in the July 6, 1998 issue of TIME

On hearing news reports of another recent horror—the bloody shooting rampage in a cinema in Denver on July 20, I felt a depressing sense of deja-vu. A decade after first documenting America’s obsession with firearms, this latest atrocity seemed all too familiar.

Then another mass shooting, only two weeks after, on Aug. 5. This time a crazed gunman (male, as usual) with a semi-automatic handgun shot six people dead at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

What is most disturbing about the 13 years that have elapsed since my immersion into American gun culture is that nothing has changed, nothing has improved. In fact, the laws controlling the trade and ownership of guns have actually gotten weaker. The national federal ban on assault weapons has expired, and Wisconsin, joining many other U.S. states, passed a law in 2011 allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons.

In 1999 I visited Columbine, Colo., in the immediate aftermath of a school shooting rampage by two teenage pupils armed with a variety of deadly weapons. They killed 12 of their classmates and a teacher, and left a community reeling in shock. At that time, witnessing groups of weeping children, floral tributes and candle-lit vigils, I thought surely this obscene event would be a catalyst to change America’s deadly love affair with the gun. Surely the time had come when public opinion would demand a strengthening of U.S. gun laws, a tightening of controls.

The local newspapers were full of shock, rage and sympathy, but on the back pages in the classified ads there were more guns for sale, freely available without permits or background checks. Gun shops opened for business as usual and people continued to sell weapons from the back of their cars at flea markets and over the Internet.

The full scale of America’s Catch-22 could be seen in the nearby city of Denver, just days after the Columbine High School massacre, when the staunchly pro-gun National Rifle Association (NRA) annual convention took place in the very same city. This, combined with suggestions from local and national commentators that tragedies like Columbine could be prevented if teachers were armed, goes to show how complicated and contradictory the gun debate really is.

This summer, Denver was in the news again, reeling in the aftermath of its latest gun massacre. This time a 24-year-old opened fire at a packed cinema showing the new Batman movie, killing 12 people and injuring 58 more. Prior to the shooting, the killer was reported to have amassed a terrifying arsenal of four guns, 6,000 rounds of ammunition and sophisticated bullet-proof armour, without breaking a single law. All his purchases, both in person at a gun store and via the Internet, appear to have been legal, including buying a 100-bullet magazine for his semi-automatic military assault rifle.

Some argue that there is no link between the proliferation and the easy availability of firearms and the huge annual death toll. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that heavily armed young men massacring innocent people has become a too-common feature of contemporary American life.

Zed Nelson is a London-based photographer. See more of his work here.

0
Your rating: None