09 / 09 / 2009
Regular visitors to Visa Pour L’Image certainly remember Jérôme Sessini’s outstanding work on “Iraq 2003/2005”, exhibited in Perpignan in 2005. This year, Jérôme comes back with a shock report on Mexico and the irreversible chaos in which the country seems to be caught since violence exploded following the war between the cartels.
Jérôme Sessini, an autodidact and independent photographer, started his first photo reports with the agency Gamma, covering the conflict in Kosovo in 1999. "I've always been interested in the news, and in the "visual writing" of photography. I gradually started taking social pictures in France, covering demonstrations. I was a freelance photographer for Gamma. When the war in Kosovo broke out, the agency was looking for a photographer to follow the Kosovars. I happened to be there, and Didier Contant, the editor at that time, asked me if I had a camera with me". A few minutes later, with 5000 francs and 30 films in his pocket, Jérôme found himself in a car, following the bus of Kosovar. "I was anxious, but it was the ideal opportunity to prove myself." His pictures began being published regularly.
Then, Jérôme photographed international news, like the war in Iraq, the Haitian crisis, the violence in Colombia, illegal immigration in the south of Mexico, and the devastating effects of pesticides on farm workers in Nicaragua. He has regularly been to Mexico since 2000. "The country immediately attracted me. I found it interesting by its social and political context, but also by its contrasts, the variety of subjects we can cover there." Two years ago, Felipe Calderon declared war on drug traffickers, and ever since, Mexico has been in a state of civil war. The death toll is close to 9000 among drug dealers, police and civilians. His report, "So far from God, too close to the USA", exhibited in couvent des minimes, describes the position of Mexico. "I'm interested in telling a photographic story that shows a reality. I let people form an opinion. The goal is not to provide solutions or answers, but to inform."
After several trips to Mexico, spending months in the most violent cities - Culiacan, Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez - Jérôme Sessini can report on what the Mexicans call the "narco-insurrection". Confrontations between cartels are reaching a rare degree of cruelty, as they fight to control strategic drug routes to California and Texas. "The two times I've been to those cities, there was a curfew. At 5PM, streets emptied." Jérôme does not really feel the danger. "Maybe, I'm getting used to work over there, but I feel safer in Mexico than in Bagdad, or Somalia. During the day, it's okay. One night, I really became aware of danger, when, the day after I had a drink in a bar, I heard that there had been a shooting in that bar, a few minutes after I left." As far as working conditions are concerned, Jérôme thinks they were pretty easy. "I speak their language, I know local journalists, and I have a direct contact with the Mexicans. But some pictures, like executions in the street, are hard to take, because the police prevents the journalists from getting too close." The few photos of corpse were taken before the police arrived and set up the safety zone. Jérôme has noted a change in the police's behavior towards journalists. Since 2 years, they try to control the image of the country.
Jérôme Sessini admits that if he decided to live in Mexico, he would strop working on these subjects. "As a foreign photographer, I've never been under pressure, contrary to local journalists. Sometimes, the cartels use them to put a message across in their work. They say "tomorrow, someone will be murdered and we want you to be there to photograph." Either the journalist refuses (and can be in serious trouble), or he accepts and is caught up in the system.
Christian Poveda's assassination on September the 3rd, 2009, reminds all the photojournalists of the extreme violence of those countries; you can never lower your guard. Like Miquel Dewever-Plana, who will go back to Guatemala soon, Jérôme Sessini is planning to go back to Mexico to pursue his project.