Clock wise from top left:
Two men under arrest in
front of the prosecutor’s
office in Mexico City;
Norteño musicians, who
sometimes compose ballads
about well-known drug
cartel members, play at a
nightclub; a mass for La
Santa Muerte (Saint Death),
thought to be worshipped by
drug dealers and criminals,
and part of a broad narco-
culture that is emerging in
Mexico; bodyguards at the
presidential palace before
an appearance by President
Rochkind’s book, recently released by Dewi Lewis Publishing ( www.
heavyhandsunkenspirit.com), is a harrowing account of a nation be-
sieged on all sides. That said, it is to Rochkind’s credit that Heavy Hand
is neither a grotesque nor a voyeuristic catalogue of human cruelty.
The photographer often turns his lens on the “collateral damage” of
Mexico’s drug war; images of bereaved families, impoverished towns
and masked policemen sit alongside photographs of exhausted mi-
grants, dingy black-lit bordellos and hollow-eyed prisoners. Rochkind
uses the term “tension” several times to describe the miasma of fear
and rage that hangs over every portrait. “I tried to show how the vio-
lence was affecting different parts of life in Mexico, from changing
migration patterns to an emerging narco-culture,” Rochkind explains.
“One of the most severe effects that people mentioned was an in-
creasing culture of impunity, where criminals were not likely to be
arrested, much less to go to jail. Many people I met had a general
mistrust of the police and army, [and] were afraid to be involved in
the judicial process in any way.”
Rochkind came to this story, and Mexico, obliquely. After five
years of working as a freelancer in Venezuela, straight out of college,
Rochkind began to tire of “illustrating other people’s stories as opposed to creating my own.” Wanting to work on something without
a “preconceived set of ideas,” he chose Mexico and “showed up, hung
out and waited to see what would happen.” That trip didn’t immediately result in any work, but over the next year he became increasingly interested in the intersections of poverty, migration and drugs
in the country. He decided to leave Venezuela for Mexico City.
From 2007 to 2011, Rochkind watched the conflict grow from a federal incursion in a corner of Mexico to a chaotic civil conflict that has
already left its indelible mark on Mexico’s government and society.
Although then-President Felipe Calderón’s ostensible aim in militarily confronting his nation’s drug cartels was to stop drug killings and
overthrow the cartel’s leadership, the eventual result was an explosion of violence across much of the country. Under intense pressure
from the government, the cartels retaliated with unprecedented attacks on federal authorities even as they splintered into smaller and
more inchoate feuding factions.