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Photography, Violence, and the Exposure of an Open Secret

Héctor Parra

In the various, interconnected contexts of this intricately globalized, mediatized 21st century, the way in which secrets are created, kept, and broken continues to be of vital importance for both the field of social sciences and public opinion in general.

The act of photographing has accompanied the development of societies since the early modern period. In its multiple forms of application, it has been the instrument par excellence to record the various faces of human development. Images testify to cultural diversity and daily interactions, conflicts and peace, and—inasmuch as they provide us with sensitive information regarding human activity—they act as a source of knowledge.

Black Thursday caught most of us by surprise. What began as an ordinary Thursday in the city of Culiacán would become a source of shock. Information circulated through various channels. Those in the halls of the Federal Government knew that something was about to occur while, on the broad streets of our city, it looked to be just another day. Much has already been said and analyzed about the sequence of events that followed, and the recordkeeping of them following the conflict.

On a symbolic level, a shattering event took place, breaking the surface tension of our placid, daily calm that keeps our public secrets under wraps, hidden behind our ability to pretend, which we have acquired in order to go on with our activities in peace. There are facts that we are not aware of, hidden relationships, secrets that—in the context of institutional corruption—make it more dangerous to know what should not be known.

In the deep recesses, secrets acquire symbolic forms that create terror for those who dare to inhabit that shattering event. The mechanisms of violence in these cases seek to create fear—fear of telling the truth, fear of knowing it—and lead to the configuration of a public secret. We may all know “who did it,” but it is more valuable for us to know that this is something we shouldn’t know. This is a strategy of self-preservation in the face of tragic events.

On Black Thursday, our secret was exposed. The superficial facade was torn to shreds, and rumors took on an objective form. At certain moments, we saw the power and size of the monster whose existence was well-known, and yet, many of us were unaware of its dimensions or what it was capable of doing.

In rising to the surface, the truth tore reality to sheds. In the end, it was a reality that walks, one that drives in motor vehicles down every corner of the city. The secret of our fragility was weakened, and we saw that the State did not have the only monopoly on violence. For quite some time now, it has also been in the hands of a different form of opposition, one veiled, existing in secret.

 

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Héctor Parra is a photojournalist and anthropologist with a Master’s Degree in History from the Autonomous University of Sinaloa (UAS).

This project is a joint effort between the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, the Noria Mexico-Central America program, and Revista Espejo.
 

La versión en español se encuentra aquí

Click here for a PDF version of this project in English. Para PDF en español da click aquí

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