Photographing Juarez, Where Everyday Life Can Include Gang Violence

BY Larisa Epatko  June 29, 2012 at 12:45 PM EDT

For more than two decades, Mexican photographer Julian Cardona has documented the lives of Ciudad Juarez residents, both as their city thrived, and lately, as it’s suffered from poverty and violence.

In the early 1990s, after Mexico, Canada and the United States signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, American industrial parks multiplied in Mexico, especially along the border. Located on the Rio Grande, Juarez became known for its job opportunities, and people came from all over the country to settle there, Cardona told the NewsHour’s Margaret Warner. Mexicans also used Juarez as a base to cross into El Paso, Texas, mainly to work in people’s homes, he said.

But some Mexicans weren’t content with low-paying factory jobs, so they looked for other ways to line their pockets.

One Friday evening years ago, Cardona drove up to an intersection and saw two men dressed as clowns, who were hoping to earn some extra cash from passers-by. “It was something I had never seen in the city,” he said, so he snapped some photographs before continuing on his way.

Others opted for more malicious ways of making money. As the city’s population swelled, domestic drug markets and gang violence also grew, produing a parallel illegal economy that now includes kidnapping, extortion and carjacking, he said. In response to the growing violence, thousands of Juarez residents have abandoned their businesses and homes in the past few years.

“What we have seen in Juarez since 2008 is that anybody can be a victim,” from doctors to journalists to shopkeepers, he added.

Even though life can look bleak, there are people struggling to improve Juarez and make it more welcoming to newcomers, Cardona said. “That makes my life and my days because I know there are many people who are just committed to bring[ing] the best to their society, to their community.”

More Mexico-related Coverage:

On Friday’s NewsHour, we aired a profile of Cardona:

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