From the late 1940s to his retirement in 1993, Metinides worked for the Mexican popular press, in particular for the big selling tabloid La Prensa. The context for his work was the ‘Nota Roja’, or ‘bloody news’, a section of the mass media dedicated to violent, tragic or sensationalist real-life events, in which is expressed a distinctively Mexican approach to death, and its representation.
Metinides’s lifelong focus has been with the imagery of disaster and destruction, whether as the result of bad luck, human violence, or divine retribution. His subjects, all witnessed in or around his native Mexico City, include infernos, floods, aeroplane crashes, car crashes, train crashes, bus crashes, murders, accidents and suicides.
It’s tempting to characterise Metinides as a ‘Mexican’ Weegee - and certainly he shares with the older American a sense of the dark drama of human existence; an intuitive aptitude to frame and compose at often point blank range and breakneck speed; and an unerring ability to arrive first at the scene of the crime. (Weegee tapped into police radio, while Metinides, working simultaneously as a volunteer for the Red Cross, often arrived in an ambulance.) But where Weegee’s best work is confined to one decade in New York – the mid-30s to mid-40s - Metinides’s camera sweeps across five decades of life in Mexico City, and accumulates into a richly metaphoric archive of misfortune, vicissitude and vulnerability. Here, in a huge and hugely populous city, tragedy occurs on a crowded stage and his photographs capture a very distinctive sense of the human – and even, at times paradoxically, the humorous - dimensions of catastrophe. Metinides’s work is characterised by a level of compositional invention very rare in reportage photography. This arises from his early interest in the aesthetics of film noir, as well as a fascination with the spectators, as much as the survivors or victims, as protagonists in the drama of a particular event.
A women grieves her dead boyfriend stabbed in Chapultepec Park whilst resisting robbers. Mexico City, 1995
The exhibition is accompanied by a lavishly illustrated monograph, published by Thomas Dane, kurimanzutto and The Photographers' Gallery, with texts by Nestor Garcia Canclini and Gabriel Kuri.
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