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Alfredo Srur: Heridas

The “Heridas” series started in 2002, in the wake of an event that was vastly covered by the media and got great attention in context of human rights and among the progressive sectors of the Argentinian society. The late-90s, the years before the big social/economic crisis, was a period of extreme violence.

On February 6th 1999, a faction of the “death squads” operating in the north of Buenos Aires shot a 17 year old boy while he surrendered with arms high under a table inside one of the houses in the town of San Francisco, located in the San Fernando neighbourhood in the outskirts of Buenos Aires. The murdered young man was Victor Manuel Vital, but people called him “El Frente Vital”. He was known in the area for being a so-called “social bandit”: an outlaw that despite of his cruelty and illegal activities also turned his awareness of social justice into action by helping the poor. After his death, many of the local youngsters started praising him and asked for miracles at his grave. He became a kind of local hero or myth.

It was in 2002 when I first went to the neighbourhood. Frente Vital’s mother, who became a human rights activist after her son was murdered, invited me. I was amazed to find, only 30 kilometers away from the city of Buenos Aires, a cultural environment completely different from mine. I was 25 back then, and had already had a very intense experience in Medellin, Colombia, where I lived for one month in the house of Geovany, a local gangster and leader of the “Los Rambos” squad in the North-East Commune. At that time, the neighbourhood was at war and the paramilitaries were to gain full control over the territory. This Colombian experience changed my life forever, it changed the way I look at and feel things. It is as if I had discovered one of the secrets of life, one of these things that are hidden and nobody talks about. But in San Fernando, in my own country and a just few minutes from my house, there was also a subculture with its own social codes (which has now become the dominating culture) and an undeclared war was taking place.

My first visit to the neighbourhood was very limited, as I was there as a photojournalist whose job was to illustrate the daily news for one of the most important newspapers in Argentina. These circumstances didn’t allow me to dig in deep enough. As a photographer, I have always separated my commissioned from my personal work, and Ciudades del Este* is the only series that I consider to be personal despite of having made it on commission. But in this case, I felt that the story in San Fernando was a topic that required much more time and dedication than a press assignment could offer. So I decided to spend the next 12 years of my life photographing in San Fernando and, more important, nurturing the relationships I have established there. I have also come to realize how the media often “constructs” the reality in an unrealistic way in order to feed political and economical interests. I wanted to differentiate myself from that.

I do not agree with the “Frente Vital myth” that was created by the mass media after his murder. It’s easier to talk about the dead than to talk about the living people. Carlos, the protagonist of “Heridas”, is my alter ego. He was one of Frente Vital’s best friends and with him I could understand much more about my country, my culture, my family and the reason for everything. Carlos opened the doors to his house without any prejudices, and in the last years I saw him very often, both on liberty and in jail. We experienced together the birth of his daughter while he was on arrestment, as well as the birthday parties, the loves and the break-ups, the tortures and the happy times. From an artistic standpoint, I believe our collaboration and what we have created together (based on our friendship), is something never seen before in Argentina.  It represents the equal coexistence of two cultures that were never supposed to get together, influenced by the powers that nurture social fear and support the fragmentation of society. We are the post-dictatorship generation, the post-crisis generation, the generation-x. These photographs are our legacy.

* Ciudades del Este: For this series, Alfredo Srur spent one month photographing the landscape and the comunities located in the outskirts of the Triple Frontier: a tri-border area along the junction of Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil.

By Alfredo Srur
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