In conversation with: Yael Martinez

“A house that bleeds can be a family, a community, a country”

Across Mexico, more than 37,400 people have been categorized as ‘missing’ by official sources. The vast majority of those are believed to be dead—victims of ongoing violence that has claimed more than 250,000 lives since 2006. In his long term project The House that Bleeds, 2019 Photo Contest winner Yael Martinez explores the lasting psychological trauma for the family left behind. We speak with him about this project and the release of his book with the same name.

In 2013, one of Martinez’s brothers-in-law was killed and another two disappeared. This led him to document the resulting psychological and emotional fracture that these disappearances caused in his family.

What started as a way of channelling and understanding his pain and the pain of his family, became The House that Bleeds, a long term project spanning six years and a photo book, released in 2019.

“A house that bleeds can be a family, a community, a country.” For this project, made between 2013 and 2018, Martinez collaborated with his family and families of other missing people to create images that give a personal account of the despair and sense of absence that accrues over time.

“For me, it was very important to work with my family because it was a moment that changed our lives, it became a kind of catharsis. Sometimes it was really difficult for me to deal with the emotions that we were feeling.“

Lucero Granda, the photographer’s wife, showers at home in Taxco, Guerrero, Mexico. Three of her brothers have disappeared or been killed.

Digno Cruz, the photographer’s wife’s grandfather, cries at home in Taxco, Guerrero, Mexico, while talking about his missing grandsons.

Juana Escalante, a member of Las Rastreadoras del Fuerte, a group of women who search for missing people in Sinaloa, Mexico, helps look for graves near home.

The violence that affected Martínez’s family has its roots in the war on Mexico’s powerful drug cartels instigated by President Felipe Calderón during his 2006–2012 term of office, and continued by his successor, Enrique Peña Nieto. This has led to a catastrophic rise in murder rates and in the number of unsolved disappearances, which is aided by corruption and impunity. President Nieto promised an end to violence, and although homicides declined, authorities seemed unable to restore the rule of law or make much progress in the struggle against cartels, especially in the states of Sinaloa and Guerrero, where Martinez lives.

With his book, Martinez closes a chapter and opens a new one with hope in mind. “We’ve already explored the grieving part for six years, and now it is time to go to different places. We’ve created a new family, and I think this is something we have to start talking about. We have to start talking about hope.”

The House that Bleeds won the second prize in the Long Term Projects category of the 2019 Photo Contest. “For me, the long term projects category is very interesting because it allows you to have a specific narrative and present stories that are not easy to be published on the media, because of the way I approach the representation of an image.”

The series was part of the World Press Photo Exhibition 2019, which traveled to over 120 locations in 50 countries, including his country, Mexico, where Martinez had the chance to present his work.

“It was very important for me to be able to talk about the issue in Mexico, where it is not spoken about (...). The World Press Photo Contest opens new dialogues to share stories that are important for your community, your country, stories that are not normally represented in the media. It also opens new narratives and opportunities. I encourage everyone to apply, also those who don’t work for a media organization, to show what you want to tell the world.”

The 2020 World Press Photo Contests are now open for entries. Enter now and find out more about contest categories, prizes, and dates