Maimed in Mexico debuts at Warhol Museum
Enrique Metinides describes himself as a crime scene photographer. In many ways this modest title is apt; he shot his first dead body when he was 12 and has worked as a newspaper photographer for 50 years since. When you see his work, which subtly reveals mankind’s fascination with all things grotesque, the title seems humorously conventional.
Overlooking Metinides’ skills as an artist in favor of those as a newspaperman is easy to do. Metinides is often described by critics as Mexico City’s Weegee, a fellow crime scene photographer in the early 1900s who often juxtaposed glamor and gore. This very literal interpretation of Metinides’ work speaks to his talent within his profession.
To me, however, Metinides’ work mirrors that of Jeff Wall, whose battle scenes are posed and extensively edited in order to look like surreal depictions of everyday life. Metinides’ work isn’t simply about grief shot in good lighting; it’s about grief, voyeurism, beauty, and simplicity shot in the moment.
It happens to be fitting that Metinides’ pop culture relics-turned-art-form are hung at the Andy Warhol Museum, on Pittsburgh’s North Side. Here, viewers are encouraged to look past the macabre, tabloid-like essence of the photos to sneak a peek at human nature.
People’s guilty fascination with the crime scenes is repeatedly shown in Metinides’ work. In one, two young siblings sit dead in the back of a crashed car while two grown men look in through a cracked window. The men look at the camera, guilty at having been caught staring at the car wreck, angry at being forced to look away. In another, an aerial view shows a mob surrounding a crash. In the corner of a photograph, an ice cream vendor has moved toward the crowd, hoping to make a profit.
Controlled chaos is also a theme in the Warhol Museum’s exhibit. In a supermarket robbery, a policeman wielding a gun is in the foreground. Only when you look closer do you see a woman injured in the crossfire between cop and robber. In an interview with VBS.tv, Metinides explained matter-of-factly that an article about the robbery was never printed because the supermarket where the robbery occurred sponsored the paper. In another picture, a woman has hanged herself on a tree. Instead of being gruesome, the image is quiet and beautiful. It almost seems as if she is standing on one of the larger roots, about to jump.
An appropriate title for Metinides is still up in the air. “Artist” would be ill-fitting for work so based on the surreal details of real events. “Photographer” seems to deny the concept behind Metinides’ imagery. Like Warhol himself, Metinides may forever have to walk the line between culture-bound imagery and artistic sentiment. For now, go determine for yourself where you think Metinides should stand by seeing Maimed in Mexico at the Warhol Museum, running through April 18.