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Guns, gangs and meth – raw pics lay bare life in cartel-hit hoods over 15 years

A photographer who gained unprecedented access to Mexico's street gangs after winning their trust and respect has documented life in areas where cartels brought "a wave of violence" over 15 years.

Frenchman Jean-Félix Fayolle has spent the past 15 years taking pictures in the neighbourhoods of Pavon in Soledad of Graciano Sanchez and San Luis Potosí.

He's seen first hand the changes as cartels moved in, exerting power over street gangs.

His hard-hitting and raw images show heavily tattooed gang members, guns, drug use and community spirit.

And now, he's aiming to turn his collection of pictures into a book.

“When I arrived, the small street gangs were dealing their own drugs independently,” said Jean-Félix.

“Violence was between these familiar gangs, especially on weekends when they were bored, drunk and under drugs. Sometimes there were injured people and sometimes a dead one because of street fighting for nonsense reasons.

“Between 2010 and 2012, the first cartel arrived in the city. It forbade gangs to deal drugs or they would be killed. So the killing started. After this came a second cartel, telling drug dealers to work for them instead of the others or they would be shot.

“So this started another big wave of violence with many murders. After this, the situation only got worse. New cartels coming into the city, fighting, killing in very macabre ways in a terror atmosphere. 2021 is more violent than last year, which was already one of the most violent years in Mexico.”

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Mexico suffered from hundreds of registered violent deaths, which Jean-Félix says are only the ones found as many people just disappear.

He says that the biggest issue for these working-class neighbourhoods was the introduction of crystal meth by a cartel in 2015, which he claims has caused a number of social, health and violence issues for residents that continues even to this day.

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Not to mention the crackdown on drugs which has also caused gangs to not be as visible on the streets as they once were.

Jean-Félix said: “Because of the violence explosion, gangs do not stay so much in the streets for their security – better in a closed place.

“In 2021, I saw that there were too many people killed, others are in jail, so now it's more complicated to find all the gangs and to spend time with them without being a target from narcos.

"So now people live in a kind of state of war with terror. Ten years ago it was all more open, free and safe.”

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After travelling from his home in Nantes, France, with his university partner, Jean-Félix began his project with a chance encounter with a gang when he was looking to take photos of an abandoned house.

A guy nicknamed ‘Jordan’ approached and asked why he was taking photos. The next thing he knew, he was given access to the abandoned property where he came face to face with a local gang called Tropilocos.

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The gang were smoking crack and could have very easily robbed Jean-Félix of his equipment but instead, they were interested.

They allowed him to take photos of them and he returned to give them prints of his work, leading them to invite him out more.

He gained confidence from this experience to connect with other gangs through introductions..

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Having built relationships, he was trusted to photograph their family members and in his time working, he witnessed gang members get older and sometimes saw their children sucked into crime.

Jean-Félix added: “I never had a problem photographing, I have always been very welcome and invited. There is a strong respectful relationship and the gang members always took care of me. But it's because they decided to invite me.

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“If I would go to a place without knowing anybody or if nobody would know the work I do, it would be very different. You cannot just go like this, especially now in 2021 when things are more complicated.

“I would sometimes be frightened but not directly by the gangs I was spending time with. Because sometimes, the things that happen here are worse than in the bad films about narcos.

"I can photograph opposed gangs, but they understand that it is my job so they have no problem with that. They feel happy to be part of the project, even if they will be shown next to the opposite gang.”

Jean-Félix’s project is called “Hecho En Barrio” and translates to “Made In The Hood”.

The photographer has recently launched a Kickstarter campaign as he looks to turn the project into a book.

To view more information and back the project, click here.

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