Guns, gangs and methamphetamine: hard-hitting photos expose life in neighborhoods hit by cartels for more than 15 years

A photographer who gained unprecedented access to Mexican street gangs after gaining their trust and respect has documented life in areas where cartels have sparked “a wave of violence” for 15 years.

Frenchman Jean-Félix Fayolle has spent the last 15 years taking photos in the neighborhoods of Pavon à Soledad de Graciano Sanchez and San Luis Potosí.

He saw the changes firsthand as cartels took hold, wielding power over street gangs.

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

And now he aims to turn his collection of pictures into a book.

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

“Violence was between these familiar gangs, especially on weekends when they were bored, drunk and on drugs. Sometimes there were wounded and sometimes there were deaths because of the street fights for absurd reasons.

A young man operates an automatic weapon while another prepares to light a joint

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

“So it sparked another big wave of violence with many killings. After that, the situation only got worse. New cartels arrive in the city, fight, kill in a very macabre way in an atmosphere of terror. 2021 is more violent than last year, which was already one of the most violent years in Mexico.

Guns, gangs, and drugs: 15 years of the photographer's documentation of life in the Mexican neighborhood
A whole neighborhood mourns the murder of two cousins ​​killed in their car on their way home from the party

Mexico has suffered hundreds of recorded violent deaths, which Jean-Félix says are just those found as many people simply go missing.

He says the biggest problem for these working-class neighborhoods was the introduction of crystal meth by a cartel in 2015, which he said caused a number of social, health and violence problems for residents who still continue. nowadays.

Guns, gangs, and drugs: 15 years of the photographer's documentation of life in the Mexican neighborhood
Crystal meth has become a problem in the country since its introduction a few years ago

Not to mention the drug crackdown which has also made gangs not as visible on the streets as they once were.

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

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

“So now people are living in a kind of state of war with terror. Ten years ago, everything was more open, free and secure. “

Guns, gangs, and drugs: 15 years of the photographer's documentation of life in the Mexican neighborhood
El Tetos is proud to be born in a popular area and tattooed Hecho en Barrio “(made in the hood) on the head

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

A guy nicknamed “Jordan” walked up and asked why he was taking pictures. The next thing he knew, he gained access to the abandoned property where he came face to face with a local gang called Tropilocos.

Guns, gangs, and drugs: 15 years of the photographer's documentation of life in the Mexican neighborhood
Monjes Wepavon gang (The monks) invite DJ Rey del Wepa to his birthday with the names of the deceased members on the wall

The gang was smoking crack cocaine and could have easily stolen Jean-Félix his equipment, but instead they were interested.

They allowed him to take pictures of them and he returned to give them prints of his work, prompting them to invite him over.

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

Guns, gangs, and drugs: 15 years of the photographer's documentation of life in the Mexican neighborhood
On the eve of the feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, members of the Clika band repaint the fresco of the religious icon

After forming relationships, he was trusted to photograph their family members and during his work time he saw gang members age and occasionally saw their children dragged into crime.

Jean-Félix adds: “I have never had a problem photographing, I have always been very well received and invited. There is a strong and respectful relationship and the gang members have always taken care of me. But that’s because they decided to invite me.

Guns, gangs and drugs: 15 years of documenting the photographer on life in the Mexican neighborhood
The Callejon Band celebrates the birthday of the Virgin of San Juan de los Lagos in San Luis Potosi

For the latest breaking news and stories from The Daily Star, sign up for our newsletter by clicking here.

“If I went to a place without knowing anyone or if no one knew about the work I do, it would be very different. You can’t just do it like that, especially now in 2021 when things are more complicated.

“I was sometimes scared but not directly by the gangs I spent time with. Because sometimes the things that go on here are worse than in the bad drug addiction movies.

“I can photograph opposing gangs, but they understand it’s my job so they have no problem with it. They feel happy to be a part of the project, even though they will be shown alongside the opposing gang.”

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

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

To see more information and support the project, click here.

Previous Student in Belgium? Here are some tips to save money
Next Why the bond market has gotten more nervous