Fernando Brito, Your Steps Were Lost in the Landscape

Photographer Fernando Brito describes himself not as an artist, but as a citizen with a problem. His particular type of problem is one very likely far removed, incomprehensible even, from the types of problems faced by the viewers of his photographs.

Brito’s ongoing series Tus Pasos Se Perdieron con el Paisaje/Your Steps Were Lost in the Landscape makes for uncomfortable viewing. The series documents people lying dead in awkward, often bound, poses set against the backdrop of the beautiful Mexican landscape.

The scenes are the grim discoveries of the victims of drug related violence in the region of Culiacán, Mexico.

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Your Steps Were Lost in the Landscape © Fernando Brito

Your Steps Were Lost in the Landscape has been described as grisly and morbid. Though for the most part I experience the photographs as very, very, sad.

Brito’s project is in the first instance one of awareness raising about the magnitude of the problems of drug violence in Mexico. And as, photography of news of recent events, it won 3rd prize for ‘General News’ in the 2011 World Press Photo competition.

Brito’s aim is broader than documenting the news, he is a citizen with a (big) problem after all.

Brito wants his photographs to stand the test of time. For them to be worth looking at beyond the short timeframe of a news cycle. It is this goal that has shaped his approach towards his subjects and pushed his photographs towards art rather than straight documentation.

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Your Steps Were Lost in the Landscape © Fernando Brito

Your Steps Were Lost in the Landscape deliberately uses beauty to tip the scales towards artful readings and to encourage viewers to look for more than a brief moments thrill. Beauty is invoked by Brito both as a way to memorialise the dead and to show respect for them at their sites of discovery.

However beauty and art are moving ideas. They are not equivalent and their relationship is fluid. Beautiful photographs may not be regarded as art. While photographs regarded as art are not necessarily beautiful or worth looking at or talking about for any length of time. The action of beauty on viewers too is not so clear: to some it attracts and deepens engagement, while to others it distances (e.g. Sontag following Benjamin). All together meaning, that beauty employed as a photographic strategy will likely produce uncertain outcomes and reactions. Particularly when used in service of taboo subject matter.

What is clear enough, is that Brito has managed to transcend the news cycle and that in putting viewers smack in-front of a discarded human being, with no-one else visible to take responsiblity for the scene, he challenges his viewers to look and to try and make sense of his problem.