Photography Captures Horror of Border Life

Alumnus Dominic Bracco II visited UT Arlington Sept. 28 to talk about his latest series of photographs, “Life and Death in the Northern Pass” from Juarez, Mexico. The exhibit went on display Aug. 11 in the Sixth Floor Parlor of the Central Library and will be held until January 14, 2011.

Bracco, who grew up in a border town, graduated from UTA in 2008. He worked for a short time in Washington, D.C. as an intern at the Washington Post. While working there, he did a series on gun violence and left in 2009 to do freelance work in other countries. Bracco said the experience he gained from freelancing gave him the knowledge to go to Mexico and cover the drug wars.

Bracco wanted to show the “other side’s” point of view of the drug wars. He wanted to demonstrate that not only are those who work for the drug cartels being killed, but so are normal, everyday people. He wanted his pictures to tell what happens to people owning small business who don’t pay a “pension of protection” and are executed on the spot because of it. One picture that showcases the violence is that of a couple and their unborn child. The picture shows a man holding his pregnant companion in an intimate embrace inside their old pickup truck, moments before a bullet went through his head and out of her own. In the photo, the man looks like someone who repaired or replaced glass, an ordinary job. Bracco said it’s one in a multitude of stories of an ordinary, poor family trying to make a living and getting killed the streets.

According to Bracco, it is the poverty and lack of educational resources that forces youth to turn to gangs and selling drugs. He knew he needed to gain the trust of the people in Juarez, especially that of the youth, in order to be able to photograph their lives. In order to do this Bracco researched and found an organization that worked with the youth. At first he was rejected, and, according to Bracco, gaining trust was hard, but through his persistence he was finally accepted. Over the next two years he was able to infiltrate a small neighborhood gang called Nueverenos. He was able to take pictures and show the public how drugs and death are a part of their ordinary lives.

Bracco ended his talk with a hopeful story of a 15-year-old boy named Esteban. Esteban lives in “los barrios” and instead of joining a gang or doing drugs, he found a music program called “Esperanza Azteca,” which translated means “Aztec Hope.” Their belief is to hand a kid a musical instrument instead of a gun. He showed a film he shot of the boy’s daily routine of waking up, going to the program and ending with him practicing his flute. Throughout the short film the boy spoke of the violence in his hometown and how he hopes to get out with the help of this program. Bracco said the music program is one of the few rays of light for the youth of Juarez to get out of drugs and death, and help them escape to a better life.

For more information on Bracco and his work visit his website,

The lecture and photo exhibit are part of “The War Next Door” lecture series this fall. Visit the Center for Greater Southwestern Studies’ website for more details on the series and upcoming events.

[Written by Karla Cano, College of Liberal Arts]

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