Books | Eros Hoagland: Reckoning at the Frontier

Municipal police operation, Tijuana, 2008.

Last month, Eros Hoagland announced his decision to retire from a career that spanned more than two decades photographing war around the globe In the sixth and final installment of “Conflict,” a documentary series profiling professional conflict photographers produced for The Atlantic. He reveals, “I don’t believe that photojournalism is a very important job. My pictures and the pictures of my colleagues, they don’t really change anything so let’s not pretend that they do. You want to help people, you become a doctor and work in some poor neighborhood where people can’t afford healthcare. That’s how you help people.”

From the battlefields of Afghanistan to the border cities of Mexico, Hoagland has put his life on the line to document the horrors of war. He understands the price of war all too well: Hoagland’s father John, was killed in El Salvador in 1984 while on an assignment for Newsweek. Eros did not feel anyone else’s life was on the line while he was in the field. Now that he is expecting his first child, he has decided to bow out of the game.

A pair of shoes is mounted on stakes near the Carretera San Felipe, Baja California Norte, 2005

Hoagland writes, “There are few facts within these pages; and the truth should be left for philosophers to debate. The very notion of finding ‘truth’ in Mexico will lead you down roads to utter confusion. The truth is, there is no truth. No one is privy to all the fact. There are no experts here. Yesterday’s discovery is so often abruptly turned on its side by some new and strange twist of narrative.”

The result is a sense of confusion that results from the distorted effects of never quite knowing what is really happening. There are photographs of what remains of torched and abandoned houses where competing cartels and their military allies terrorized the town of Guadalupe, Chihuahua, and surrounding hamlets; images of a man who lies dying in his crashed car after being shot in the stomach and crowds of people who gathered to watch the aftermath; and quiet scenes where the dead are reverently venerated.

In Reckoning at the Frontier, we are witness to a way in which war is waged that goes far beyond our understanding of conflict, a distinctly Mexican approach that embodies the historic archetypes of the Old West, heroicizing the narco as a descendant of the ranchero, OG style. It is one where violent death is embedded in the landscape, a specter forever haunting these images.

Mass on Easter Sunday, Ciudad Júarez, 2010.

All photos: © EROS HOAGLAND

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.


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