Sometimes you get the impression that life really does imitate art and listening to the story of photographer Enrique Metinides, the Godfather of 'La Nota Roja' was one of those times. This week I had the privilege of meeting the man sometimes referred to as the Mexican Weegee at his home in Mexico City; where he told me how he got the nickname 'El Nino'.
A little older now but his tiny frame still buzzing with energy, he begins to show me his collection of DVD's recounting how, in the early 40's he was obsessed with the movies of Al Capone and the noirs and gangster flicks that filled Mexico City cinemas during his youth. This formative time in the boy Metinides' life coincided with his father closing up his city centre camera store to open a restaurant and gifting his son an old Brownie camera and a bag of film to keep him out of trouble. At the age of 10, while helping out in his Dad's new place, Enrique began chatting with the local cops who came in to chow down, popping around to the local police station to snap pictures of corpses and criminals they would drag into the precinct.
By the tender age of 11, Enrique had secured himself a job as a sidekick to one of the photographers from Mexico City's largest daily 'La Prensa' and so began the fifty year career of 'El Nino', the youngest crime photographer in history, a career spent riding around on the top of firetrucks, listening to the police and emergency radio frequencies for news of car crashes, murders and crimes of passion and, in time, photographing perhaps more 'muertos' than even Weegee 'the famous' himself.
As Enrique recounted his - by now well told story - I couldn't help but get the feeling he has managed to live out a real life fantasy that was borne in his early youth watching hard-boiled gangster films of the 1940's. For half a century Metinides endlessly placed himself right at the heart of these horrific scenes as 'that guy with the camera', rendering his images with a cinematic flair that seems a world away from mere tabloid sensationalism. It is something he himself appreciates, the proximity with which he worked, the details and panoramas he captured, the fact his images were used, at times, to solve crimes as much as to seduce the imaginations of a public that devoured the huge photo layouts that filled the papers of the day.
His images defy logic and reason as much as his amazing life does, his photographs, although filled with horrible tragedies have such artistry that for some reason we feel romanticized by them rather than repulsed.
Planes nose dive from the sky, a crashed train zig-zags it's way towards the horizon like a fissure in the ground from an earthquake, an actress lies party suspended, crushed on a lamppost from a car crash only minutes after leaving a beauty salon, her stunning, perfectly made-up eyes frozen in time. Forever.
David La Chapelle couldn't even dream of it. And yet Metinides lived it.
Like other photographers who plied their trade with passion, conviction and sometimes madness in far flung parts of the world only to be discovered by the art world later in their life: Miroslav Tichy, Seidou Keita and Li Zhensheng to name but a few, Metinides has had mixed experiences.
It hasn't really made him rich but his work is appreciated by admirers and collectors around the world. He regaled me with stories of German television crews walking through the same little rooms in his house as I was, the famous collection of 3500 toy firetrucks and other emergency services toys and paraphernalia, press clippings from the exhibition that he had in a former Nazi bunker in Poland, the television sets where he watches action movies, disaster stories and historical documentaries and I couldn't help but get the feeling that even today, long after he put his camera down as the greatest 'Nota Roja' photographer there ever was, the life of 'El Nino' continues to imitate art.
Images Copyright Enrique Metinides
New York Times