Portfolio: Enrique Metinides


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The Independent Culture

"'I wanted to know what death was like,' said Antonio N, 45 years old, after two rescue workers persuaded him not to jump. The man had no work and a lot of worries." Those are the words with which the Mexican tabloid newspaper, La Prensa, presented this photograph when it first ran, in May 1971.

The man behind the camera was Enrique Metinides; known as Mexico's Weegee, Metinides was not yet 12 when he first photographed a corpse, in 1945, and over the following 50 years, he captured the macabre side of his homeland with shots that filled the nota roja – the grisliest, most voyeuristic pages of the popular press. Whether snapping murder victims or the after-effects of earthquakes, Metinides would put himself in harm's way, wading knee-deep through flood water, or shooting – while others took that verb more literally – from the middle of a gun battle.

"Suicida en el Toro", right, was taken at a disused bullring. Metinides, a regular on board ambulances in his hunt to be the first to scenes, arrived at the same time as the Red Cross, fire engines and police. "There," he says, "the man was trying to commit suicide by throwing himself 40m to his death."

Never one to shy from danger, "I climbed up the structure between the same steel beams as the rescuers tried to grab him." Antonio N, it turned out, was unemployed and had four children to feed. Desperate, "He had walked 8km along a busy motorway and saw the abandoned building, which made him decide to attempt suicide."

Yet, while Metinides has included the photograph in a new book cataloguing 101 of his best shots of "tragedies", good news was to follow: "Not long after the event," he reports, "we were told that the man had got a job as a mechanic."

'101 Tragedies of Enrique Metinides' (Aperture, £35) is out on 29 October