the broader picture: Shooting gallery

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The Independent Culture
THE MAN on the right is a Mexican who has been charged with murder; the man in the picture above, Salvador Chavez, is one of the tabloid photographers for whom he is posing.

Every week accused men and women agree to be photographed in incriminating poses for Chavez, the crime photographer of La Prensa, Mexico City's leading tabloid newspaper. The procedure is known as the presentacion, and it is a hallowed tradition in Mexican crime reporting. Police arrest a delinquent. Then they convene press photographers and parade the suspect before them. The police hand the suspect a weapon to brandish (a gun for a robber, a tie for a man accused of strangling his wife) or a token of his crime - a pair of spectacles, perhaps, for someone who has burgled an optician. The next day the picture will be splashed across La Prensa's pages. The images shown here were taken by Tomas Muscionico, who shadowed Chavez as he went about his grim daily business.

The presentacion has recently come under attack from human-rights groups in Mexico, but to little effect. The police co-operate with the procedure because it is their way of showing the public that they are catching villains. The suspects co-operate, it would seem, because they get their picture in the paper (La Prensa's crime pages have been described as the society pages of the down and out). And it is the life- blood of the tabloid press.

La Prensa is the diary of the working class in Mexico City. Its pages are filled with news of murders, peso crashes, domestic violence, natural disasters, robberies, orphaned children and the rising price of tortillas. Ever since the Aztecs and the Catholic Spanish conquerors, Mexican culture has been rooted in images and icons, and La Prensa is probably the most Mexican of newspapers. What the muralist Diego Rivera is to the country's history and art, La Prensa is to contemporary working-class daily life: a chronicler that relies more on pictures and symbols than on words.

The paper publishes Chavez's photographs of landslide victims, murdered men in gutters, bodies burned beyond recognition - in comparison to the other assignments Muscionico joined him on, this one is tame.