Javier Arcenillas

Interview by Svetlana Bachevanova

Javier Arcenillas spanish photographer in zone 8. Guatemala City 8/10/2010

SB. How do you protect yourself on the streets while working on this project? Do you carry a gun?

JA. Oh no! Absolutely not! My protection during all these days has been my friends and fellows from El Periódico de Guatemala. In one occasion, when covering a "nota roja", which is a gunshot alarm, the firemen asked me to wear one of their coats so that people could not identify me as a foreign photographer.

SB. Did you have the chance to speak with some of those young assassins in order to understand better their motivations to become killers?

JA. With this project I´ve had the chance to get close to their reality and understand in a way how their mind works. When you ask them why, most justify themselves saying they haven´t killed a man that would not deserve it. It´s their excuse but just a coward murderer´s excuse.

I guess in the end the motivation is not different from most of ours: money.


The leader of one of the sicarios gang in La Verbena holds and loads his gun.

SB. I am curious; did you learn more about those kids, the sicarios, how they spent their life when they are not on assignment? Do they play, or go to school, what their relations are with their families?

JA. The truth is that, these kids lose all the familiar links when they start their tragic career. Most of them belong to gangs that play the role of the family that support them. When they hang their first gun, their childhood disappears and their games become adult games and their playground the street.


Shooting gallery at the headquarters of Starman, Security Company.

SB. Are you planning to continue working on this project, revealing more about the private life of sicarios?

JA. I hope I´ll be able to keep on working on this subject. Maybe from a wider angle but always focused around the main subject of violence in Latin America.

SB. Assassinations remain a problem in Latin America. Do you think your presence as a photographer touched the lives of any of your subjects? Do you think alerting the public to these circumstances can help bring the change needed to stop this violence?

JA. Honestly, I don´t believe so. This is not a problem that can be solved with a camera and I am not one of these photojournalists that save the world with images. In some cases we can aspire to heal it, but never to save it. My role in there has just been to tell a story in images, a real story, one of the most real stories I´ve ever told.

On the other hand, violence in Latin America is being used in many media as a product to be sold in vivid color front pages. There is an actual abuse of these images whose priority is no longer to inform, but to feed the morbid curiosity of an audience that is almost used to them.

Anyway if I had to draw a conclusion about what I´ve seen and what´s to do I could just point to the fact that getting rid of this violence is, at least in Guatemala, the priority for most of the people.