Interrupt This Program

Shadow a Canadian photographer as he joins a search party for missing persons in Mexico

The story of Mexico's 43 students spurred photographer François Pesant to action. These pictures capture a country's violence and loss.

The story of Mexico's 43 students spurred him to action. These pictures capture a country's violence and loss

The story of Mexico's 43 students spurred photographer François Pesant to action. These pictures capture a country's violence and loss. 1:58

In 2014, when 43 Mexican students disappeared in mass kidnapping, Montreal photographer François Pesant was covering the story for a news outlet back home. He joined a search party in Iguala, the southwestern city where the group was taken.  

Says Pesant: "I was really impacted by what I saw."

"People spending their weekends in these beautiful mountains, looking for clandestine graves, hoping to find the bodies of their loved ones to put an end to the uncertainty of not knowing," he tells CBC Arts.

"I decided to do a long-term project on that issue."

The result is a personal photo series called Conmovida, or "Shaken Land" — and on the Season 3 premiere of Interrupt this Program, he takes you inside the origins of the project.

In the video above, you'll follow Pesant and a search party to the wilderness around Iguala as he continues work on series.

Though Pesant tells CBC Arts that he's since completed the project, he remains based in Mexico City, where he spent the last three years developing Conmovida.

It was a journey that took him to Acapulco, Cocula, Veracruz and Coahuila. More than 27,000 people are reported missing in Mexico, as the episode mentions. "Death is much more present than it is in Canada," he says on the program.

This project is art. It's definitely not journalism.- Fran ç ois Pesant, photographer

The 42-year-old photographer reports on human rights issues in countries around the world, and his award-winning work has appeared in Le Devoir, The Walrus and Le Monde. Conmovida, however, was unique.

"This project is art," he says. "It's definitely not journalism."

As you'll see in the video, the images in the series have a washed-out haze, and though the subject is violence and loss, there are no obviously dramatic scenes. There's no gore, no dead bodies, no anguished family members. Pesant shoots the landscape on Polaroid film, and then blurs the results through a bleaching process.

"I think that the imperfection and timelessness of the Polaroid negative shows the boundlessness of the violence in Mexico," he writes.

"The faded colours of the images evoke the blurriness surrounding this unclear conflict. The traces of chemicals left on the prints and the defects in the negatives act as a metaphor of the scars left by such violence on the landscape and the affected populations."

Select images from the series have been presented at Mexico City's Museo Memoria y Tolerancia, as well as appearing in Montreal newspaper Le Devoir. Now that the project is complete, he's preparing an exhibition that he hopes to stage in 2019.

Find more of Pesant's work on his website.

Check out some of the photos featured on Interrupt This Program.

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Interrupt This Program premieres Friday, Oct. 13 at 8:30 p.m. Catch up on the first two seasons at cbc.ca/watch

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