Fascinating Series tells the Story of How a Crime-Ridden Town in Mexico Reclaimed Harmony

Sparks of light among the generally horrific news about Mexico are woefully rare. Toronto-based photographer Brett Gundlock has captured one such spark with El Pueblothe remarkable story of Cherán, a small town in Michoacán, whose residents drove out a group of cartel-associated loggers and took back their town.

Up until April 15, 2011, Cherán had been exploited by loggers who were working for a local cartel and trespassing on their land to illegally log the old-growth oak forest in and around Cherán. Doña Chepa, a Cherán local, had had enough. On this April morning, she and other inhabitants barricaded the road and defended their town, resisting gunfire from both the loggers and local police, finally driving them both to relent. Since that day, Cherán has controlled their own government and their own police force. Inspired by the success of the people of Cherán, regular citizens of other local towns created autodefensas—vigilante groups formed for purposes of self-defense—which have, incredibly, succeeded in eradicating cartel activity in this region

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The Movement by Brett Gundock

“I approached this group directly through their website. It took a fair bit of time and a lot of interesting interrogations by the skinheads, but they eventually let me into their world. After a while, I blended into the background, allowing me to photograph the group and their activities candidly.”

“Through this group, I made contact with other groups. My relationship with the Aryan Guard worked as a reference to gain access to and photograph other groups. The social web of these groups is really intricate and widespread, thanks to the Internet. They are remarkably easy to find once you’re looking for them.”

- Brett Gundock on how he managed to gain access to an underground group of neonazis

“The easiest and strongest way to connect with a subject is to sit and listen to their stories. With this group in particular, they’re not used to having open discussions with people who don’t think like they do, people who aren’t racist. They are usually cut off from dialogue—and it’s easy to understand why—as opposed to actually being listened to.

Portraits of G20 prisoners by Brett Gundlock
While covering the G20 protests this past summer in Toronto, National Post photojournalist Brett Gundlock inadvertently became part of the story as well.

While photographing protesters at Queen’s Park on June 26, Gundlock was arrested and spent 24 hours in custody after being charged with unlawful assembly and obstructing a peace officer. Now, Gundlock has turned his work covering Canada’s largest mass arrest into an art exhibit. Entitled Prisoners, Gundlock’s exhibit mixes photos taken outside the first court appearances for the charged individuals with written accounts of the subjects’ experiences in custody. “The handwriting becomes portraits on their own,” Gundlock says. “The statements tell a story different from the official police record.”

The exhibit will be at the Communication Art Gallery on Harbord St. from March 11-31.

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Shallow Graves is a collaboration between photographers Brett Gundlock, Mauricio Palos, Christopher Gregory, Hans-Maximo Musielik, Dominic Bracco and writer Jeremy Relph. It documents the kidnapping of 43 teaching students in the Guerrero State of Mexico and its aftermath. The project is a search for answers and testimony to one of the most horrific episodes in recent Mexico history. These images of graves, people, belongings and wild landscapes are evidence of the cycle of violence, punctuated by small glimpses into its grim essence.

Brett Gundlock - El Pueblo (in progress)

"Corruption, power and money have created a destructive tumour that has grown undisturbed in Mexico for the last 30 years- distorting communities and destroying families. Extortion, kidnappings and murder have spiralled out of control in this dangerous countryside. Yet a pervasive hopelessness has been broken by the actions of one small community."