There is a saying that Guatemalans often use to describe the violence in their country: “En Guatemala, la vida no vale nada.”
In Guatemala, life is worth nothing
Lianne Milton, an American photojournalist who now lives in Rio de Janeiro and has worked throughout Latin America, took the phrase as the title of an acclaimed 2012 project focused on Guatemala’s systemic violence and the impunity with which it is carried out.
Milton, for instance, cites reports from Guatemala’s National Civil Police showing that 695 women were killed there in 2010, and 631 in 2011.
“The 36 years of civil war left a brutal legacy of violence against women on the social fabric of this indigenous country,” she notes. “While today there is no official war, Guatemalan women live in a culture of violence that includes gangs, drug trafficking, machismo and domestic abuse.”
Milton’s project “La Vida No Vale Nada” is uncompromising reporting that has been singled out by Photo District News and published by Newsweek. It was also named a winner of the Latin American Fotografía 2competition, which featured one particularly searing image: A shot taken in a gang-controlled neighborhood in Villa Nueva, just outside Guatemala City, showing the body of a 17-year-old woman who had been shot and killed by the abusive husband of a friend. The dead woman had advised her friend to leave him, and he exacted revenge:
“The project came about because I already had been working in Guatemala and had been interested in the history of the country’s civil war and its current violence,” Milton says. “Much of my work from Guatemala is personal work. Some of my access came from riding with the Guatemalan firefighters and paramedics—really incredible people. I asked them how they managed to carry on after seeing so much violence. They responded, like other firefighters I've known, with a sense of humor. We shared some intense moments together. I couldn't imagine working with it every day.”
Milton, who previously lived in San Francisco and divided her time shooting there and in Guatemala, became a freelancer in 2009. In Rio, she is working on a project called “Right Side of the Wrong Life,” which, she says, “reflects the rhythm of chaos and change in the favelas of the city, as residents anticipate the World Cup and Olympics. I’m trying not to photograph it so literally.” She is also working on a follow-up to a story she photographed last year about the forced evictions of people from the favela, which was published in Newsweek Japan, CNN,and National Geographic’s Proofblog.