Mayra Martell

Ana Martinez, 8 years old. Disappeared on March 18th, 1999. She wrote this letter to her father at the age of 5. From the series, El acto de extrañar ©Mayra Martell

December’s featured photographer is Mayra Martell

Mayra Martell (b. 1979) is a documentary photographer from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.   

She has worked primarily in areas of Latin America and Africa subjected to political, social and economical turmoil.   

In 2019 she is nominated for the Joop Swart Master Class contest. In 2016, she  received a grant from the National System of Creators of the National Culture Fund of Mexico, with a project on the daily life of violence and Narco-culture in the north of the country.   

In 2014, her book Ciudad Juárez, published by the German publishing house Seltmann and Söhne, was nominated as the best in the European contest Deutscher fotobuchpreis. Her books,  Ciudad Juárez (Mexico) and Petare (Venezuela) are part of the CLAP festival! 10X10 Contemporary Latin American Photobook, where the selection is being exhibited by the United States and Europe. Her work has been exhibited in Germany, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, France, Spain, Colombia, Guatemala, Venezuela and the United States, Brazil among other countries.  

Martell has received many distinctions and awards. In 2011 won the first prize in the Reviewer Award in the  At the 4th International Photobook Festival in Kassel, Germany,  and second prize in the Dummy Award.     

She is based in Sinaloa, Mexico and is currently working on a project called Beautiful, and in the book Identity Essay,  in Ciudad Juárez with the editor Alfonso Morales. 

On 2012, she founded the Non governmental Oganization, Diario Latinoamericano.

El acto de extrañar (The Act of Missing Someone)

To miss: To be away from someone who inhabits you.

I began to document the spaces and personal objects of disappeared women in 2005, based on reports of disappearances found in the streets of downtown Ciudad Juárez. These were badly copied papers, with their names, physical characteristics and a photo. Every time I looked at them, I felt silent to the soul. Since then, I have not stopped feeling that emptiness.

The first cases of women I documented, curiously, were my age. Visiting their rooms reminded me of myself a few years ago. The mothers looked at me for a long time and talked to me about their daughters as if I were an old friend. I tried to build an image, reincorporate memories to know them.

They showed me pictures, clothes and, in some occasions, I could smell the smell in some garment. I had never seen so much pain in a person: as if missing their daughters unfolded the present in the past, again and again, as the only way to retain love.

So far, I keep documenting everything that is produced around the disappearance of women in Ciudad Juárez. The place has become a personal map, tracing possible routes of all of them. I imagine them walking around: I do not stop looking for the features or faces of some of the young people who have not been able to return to their homes. I always think where they could be.

 I would like to say “I am deeply sorry”. Repeat it so many times almost like a prayer for the sadness to go away, but I know that nothing will happen. So I only find this way of accompanying the women who shared with me the last memories of their daughters. I would like to tell you that I have learned to miss them, that I have felt incomplete for a long time, that they have made me understand what it is to love in the depth of memory. And I no longer think of the word “death” because I knew that missing, when you love, is much more eternal than dying.

Mayra Martell
Room of Griselda Muroa Lopez, 16 years old, disappeared on April 13 of 2009.  She was a student of high school, she went to the downtown to buy some things from her school, she never returned home. From the series, El acto de extrañar ©Mayra Martell
Diana Noralay Piaga Reyna 16 years old. Disappeared February 27 of 2009. She worked in a maquiladora factory in the morning. Diana’s wall. From the series, El acto de extrañar ©Mayra Martell
Cinthia  Jacobeth Castañeda Alvarado, 13 years old. Disappeared on October 24 of 2008 in the downtown. From the series, El acto de extrañar ©Mayra Martell
Erika’s clothes. Her mother put it there, when I  asked how tall was her daughter. 19 years old. Disappeared on December 11th, 2000. From the series, El acto de extrañar ©Mayra Martell
Police sketch of Neyra Cervantes, based on the memory of her mother. Disappeared on May 13 of 2003, at age 20 years old. From the series, El acto de extrañar ©Mayra Martell
Living room of Erika Carrillo, 19 years old. Disappeared on December 11th, 2000. From the series, El acto de extrañar ©Mayra Martell

In February 2013, I received a phone call from Carmen Castillo, mother of Mónica Delgado, an 18-year-old girl who disappeared in Ciudad Juárez  in 2008. I had been at the family home when I was making the documentary IDENTITY ESSAY in 2010. Carmen told me: I know what happened to my daughter, they had her in a downtown place, Hotel Verde.

The last part of the project is based on the cases of the Hotel Verde in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. In this place, 26 women disappeared between 2008 and 2010, were kidnapped by a human trafficking gang. Their remains were found on the outskirts of the city at the end of 2012. The gang was denounced by a 16-year-old girl who escaped from the hotel. These women between 13 and 22 years old, were forced to engaging in sexual activity in exchange for payment in private homes and prisons in Ciudad Juárez, México.

In all these years I have documented 172 cases, among them, nine were kidnapped at the Hotel Verde.

To see more of Mayra’s works, here

La fotógrafa del mes de diciembre es Mayra Martell

Mayra Martell (n. 1979) nació en Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. Ha desarrollado su trabajo documental principalmente en regiones de América Latina en el tema de la desaparición forzada.  

En el 2019 es nominada al certament Joop Swart Master Class. En el 2016 obtuvo la beca  del Sistema Nacional de Creadores del Fondo Nacional de Cultura de México, con un proyecto  sobre la cotidianidad de la violencia y  Narco-cultura en el norte del país. Fue beneficiaria de la Beca Jóvenes Creadores (2005 y 2015) y Residencias Artísticas del Fonca (2007, 2008 y 2012) 

En el 2014 su libro Ciudad Juárez publicado por la editorial alemana Seltmann and Söhne, fue nominado como los mejores en el certamen europeo  Deutscher fotobuchpreis. 

Sus libros ciudad Juárez (México)  y Petare (Venezuela), son parte del festival CLAP! 10X10 Contemporary Latin American Photobook, donde la selección ha sido exhibida por Estados Unidos y Europa. 

Su trabajo ha sido expuesto en Alemania, Canadá, México, Argentina, Francia, España,  Colombia, Guatemala, Venezuela y los Estados Unidos, Brasil entre otro países  

Actualmente trabaja en Sinaloa en el proyecto Beautiful y en el  libro de  Mujeres desaparecidas en Ciudad Juárez con el editor Alfonso Morales.

En el 2012 crea  la Asociación Civil Diario Latinoamericano.  

El acto de extrañar

Documental sobre desaparición y feminicidio en Ciudad Juárez (2005-2022)

Extrañar. Estar alejado del que te habita.

Comencé a documentar los espacios y objetos personales de mujeres desaparecidas en 2005, a partir de los reportes de desaparición  encontrados en las calles del centro de Ciudad Juárez. Se trataba de  papeles mal copiados, con sus nombres, características físicas y una foto. Cada vez que las miraba, enmudecía hasta el alma. Desde ese momento, no he dejado de sentir ese vacío.  

Los primeros casos de mujeres que documenté, curiosamente, tenían mi edad. Visitar sus habitaciones me hacía recordar a mí misma hace algunos años. Las madres me miraban largo rato y me hablaban de sus hijas como si fuera una vieja amiga. Yo intentaba construir una imagen, reincorporar recuerdos para conocerlas.

Me mostraban fotos, ropa y, en algunas ocasiones, podía percibir el olor en alguna prenda. Nunca había visto tanto dolor en una persona: como si el extrañar a sus hijas desdoblara el presente en pasado, una y otra vez, como única manera de retener el amor.  

Hasta el momento, sigo documentando todo lo que se produce en torno a la desaparición de mujeres en Ciudad Juárez. El lugar se ha convertido en un mapa personal, trazado de posibles trayectos de todas ellas. Las imagino caminando por ahí: no dejo de buscar en las personas rasgos o rostros de algunas de las jóvenes que no han podido volver a sus casas. Siempre pienso dónde podrían estar.

Quisiera decir “lo siento profundamente”. Repetirlo tantas veces casi como una plegaria para que la tristeza se vaya, pero sé que no sucederá nada. Así que sólo encuentro esta manera de acompañar a las mujeres que compartieron conmigo los últimos recuerdos de sus hijas. Quisiera decirles que he aprendido a extrañar con ellas, que desde hace tiempo me siento incompleta, que me han hecho entender lo que es amar en la profundidad de la memoria. Y que ya no pienso en la palabra “muerte” porque supe que el extrañar, cuando se ama, es mucho más eterno que morir.


Mayra Martell

Para saber más de los trabajos de Mayra, aquí