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John SevignyLadiesí Bar is the product of more than 10 months of work in some of the roughest cantinas in Guadalajara -- Mexicoís second-largest city. The pictures in this collection were taken in small bars frequented by criminals, drug addicts, prostitutes and aggressive drunks.
I chose to focus on cantina women, those who work as prostitutes and paid drinking companions, in order to create a metaphor for the treatment of women in Mexico and beyond. Iíve never considered myself a feminist as such. That said, this project is more about women than it is about Mexico.
In fact, while photographing people who because of economic and social realities have little choice but to work in cantinas, I was reminded of the women at the Super Dome in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, dying slow deaths on national television because of economic and social realities in the United States.
This is not a project, however, about victims. Iíve tried to capture the complexity of these women, their strengths, their weaknesses, their cruelties and their generosity, their excesses and their vulnerabilities. Iíve never believed in the "quiet nobility of poverty," the way a photographer like Salgado does. While there are many quiet, noble poor people, more often, deep poverty, like Francisco Goyaís sleep of reason, produces monsters. So while there are a few victims here, there are also quite a few monsters. Most of these women, like most people in the world, are both.
Itís difficult to explain this project without talking about discrimination against women in Mexico. Here, women who apply for jobs, even at US-owned corporations, are often required to provide proof they are not pregnant and donít have children. Those who are pregnant are normally not hired because employers donít want to pay maternity leave, which is required by law in this country. Single mothers and women older than 35 are normally not hired to work at "formal" jobs because they ask for higher salaries than younger, prettier women and because employers fear they are more likely to dedicate attention to their families rather than to work. This leaves many women Ė particularly those without formal educations -- with few options besides cantina work or dependence upon spouses.
Thereís no moral to the story that Iím telling with these pictures. My goal as a photographer has always been to get as close as possible to reality and get it down on little pieces of light-sensitive paper in order to share it with other people so that whatís good and bad in the world isnít forgotten.
John Sevigny (October 2007)