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  Field Notes From
Medellín's Mean Streets

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Medellín's Mean Streets On AssignmentArrows

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From Photographer

Meredith Davenport

Medellín's Mean Streets On Assignment

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From Author

Eliza Griswold

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Merri Cyr (top) and Betty Bastidas


Medellín's Mean Streets On Assignment Photographer Medellín's Mean Streets On Assignment Photographer
Medellín's Mean Streets

Field Notes From Photographer
Meredith Davenport

Best Worst Quirkiest
    I met an amazing artist named Devora Arango. She's almost a hundred years old, and I've admired her for a long time.
    Medellín has a strong tradition of great individual art, and Devora was one of the first famous female artists in Colombia. Her paintings are very socially aware: prostitutes and powerful, strongly represented, nude women. She is also well known as one of the first women to wear pants in Colombia, but she managed to retain her membership with the church and to stay out of trouble because people stuck up for her.
    I happened to meet somebody who was married to Devora's niece, and he offered to introduce me to her, which made it possible for me to photograph her at home. Part of the idea of the story was to show that people deal with life through music, dance, or painting. It was a special thing to meet this woman who has spent a lifetime paving the way for other women.

    While photographing the Paso Fino Horse Show one morning, a group of guys who had been drinking started following me as I was walking toward the stables. I told them I was with the press, and one said, "Somebody wants to talk to you about photographing his kid on a horse." I didn't believe them, but there weren't any police around. So I had no choice but to follow them.
    In Colombia, photographs are often used to identify criminals and intimidate people. These men didn't want a record of their faces anywhere; it didn't matter who I was or why I was there. As I walked toward them I took the film out of my camera and slipped it into my pocket to save my photos, but they saw me.
    They told me they needed the roll of film. But when I tried to explain again that I was with the press, one of them just stuck his hand in my pocket and tried to grab it. I gave them the film to avoid further confrontation and asked them to leave me alone. Eventually, they did.
    That's the problem with working in Medellín: You can stumble onto something and end up dead.

    Writer Eliza Griswold and I were working with a mid-level narcotics trafficker who wanted people to understand the reality of what it's like to be in his position: not always the glorified and horrifying depictions in movies.
    Eliza asked if I could help the magazine researcher get in touch with him to verify some facts. We had to be careful not to identify him, so the plan was that I would take the call from the researcher on my phone and then pass the phone to him. 
    The narco's schedule was always last minute. We finally got together while I was photographing on a film set for a gangster movie. The scene being filmed at the time involved two motorcycle killers assassinating a politician. It was very cheesy.
    In the middle of all this, I called the researcher and passed the phone to the trafficker. When they were done, the researcher said, "Talking to him was the most surreal thing I've ever experienced." Verifying bribery, kidnappings, and murder wasn't exactly a typical research assignment.


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