Manuel or ‘Cholo’, an inmate of the asylum for the mentally ill in Ciudad Juárez, tried to kill his mother during an attack of schizophrenia. He lost his mind after years of drug abuse.
Photography © Julián Cardona


Director Mark Aitken first came across the above photo in Ed Vulliamy’s book, Amexica.  This was the picture that inspired me to visit the asylum.  What was this man doing in the desert?  What was under those blankets?  What was this mental asylum run by its own patients?


In his essay WORLD CLASS CITY photographer Julián Cardona writes:


In the beginning, Juárez barely glimmered in the pale light. Factories bloomed like cement flowers in the desert. Unemployment dwindled to the lowest rate in the hemisphere. Foreign investment boomed as world-class products were manufactured on every street corner.


Many who came to cash in on the bonanza saw their cardboard and pallet houses burn, their daughters disappear. Narco became a new word to them. Narco filled their dreams and schooled their children. And when blood ran in the streets, their cries vanished into the dark and the silence.


At the dawn of the new millennium, things change. The eyes of the world turn toward Juárez. A veil lifts. Now we see faces crying for help from the darkness. It seems to signal hope—an end to the atrocities of the time and place.


Years pass. Nothing changes…..


Juárez unmasks our failed ideas of state, society, war and justice. Most Juárez residents gain nothing from the unsustainable World Class manufacturing that dominates the city’s legitimate economy. And people with nothing left to lose make an easy switch to the infinitely profitable—and deadly—economy of World Class crime.


We flock to the border to see the faces of Juárez, to hear their cries for help. But we do not hear and the faces cannot answer. Nothing changes.


Day by day, we invent mythology to explain Juarez. This always fails.


Juárez blows like cold wind through the windows of our souls and demands our attention. We embrace its images as if they could fill our own empty spaces, but we cannot hold on. We do not discover Juárez: Juárez discovers us.


Before, we were blinded by darkness, now, by too much light.

To see more of Julián's work, please visit here.

This website serves as an extension to the feature documentary DEAD WHEN I GOT HERE. News; direct sales of the film and book; exclusive scenes that didn't make the final cut; photo essays and interviews all go towards a more involved experience. There are many contributors. If you wish to add anything then please get in touch.