In September of 2013, the photographer Yael Martínez received a distressing phone call from his wife, Luz. “They killed Beto—they hanged him,” Luz cried. Beto was one of Luz’s nine younger siblings. He had been imprisoned for more than a year on drug charges in the Mexican state of Guerrero, an area plagued by cartel violence. Beto’s death was one of several losses for her family that year. David and Nacho, two other siblings, had vanished three months earlier; they were among the thousands of missing persons in Mexico. On the night that he learned of his brother-in-law’s death, Martínez saw his own lifeless body in a dream, abandoned in the middle of a desolate landscape.
The next morning, Martínez set out to recreate the vision in a series of self-portraits—images of his body covered in dirt or laying in a riverbed, with the water forming eddies around his head and outstretched arms. It was the beginning of a seven-year project that recently culminated in a book of photos, poems, and testimonies, called “La Casa Que Sangra”—“The House That Bleeds.”
At first, he closely documented his family’s grief, through intimate and sometimes eerie images. Veins and fine hair swirl across the taut skin of a pregnant belly; a child’s foot peeks out of a heap of towels and blankets; Martínez and his wife lie in bed, his eyes closed, her gaze catatonic. “At that time, there were already many people facing these same problems,” Martínez recalls, “but it wasn’t being discussed as much in the media.” Then the forced disappearance of forty-three students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College, in 2014, set off a social cataclysm in the country.