Mastodon Zona Norte - photographs by Chris Bava

Zona Norte – Photographs

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Arriving in Tijuana after over a decade of heroin abuse in a past life, I felt the garish lights of Tijuana’s zona de tolerancia, or North Zone, beckoning. I was fascinated by their resonance, and the street life, brimming with pathos, quickly made la zona norte my favorite part of town. The challenge of taking a camera to El Bordo, the river bottom that runs along the border between Mexico and the U.S., where an estimated 2,000 homeless drug addicted US deportees live, was irresistible. I would drive along Via Rapide, known as the “most dangerous road in TJ,” and look at the shadowy figures crouched along the river bank, or on the highway meridian, openly cooking up and shooting heroin. I became determined to gain access. Everyone I asked told me it was too risky. One day I decided to chance it. I noticed two guys poised at the edge of the high- way about to daringly dodge traffic to reach the river bank on the other side. I flagged them down: “Hey, you wanna make a little cash? Let me take some photos.” So began a long, interesting friendship with the people of Zona Norte.

—Chris Bava

As we were going to press, we learned that Chris died in a car accident, along with his wife and brother, early in the morning of October 21, 2012. This issue is dedicated to his memory.

Buy issue #9, which includes this article, in PDF format here for just $5.95, or get the full-color print version via Amazon and select bookstores.

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6 thoughts on “Zona Norte – Photographs

  1. These photographs were taken. But Chris gave his subjects back something that no one else did. He recognized their humanity. This is evident in the openness they showed him in giving him the “access” he desired. He was not exploiting them or objectifying them. He wanted to share their faces and names, make them visible, in a world that exiled and demoralized them. He gave their existence meaning. He helped many of them overcome their addiction even if it meant trying again and again, when so many, including themselves, had given up on them. Chris was the best of what it means to be human. He is sorely missed by so many. 

  2. Beautiful portraits of people within very real and active conditions being perpetuated by current immigration policy – follow the tributary flow of the lives portrayed in Chris Bava’s photographs – become more aware of the Plastic People – check out Charles Shaw’s project on the Exile Nation website. Thank you for including quotes, giving further voice and the story of these photos – great context for the whole of what is being portrayed.

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