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A short video collage I shot as the sun came down in the holy Indian city of Varanasi, India.

Canon 5D Mark 3, Zeiss 50mm 1.4 lens.

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Mini-doc I shot and edited for China Central Television on a hotel for deported migrants in the Mexican border city of Mexicali.cholo

VIDEO LINK to my latest piece for Univision (Sorry, geo-blocked to Mexico viewers)

By Greg Brosnan

In most parts of the world, models bare little resemblance to real people, but in Mexico, the image of the tall, porcelain-skinned woman in the latest shampoo ad is even further removed from what most Mexican women look like.

From early on, Mexican girls are taught that pasty-white is pretty. It’s a Western ideal that perpetuates an often subtle racism engrained into society here.

But a beauty pageant with a twist is turning that aesthetic on its head.

The competition La Flor Más Bella del Ejido (The Prettiest Flower in the Land), in Xochimilco, south of Mexico City, celebrates “mestizo” or mixed race looks, and the girls taking part, between 17 and 23 years old, are very proud to “look Mexican.”
Racism against Mexico’s indigenous population shows in lack of access to basic services in places like Chiapas on the southern border. But in a country where people nickname darker-skinned friends “Negro” without anyone getting too bothered, racism against the mestizo majority is subtler, and harder to put your finger on.

At this beauty contest, however, brown is definitely beautiful. At the same time, it celebrates indigenous culture, with contestants wearing traditional costumes full of flowers and learning folk dances. Judged as much for their brains as for their beauty, they have to give mini-seminars on local culture, the environment and social issues. All of this means the contest attracts the type of girls who would normally never dream of entering a pageant.

“When I found out about this contest the first time, I didn’t want to take part, I said I don’t have a body for modeling swimsuits!” says Graciela Alarcón, last year’s winner, now 23 and a medical student. “We’re not just girls who are going to smile for the cameras. We’re going to tell you what’s on our minds, what we feel strongly about and how we see society.”

Regarding attitudes towards race, these girls may be at the vanguard of a sea change in Mexico. All of a sudden, at least in Mexico City, there seem be more brown faces in television commercials, and on posters, especially those targeting younger, hipper consumers.

As increasing social mobility melts racial boundaries, at least in larger Mexican cities, perhaps advertisers realize potential consumers might be more tempted by models and actors that don’t actually look like they are from another world.

– My latest piece for Channel 4 news
(link to online version)

Twenty-seven men, women and children — poor, innocent migrant workers, hacked to death on an isolated farm.

As a former Reuters correspondent in Guatemala, I’d listened to countless first-hand accounts of army massacres during the 1960-96 civil war. But this was 2011. The cold war was over and this had nothing to do with ideology, it was about getting drugs to the United States.

Mexico’s military assault on the cartels has pushed the drug-war front line south to the small and desperately poor nations of Central America. Still scarred by its long civil war, Guatemala now faces an enemy deadlier and far better-armed than the ragtag leftwing rebels ever were, and it is struggling to cope.

Drug trafficking is nothing new here. For years, local bosses have moved packages north with little interference.

But the May massacre made it clear the game had changed. The killers left a note on a wall to the ranch owner, a suspected rival trafficker, written in the victims’ blood. It was signed with the letter Z – the mark of Mexico’s Zetas cartel. The Zetas were elite Mexican soldiers who deserted to work as muscle for the powerful Gulf Cartel. With their cruelty and beheadings, they soon turned on their former bosses and became players in their own right.

The army is Guatemala’s first line of defense. Feared during the cold war, it was a formidable force. But it had its numbers and resources slashed under 1996 peace accords and can barely afford gasoline, let alone guard Guatemala’s jungle borders.
The country has been accused of corruption by drug money, and even labelled a ‘failed state’ but more than 100 alleged zetas have been arrested, and that has taken guts.

‘Tomas’ — not his real name — has one of the riskiest jobs in Latin America. He’s an investigator for the public prosecutor’s office and I followed him into Zetas territory as he hunted perpetrators of the May massacre. A colleague of his had already been kidnapped and killed for angering the Zetas, his body dumped in pieces.

US consumers keep the cartels in business. Now the United States may finally be taking notice of the chaos unravelling in its poor back yard. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has promised Central American presidents more aid to fight the cartels.

When I visited the site of the drug massacre, the challenge was clear. With no resources to guard it, this key crime scene was abandoned. Hats, sandals and a camouflaged rifle case lay scattered.
An army officer stared out over a wire fence, choked up. He later told me he had been one of the first on the scene. The severed heads had been lying there, tossed over the fence. He had felt enraged and helpless.

About 200,000 people died in the mass killings of Guatemala’s civil war. Fifteen years after it ended, I stood by a graveside with a family that had lost five members in this more recent massacre.
“We just want peace here, no more violence. Can’t we just all get on like brothers?” wept a mourning mother.

But unless help comes for Guatemala, another war, this time over drugs, may just be beginning.

My new 25 min documentary for Al Jazeera English on the deadly legacy of unsafe abortions in Latin America and the people who are trying to save women’s lives through promotion of family planning.

Link to full online version

I produced, shot and edited Right to Life over February and March this year in Guatemala and Mexico City.

The girl in the photo frame is Lidia Esperanza Carpio, who died from an unsafe abortion in a village near the Guatemalan Caribbean port of Puerto Barrios. Her death left her mother, a poor bread vendor, (right), to look after her four children. Unsafe abortions are a leading killer of poor women in Latin America, where access to family planning is severely limited.

Many thanks to inspirational AJE Witness acquisitions and commissioning producer Jean Garner and also to Claudia Méndez Arriaza for opening call to provider, Natasha Pizzey Siegert for extra camera work and Mónica Molina for help disguising a voice.

My latest video report for AFPTV. Click here to watch.


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“In the Shadow of the Raid” finalist in 2010 Rory Peck Award

The PBS Frontline/World version of “In the Shadow of the Raid” was a 2010 finalist for the prestigious Rory Peck Awards for freelance video journalism, in London.

“The judges described the film as dramatic, beautifully shot and very moving. One said: “The film brings humanity to the words ‘illegal immigrant’” — the Rory Peck Trust

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Los Angeles Times interview with the filmmakers. [blip.tv ?posts_id=2653249&dest=-1]

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