The origins of Santa Muerte - a religion/cult that has been denounced as satanic by the Mexican Catholic Church - can be dated back hundreds of years. It was developed through a syncretism between indigenous Mesoamerican and Spanish Catholic beliefs and practices. Only in the last decade however has it become more predominant in Mexican society, where many commentators have noted its rise with the killing and violence associated with the war between rival drug cartels and the Mexican Government.
Since 2011, I visited Mexico several times to research, interview and document the devotees of this cult, as well as recorded the shrines and altars they visit. I made contact with many individuals who originally built and manage the shrines, and who by default, are now considered to be guardians and spiritual leaders of the faith. They gave me access and permission to photograph not only in their places of worship but also in their private homes and in prisons, where Santa Muerte has a very strong following amongst the Mexican penitentiary system.
My photographic practice is based on researching into the relationship between photography and death, and how photography can interpret and represent death. To understand how another culture can embrace and accept death with such certainty, compared to an accepted Western perspective. During the course of the past four years that I worked on the project, I developed strong connections and gained a high level of trust with the main protagonists of Santa Muerte. I was accepted by the cult’s following and given unlimited access into a world that is considered macabre, illegal and even satanic by the mass media.
Admittedly, along the way I encountered individuals who lived up to the Santa Muerte stereotype that the US and European media have created. But on the whole the hospitality, kindness and warmth I was shown contradicted all the negative perceptions I had read, seen and heard. My aim is to tell their side of the story and in part my own.
Fraser, A. (2015). Santa Muerte