Los valientes/The Braves
Five brave, aspiring photojournalists from Latin America face major challenges expressing their opinions. Prejudice, intimidation, violence, it's part of their daily job in Mexico, Venezuela and El Salvador.

Photographs by Michiel Bles
Interviews by Cristina Fernández Cuéllar and Michiel Bles
RNW NOOR Ernesto José Pérez Ramírez © Michiel Bles for RNW

"I feel like I should show people what’s going on, but definitely not just the bad things."

ERNESTO   /Venezuela

“When it comes to security I live in the worst place of Venezuela, Maracaibo. It’s an area full of oil. There‘s an extreme amount of violence. You can’t walk the streets, if you’re in a car and pull up to a traffic light, a motor will stop next to you and you will see a gun through the window.

A massive brain drain is taking place. Why I don’t leave too? Because of my photography.

Many friends of mine have fled. They feel left out. They feel that there’s nothing we can do to change the dreadful situation we are in. The ones who have the money have the power in Venezuela. And will remain so too.

A massive brain drain is taking place. Why I don’t leave too? Because of my photography. I feel like I should show people what’s going on, but definitely not just the bad things. I live in Miami part-time and I could go and live there. But I feel I would disappoint a lot of people doing so. I love my country, and I need to keep doing this work.”


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RNW NOOR Sara Escobar © Michiel Bles for RNW

"It’s about dignity. About making your own choices. I make choices that are close to my heart."

SARA   /Mexico

“I’m one of around ten female video journalists in Mexico, so I’m watched at. When I started ten years ago, I encountered a lot of prejudice. Male colleagues would comment: “Are you strong enough to carry that camera?” My former boss, actually a woman, sent me out for fashion and socialite shoots, because I was a woman. When I obviously wanted to cover other topics. But these issues only gave me the courage to become the person I am today.

As a female photographer I need to be extra vigilant. I often work together with another woman photographer, so we can keep an eye on each other. We text about where we work and after what period of time we should start worrying if the other hasn’t returned.

I often work together with another woman photographer, so we can keep an eye on each other.

Communications is not always safe. When I call people I sometimes here strange beeps. And no, no one of us is pushing the buttons. We might meet in the metro to discuss sensitive topics. But all these things only motivate me to keep going. To keep trying to make the change.

I used to work for a newspaper but they are often “sold” to the government. Even the one that brag about ‘independencia’. Now I work self-employed and I feel free. Okay, I have the uncertainty that I don’t get paid every month, but I can say “no” to jobs or assignments that don’t feel right. It’s about dignity. About making your own choices. I make choices that are close to my heart. It’s a feeling I have never experienced before. Believe me, I’m not going to change that.”

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RNW NOOR Fred Ramos © Michiel Bles for RNW

"When my father was killed in 2011, I decided to start working as a photojournalist"

FRED   /El Salvador

“When my father was killed in 2011, I decided to start working as a photojournalist. I studied in Mexico and came back to El Salvador to start working on social issues of my home country.

I believe in the romantic idea that visualising the problem helps to make changes.

Why do I do this work? First of all, I believe in the romantic idea that visualising the problem helps to make changes. Everybody in El Salvador suffers from the violence. And second, I want to comprehend what is happening in the country, what victims of the violence have gone through. And to grasp how I can deal with the violence myself.

I show how aggression impacts the lives of the Salvadorians, starting from the youth of my country. And to depict the dignity of the families and the victims. I really want to get into the stories and show more than what you mostly see in the media. I want to know this people. Showing them in a respectful way. And adding a human value to what are only considered numbers.”


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RNW NOOR Enrique Rashide Serrato Frias © Michiel Bles for RNW

"I try not to get too involved in the violence I face."

ENRIQUE   /Mexico

“I work in an area controlled by a big drug cartel. It's very difficult to work as a photographer. You are facing a lot of violence. But it's important to cover these things. That's what photography can do.

Thanks to photography, new generations can understand what happened in the past.

I try not to get too involved in the violence I face. In the end, they are, or were, all people. I try to make the best of my job, showing respect to them and their families.

Thanks to photography, new generations can understand what happened in the past. If there were no people showing the realities of this time, it would seem nothing happened. We need to tell these stories."

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RNW NOOR Ivan Castaneira © Michiel Bles for RNW

"I believe we should document what is happening right now. In the last years the amount of violence blew up. "

IVAN   /Mexico

“I am born and raised in Mexico City. For my work I travel to many parts of my country, especially to the South. That’s where my interest in migration stories started to grow. Each year thousands of people are passing through the South to flee for the violence in their countries. A real exodus is taking place. Everyone I spoke to from Honduras knew someone who had been killed by the gangs. Then I knew this was a topic that should be addressed.

I think it’s one of the most disgusting times in Mexico. We have to show that to future generations.

Photography is a great tool for that. People in the capital don’t really see those issues. They live in a bubble where “nothing” happens. But if you get out there, you will see the stories.

I believe we should document what is happening right now. In the last years the violence absolutely blew up. I think it’s one of the most disgusting times in Mexico. We have to show that to future generations. In 50 years people should still know who is responsible.”

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Ernesto, Sara, Fred, Enrique and Ivan were part of the RNW NOOR Academy in Mexico.
Together with five other promising photographers
they were in this masterclass organized by RNW and NOOR.
See #rnwnoor for a social media report on the week.