Full Frame features photo essays and conversations with photographers in the field.

In the three-and-a-half years since Mexican President Felipe Calderon escalated the battle against the country’s drug cartels, more than 20,000 people have been killed and kidnappings have skyrocketed.

The cartels are ruthless — heads roll into crowded discos and dismembered bodies are abandoned on busy streets.

"Heavy Hand, Sunken Spirit" is an ongoing project about the societal costs and consequences of Mexico’s violent drug war. It frames the violence as a symptom, as opposed to the problem, and one that will haunt the country for generations.

Special report: inside the hell of Ciudad Juarez
Slideshow: more photos from David Rochkind

It is important not to reduce what is happening to a series of anonymous images of carnage. This is not a story about violence that happens to be set in Mexico, but rather a story about Mexico’s present situation. This is a time that will be referred to for decades as people look to make sense of Mexican society. Each image should convey a sense of Mexico, her color and her culture.

The wounds of this war bleed into every corner of the country, staining the very fabric of Mexican life with violence, death and fear. The psychology of the country is also changing, as people become more accustomed to horror and distrust, weakening an already fragile democracy.

I am most fascinated by the space between what Mexico has always been and what this carnage is creating. The heat of the conflict is melting two worlds together, making a singular Mexico defined as much by violence and tension as by history and culture.

I chose to work on this project because it represents how a grand, intense struggle can be transformed into quiet, daily dramas. Many in Mexico are forced to make sense of a situation that is, simply, irrational. Their faith in democratic institutions is being tested and their sense of normalcy is being assaulted; what appears to an outsider to be a horrific campaign of violence and intimidation is simply a routine part of life for many Mexicans.

About the photographer:

David Rochkind graduated from the University of Michigan in 2002 with a degree in sociology. He spent six years covering Latin America while based in Caracas, Venezuela, and currently lives in Mexico City. His photographs have been honored by Photo District News, the National Press Photographer’s Association, the Magenta Foundation, the Anthropographia Human Rights and Photography Award and others. David has also received grants from the International Reporting Project at Johns Hopkins University, the Pulitzer Center in Crisis Reporting and others. He is currently working on a long-term project about the costs and consequences of Mexico’s violent drug war.

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