Jonathan Moller, "Two sisters watch as the remains of their mother and four small siblings are exhumed", San Francisco Javier, Nebaj, Quiché, Guatemala, 2000, gelatin silver print

Jonathan Moller, “Two sisters watch as the remains of their mother and four small siblings are exhumed”, San Francisco Javier, Nebaj, Quiché, Guatemala, 2000, gelatin silver print

Jonathan Moller

Between 1993 and 2001 I worked as a free-lance photographer and human rights advocate in Guatemala, principally working with indigenous Mayans uprooted by that country’s long and brutal civil war.  I spent much of my time in rural areas, working to support Guatemala’s hardest hit displaced and refugee populations in their struggle for respect of their basic rights. Most recently I worked with a forensic team, documenting the exhumations of clandestine cemeteries. 

These five images were taken in 2000 and 2001 during the time that I worked with the Forensic Anthropology team of the Catholic Church’s Office of Peace and Reconciliation in Quiché, Guatemala. They are part of a much larger body of work made over the past ten years.

Guatemala’s civil war led to the death and disappearance of over 200,000 civilians and created hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced people. By the army’s own account, over 450 villages were completely wiped off the map during its five-year “scorched earth” campaign. Massacres of women, children, and the elderly occurred on a regular basis. The UN-sponsored Truth Commission concluded that the United States trained, aided, and directly supported the Guatemalan military in its genocidal counterinsurgency campaigns against civilian populations.Now, six years after the signing of the Peace Accords, the country continues to experience a culture of impunity, violence, poverty, and exclusion. 

Within the context of a country on the path to peace, survivors of the war, including the CPRs, want to search for and reclaim the remains of their loved ones who were massacred or disappeared. The exhumations allow the survivors to begin healing, giving them the opportunity to expose the truth of what happened, and in some cases to seek justice. The photographs of this process reveal the strength and dignity of these people, and document the atrocities that occurred.  These images tell the story of the repression and unspeakable violence suffered by the majority of indigenous Guatemalans.

Ten years ago, in those profoundly beautiful mountains and jungles, I married my passions for photography and social justice.  It is my hope that in some way this work speaks to my vision as an artist and an activist, and especially to the lives of those in Guatemala that survived and resisted death and exploitation, and who continue to struggle for their land, their basic rights, and their culture.   

Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1963, Jonathan Moller is a fine art/documentary photographer and human rights activist who studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and received a BFA from Tufts University in 1990. Since 1991 he has been photographing in Central America, beginning with his work in Nicaragua with a group of Salvadorans from Radio Venceremos. Moller lived primarily in Guatemala, where in 1993, he began work with two different human rights organizations supporting populations uprooted by the civil war.  For six months he was staff photographer on a Guatemalan forensic anthropology team documenting exhumations of clandestine cemeteries.

His photographs have been exhibited at venues including Blue Sky Gallery in Oregon, Museo de La Universidad de San Carlos in Guatemala, the Midtown Y in NYC, and the Chicago Cultural Center; and published inLife 2001 Album: The Year in Pictures, DoubleTake, and the Photo Review. Moller was awarded the Henry Dunant Prize for Excellence in Journalism by the International Red Cross for best photo-reportage in Central America and the Caribbean and his work is in the permanent collections of museums including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the International Polaroid Corporation, Centro de la Imagen in Mexico City, and the Casa de Las Americas in Havana, Cuba.

Moller’s traveling exhibition, Refugees Even After Death: Photographs of Exhumations of Clandestine Cemeteries in Guatemala , underwritten in part by Amnesty International, is currently touring the U.S. Moller is working on a book of his photographs paired with testimonies and other texts about the repression and violence against the indigenous people of Guatemala, which will be published by powerHouse Books in 2004.