Bénédicte Desrus

Documentary Photographer + Photojournalist
Where the blood goes
Location: Marseille, France
Nationality: French
Biography: Bénédicte Desrus   is a French documentary photographer working worldwide. After 20 years of living abroad, including 15 in Mexico and four in East Africa, she returned to her home country in July 2021 and is currently based... read on
Public Story
Where the blood goes
Copyright bénédicte desrus 2021
Updated 02/02/21
Location Mexico City


Inside the Life of Mexico's Pioneering Forensic Cleaner

Meet Donovan Tavera, Mexico's only government-certified forensic cleaner.

Self-taught, struggling to make ends meet, with a voice made gravelly by tobacco smoke, perennially sporting a suit like the detectives from the noir movies he adores, Tavera is on a mission: to restore dignity and humanity to the dead and their families in a country where only six per cent of all crimes are investigated.

"I come in at the end, after the funeral," he said. "It helps people begin their grieving process." 

But Donovan's career is also microcosm for the Mexico's struggle with impunity, crime, and the rule of law, ten years into a war on organized crime that has left almost 130,000 people dead.

His story communicates the huge loneliness of fighting for decency in a country where victims of crime are treated as scapegoats, meaningless statistics, or fodder for lurid tabloids.

It's a life project that began when he was 12, growing up in the tough neighborhood of Azcapotzalco, Mexico City, after seeing a pedestrian get fatally run over by a car near a taco stand.

"There was blood everywhere. I asked my mother 'Where does all the blood go?" She didn't know. Nobody did. So I decided to find out."

Before even finishing school, he realized there was no formal forensic cleaning training available in the country: so he began to teach himself, poring over books and manuals - not to mention Sherlock Holmes novels - at his local library.

Twenty-five years later, and fifteen years after starting a forensic cleaning company with his family, he has invented almost 400 chemical formulas tailored to all manner of cleanups.  

"Blood is dangerous," says Donovan Tavera, coasting past Mexico City's Angel of Independence late one Sunday night. "People don't know how to clean up murders here. They throw bleach and water on a contaminated surface - which does nothing to kill microbes, tuberculosis, blood-borne diseases."

Text by Tim MacGabhann


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