Medical-forensic report of Mauricio_Ortega_Valerio.jpg

Arjan Guerrero


The present report is part of the Ayotzinapa Case research project, which emulates forensic techniques and aesthetics to reflect on the mediatization processes that arose from the so-called ‘Caso Iguala’: the enforced disappearance of 43 Ayotzinapa normal school students at the hands of the Mexican police and army in Guerrero, Mexico, between September 26th and 27th, year 2014. This essay incorporates a visual investigation of the viral portrait of Mauricio Ortega Valerio, one of the 43 disappeared normal school students, and was developed in collaboration with Emilio Gómez, criminalist, criminologist and professor of the Bachelor of Forensic Sciences at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), and Ricardo García Toríz, specialist in Legal and Forensic Medicine. Adapted versions of this essay were presented as artist talks at the Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC) in October 2016 [1] and at the Centro de la Imagen in December 2017 [2].

Medical-forensic report of Mauricio_Ortega_Valerio.jpg was first published in the book ‘Medios Múltiples V [3].

Have the 43 normal school students of Ayotzinapa been disappeared, or are they deceased?

Was it possible to produce a 1600 ºC fire in the Cocula waste dump to cremate them?

After ‘the September 26th attack’, how was it that Julio César Mondragón's cell phone calls were registered from inside the CISEN (Centro de Investigación y Seguridad Nacional) facilities and from Military Camp Number 1 in Mexico City and Naucalpan de Juárez, respectively?

Questions like these foster hate and bring us to march by the thousands through the streets internationally. They inspire us to write books and undertake artistic projects. In contemporary culture, a forensic sensitivity has unfolded; one that listens to objects or makes them speak to testify to an event and construct a verdict: an “historical truth”, as Jesús Murillo Karam [4] pronounced, or quite the opposite, an “historical lie”–term with which the public opinion addressed the official version. The Ayotzinapa Case confirms that being represented may not mean being made visible, but quite the opposite: being disappeared.

On the night of September 26th, year 2014, a group of students from the Normal Rural Isidro Burgos normal school in Ayotzinapa (Guerrero, Mexico) was attacked in Iguala by the local police. 43 of them suffered enforced disappearance. The masses in protest have vindicated these 43 victims as a group of poor young students and future teachers assaulted by the State, which is an identity faithfully reflected by the passport-like portraits that have publicly identified them, where they appear arranged in series, in black and white, wearing a shirt and with a well-groomed hair, in a serious and formal attitude, looking with all dignity at the world... and wounded. From that fact our investigation departed.


Name: Mauricio Ortega Valerio

Shape of the face: Oval

Hair: Dark, short

Forehead: Medium sized, medium sized

Eyebrows: Thick, straight

Eyes: Dark

Nose: Straight, medium sized

Mouth: Medium sized, thick lips

Chin: Semi round

2. WOUNDS AND INJURIES. The body of the image

Single wound: gunshot wound.

Open trauma of a regular-oval shape with inverted edges, which measures approximately 1 centimeter in diameter and is located in the left frontal region of the face and 2.2 centimeters from the victim's left eyebrow. It has a bullet entry hole approximately 5 millimeters in diameter, an irregular and softened circumference of skin (the contusion ring), and an area of ecchymosis (bruising) surrounding the area of trauma. It does not present a burnt and smoked area.

To come to a description like this, the forensic investigation treats all things as what they are: bodies as bodies and images as images. Of course, a body has an image and, on it, through scientific argumentation, speculations about what may have happened to that body are projected. This is where a fiction blends-in with a document. “If identification has something to do with anything at all, it would be the material aspect of the image, with the image as a thing, not as a representation” (Steyerl, 2014; my translation).

What we are clear about is that everybody has an image and that every image has a body. But it is also clear that the current reproduction processes subdue images to reincarnation and intensified circulation through a multitude of media; editing programs, apps, visions, interests and many other mediators. To the point that they seem to become immaterial or to become ghosts that come off not only from bodies but from words like document and fiction—or perhaps these words are softened, pierced and even wounded. Images in their history, which is ours, have generated their own bodies: pixels, screens, light projections, as well as photography or all the different types of printing. The sophistication of these bodies has caused the awareness of the tangibility of the image to fade. “This [mainly digital] technology mysteriously disappears things out of sight and out of mind” (Atkins, 2015). In other words, the screen is perceived as a magic mirror rather than a technological chameleon. Like a Black Mirror [5]. These objects, in their proliferation, are more and more the perceptible world, and it seems that the world becomes a reflection of the image rather than the other way around.

It is like one who buys a mirror to get to know themselves, but when in front of the mirror, not only knows oneself, but also combs one’s hair, and then, at the same time that one knows oneself, that one builds one’s appearance, which is, recursively, what one knows (…) But one can always wonder who is one, if one, or the other one who is in the mirror, and the answer is that both of them are reciprocal beings. (Christlieb, 2004)

Today we mainly keep on knowing ourselves by reflecting on selfies. But since always, people have reflected in the water or in other people because the mirror exists since the beginning in mirror neurons, which allow us to learn by imitation, and therefore it has been there since we are what we are. Since then, the image has also been present and since then the relationship we have with ourselves is the one we have with the world: since cave paintings, according to speculation, the image was made so that reality was its consequence. Through us, the world and the image have always been reflected and the Anthropocene [6] is its result—therefore almost everything produced, including the surface layer of the Earth, is to some extent an after effect [7] within a postproduction process that takes already produced elements and reproduces them taking into consideration the transformation they will undergo in their next reproduction (Steyerel, 2012).

Just as there are faces made out of skin or ink or graphite, there are images made out of paper, photons and toner, whose materiality becomes explicit when their body is assaulted; their wounds, or their glitches, analogue or digital, show us that images are, in Steyerl's words (2012), “a thing like you and me”, who are also images—flesh images to be clear, because “ask anyone if they would like to be a JPG file” (Steyerl, 2012). For instance, ask Mauricio Ortega Valerio.

3. MECHANICS OF FACTS. Politics of image

The width of the contusion ring denotes the wound as the result of an obstructed firearm shot—that is, before hitting the victim, the bullet passed through an interposed object that could have been the victim’s own hand and that caused an unstable displacement of the same. The bullet then did not impact in a completely straight position but with a certain inclination and rotation that effected a more marked abrasion on the victim's skin. It is also deduced that the interposed object could have prevented the burning and smoking of the victim's skin as well as the tattoo of gunpowder points, making it difficult to know if the shot was fired at a short or a long distance—that is, more or less than 70 cm away.

Due to the characteristics of the wound—specifically, the shape of the ecchymosis area—it is possible to deduce that the trajectory of said projectile had an inclination of -22.8º on the Vertical axis of the Frontal plane and an inclination of -58.6º on the Horizontal axis of the Frontal plane.

The Mechanics of Facts are always about elements that are integrated to form a composition: a set of indications that are assembled in the form of an act of violence. The composition can also be called agencement (Deleuze-Guattari), articulation or assemblage of various objects of any kind. To com-pose, from Latin componere, is to put-with (poner-con in Spanish); according to Heidegger (1957), it is a Ge-stell: a putting-in-a-collective or in a same identity, for example when in a typical mexican civil demonstration everyone shouts: “I am ... Who? The peasant. Yes, no, the peasant ”, and then they change “the peasant” for “the worker”, “the normal school student” or for anyone they identify with. A composition then, is the collective space where identities, visualities or any set of things become the same (Heidegger, 1957). The mechanics of composition have been structured, idealised, multiplied, prohibited, reformulated, improvised in countless variations throughout history, hence, an image can be the result of com-posing but also of before-putting (ante-poner in Spanish), post-poning, juxta-posing... or im-posing, from Latin imponere: to put-on [8].

The imposing mechanism invades the image down to its roots—it imposes them on itself. From the Latin imago, from imitari, from the Proto-Indo-European root im-eto, ultimately from aim, "copy" [9], the image has been subjected to an incomplete, immaterial, simulated existence, and staged in the fiction of Platonism (Deleuze, 1994), where the cosmos is divided into two: in the world of Essences and the world of Appearances, the Original and the Copy, the Idea and the Image: a structure with the purpose of distinguishing the authentic and the inauthentic, the true and the false. The soul and the body. In there, the image must represent the idea and is valued for its proximity or similarity to it. What draws away too far, ends up losing all resemblance and is called a "simulacrum": an Other, a crazy one, existing but anonymous, omitted because it has not let the Origin or the Idea to be imposed on it. A wounded image that has been ignored because it does not fit its idealization. This Deleuzian argument culminates in the “inversion of Platonism”, here translated as the inversion of Representationism. Plato's copy-image cannot be an original or an idea, nor can it be what it itself should demonstrate, but that’s precisely what the simulacrum does because, if it does not copy or represent something else, consequently it makes itself present and evident. The consequence is that all images take on this nature. If we say that images reincarnate or that an image is copied, we do so as the one who claims to have a soul or as the one that says that the Sun rises by routine and because it is in fiction where reality takes shape. Images reproduce and transform like species. We images do not have a body; we are a body—notwithstanding the genetic code and notwithstanding the binary code.

Through the copy-image, the represented self is also dispossessed, or mediatized, if to mediatize, from medius (medium) and -izare (to convert-into), is to convert into the medium, to alienate in the medium of representation that pretends to be taken as the evoked thing. Mediatic images are those to which a meaning has been imposed, usually in order to impose themselves on whoever observes them: to dispose of the viewer. Instruments endowed with "the ability to capture, guide, determine, intercept, mould, control and ensure the gestures, opinions and discourses of living beings" (Agamben, 2011; my translation). Mediatization, as an imposition of meaning, takes the image out of its own course of existence and imposes a dis-course on its corporality. Mediatic images are deliberately and carefully produced in order to verify the existence of that original, that idea, that god or that crime for which someone, innocent or guilty, would be punished.

The mechanics—the politics—of mediatization supplants or subtracts the mediatized but also the body where this occurs; it takes away presence, or it disappears, the body of the image. It is like the disappearance of a human body because, when someone is disappeared, they cease to be among us but also to be known among us: we do not know where or how they are, but only that they are in a state of existential indeterminacy between the life and death (Steyerl, 2014). And then we try to find them in order to have them back but also to identify them back in one of those states of existence that overlap (Steyerl, 2014, takes up Erwin Shrödinger's well-known thought experiment on the ‘cat in the box’ as a metaphor to talk about this issue). In this case, the forensic work is, precisely, to identify the victim in order to end their disappearance.

People are disappeared by organized crime but also by mediation devices such as satellite images of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, limited to 2.5 meters of surface per pixel, where people and missile impacts are de-identified by pixelation (Weizman, 2014). Visible and at the same time invisible, they are there and they aren’t there due to an act of forced disappearance that we can also call mediatic disappearance. On the other hand, however, and strictly speaking, any digitalization of any reality pixels it, whether it measures a single pixel or any number of pixels; mediatization, specifically, occurs when the pixel—or the map—is taken as if it was the territory, because in this way both the image of the territory and the body of the map are disappeared.

In a culture like ours—where, from our point of view, mediatized representation is the standard politics of social composition—images today, in status quo, are missing colleagues, secluded in the Apartheid of virtuality and representation, raised en masse and sold as slaves through virtual farms such as Shutterstock, iStock or 123RF, marked with watermarks like cattle to be exploited for the service of marketing manipulation, profit and political battles, of ideological disputes and epistemic(epistemological?) authoritarianism, of mystical obsessions and affective idealisation.

We call all of this the image politics—or image composition mechanics—as politics is the act of composing, or imposing, the collective space such as the social environment or the polis, but also any other collective space, be it a human group, a city, a form of government, an identity or an image, since all those collectivities where people and societies (amongst other things) converge, are also political sites: places of imposition or composition.

4. VICTIM-PERPETRATOR SITUATION. Dichotomies of representation

A possible victim-perpetrator situation, based on the previously exposed data, corresponds to the victim standing in front of the perpetrator, looking at their face, and the perpetrator standing and pointing with an outstretched arm directly towards the victim. It follows that, in a movement reactive to the imminence of the shot, the victim subtly turned his head up and to his right side before receiving the impact of the projectile.

TRUTH IS SCIENCE IS FICTION (Roth and Avanessian, 2015).

Identifying the victim and the perpetrator is not always easy. Occasionally, violence has been expressed from and on all the subjects involved in the acts of a crime, so the distribution of responsibilities is not resolved through a vertical cut. If we open our vision spectrum beyond the scale of the crime itself, we will see that the dichotomies begin to overlap; true/false, presence/absence or appearance/disappearance, it will become more difficult to establish where exactly one ends and the other begins, or at what moment one has become the other, and rather it seems that there isn’t a gap in the middle nor a line but an area of overlapping against which forensic practices wrestle, but which they simultaneously reinforce (Weizman, 2015) [10].

Such overlapping of dichotomies is better illustrated by the posthumous story of Josef Mengele (Keenan and Weizman, 2012), the last Nazi persecuted by justice, whose skeletal remains appear to have been found in Brazil in 1984. The most interesting part of the investigation is the so-called “skull-face superimposition” by German anthropologist Richard Helmer. In charge of the identification of Mengele, Helmer had at his disposal Mengele's supposed skull as well as photographs of his face in life. Using both resources, he produced videographic images to which he applied a transparency effect in order to overlap them and see if they coincided. Several surprisingly convincing compositions resulted, which proved at court that Mengele was dead indeed. However, Helmer and the rest of the forensic team did not ensure that their deductions were final because, in the discovery of something, science is expressed in probability percentages less than 100%.

The word forensics, as Eyal Weizman (2014) explains, comes from the Latin forensis, which means “to belong to the forum”. Forensic practices, when becoming formalized and institutionalized, transformed the legal forum allowing the participation of the objects as witnesses—therefore making all material effects of an event susceptible to be considered evidence of it. The work of the so-called forensic sciences—"actually science at the service of the law" (Emilio Gómez [11] – is to contribute to the judicial process the "prosopopoeia—the mediated discourse of inanimate objects" (Weizman, 2014), i.e. telling the testimony that objects cannot tell by themselves in order to establish a verdict, a true discourse, over the object: a 100%-claiming-conclusion that then loses scientificity. By way of forensic documents called opinions or reports (dicatámenes in Spanish; representations that incorporate visual and discursive interpretations that result from the scientific study of the evidence), the prosopopoeia completes this assemblage of techniques and policies of superposition: first, the materiality of objects is studied with immediacy, but then a discursiveness is imposed on it mediatically. In this operation, a present fact becomes the verification of an absent fact and the past is spliced with the present.

The notion of truth has lost relevance in philosophy and science but not in politics; justice requires its existence because the truth of facts is the condition that justifies the application of a punishment or releasing from a sentence. To meet that requirement, forensic practices provide evidence that scientifically verifies a truth. But the first task of a judge, before evaluating the information presented by the evidence of a crime, is to evaluate the reliability of this evidence through refutability tests based on signs of reliability (Cerdio Herrán, 2015). Thus, the evidence of a crime becomes the object of study and it must be verified by other verifiable evidence within a process that, at each iteration, returns to the horizon any absolute certainty. Being able to be prolonged to infinity, the verification of evidence acquires value and sufficiency in the court for its ability to produce certainty by satisfying expectations of rational explanation.

If truth is a product of prosopopoeia, then is it impossible to have a reliable version of a crime, or of anything? Does Justice preserve any place of legitimacy from this perspective? At Media Forensis, we believe that behind these questions or any other, reality continues to move and the theater of the world continues to be traversed from end to end by various objects that unleash their forces, many times in total solitude. The bullet hits the skin or the concrete. The powder corpuscles dance towards the center of the Earth and rejoin. A used gun rolls over and rusts at the bottom of the river. As the adrenal glands spit out adrenaline, an earthquake compresses a buried skeleton and a family of cracks is born deep within the walls of a building constructed outside of safety standards. While we wonder about the possibility of verifying the world, lead chases flesh and bodies hit the ground (transduction of Harman, 2015).

If we wanted to do it in a different way, aspiring to calculate the highest possible probability of a past event while keeping the 100% certainty on the horizon, it would imply assuming a reality that was but also other realities that have been, that are, and that stand in the way of an immediate and pristine knowledge of facts, but which at the same time represent the only means for a speculative project that we consider plausible in times of "post-truth": that of the most accurate fiction of reality. And perhaps, in that fiction, science gets compounded with art and philosophy. This would imply a politics opposed to that of mediatization and a practice of identifying media itself: a media forensis—a forensics of media—that would identify, not the disappeared person that is portrayed in an image, but the mediatic image itself. That is to say, it would not aspire to disappear the superposition of dualities but to identify the body in which they install. For instance, the fictional image and the documentary image, as rival objects, can be the two poles of disidentification of the same image. As we know, a document is in some way a fiction because it pretends to convey a reality that is actually absent, and a fiction embodies a reality that actually happens. That is why all science is science fiction.



The wound presented by the victim is the result of the impact of a firearm projectile, with an estimated caliber of .22 inches, in its entry mode. Said projectile was emitted in a shot of uncertain distance, but not at point-blank range, and with the obstruction of a low resistance object that most likely was the victim's hand.


The clues suggest that the victim-perpetrator situation in which the wound was produced occurred as follows: the victim was standing in front of the perpetrator, who was also standing and pointed the firearm directly at his forehead. At the moment of impact, the victim's head was turned 22.8º upwards and 58.6º towards his right side, which could be a last-minute reaction or the position he was in beforehand.

What happened to the portraits of the Ayotzinapa students?

Held by hundreds or thousands of hands around the world, their wounds are not seen because they have become dumps for collective fantasies and idealized recompositions—so many that we have come to ask to ourselves: Do we want to find people or to find meaning? Can someone be disappeared in the attempt to find them? Why exactly is such image the public image of the 43? Because of visual "clumsiness"? Because of technological poverty? Deliberate convenience perhaps? We know that some of them owned cell phones with cameras, and we have seen them in colored and higher resolution photographs that may well have replaced these portraits. But thus, wounded, they have mobilized masses. Why have they fulfilled that function so well? By whom or by what are these portraits the way they are? What do they show or what do they hide? In short, what do they portray?

The 43 have circulated as 43 poor images that report the direct violence suffered by their bodies, as sensors of the forces that shaped them and that administered their poverty, and possibly as primary evidence of the systemic violence of a series of institutionally organized crimes. Standardized by legality in the same neutralizing aesthetic, configured for anthropometric identification where each subject is just one more, these images have also circulated as the flipside of the skinned face—a face on the contrary forced by illegal mutilation to the same type of identification, as just another skinned face.

As poor images, based on the incorporation that civil society has made of the link between their aesthetics and citizen dignity, the portraits of the 43 have been involved in a struggle to occupy the place of images rich in color and resolution—from the Congress to movie theaters. At Media Forensis, we wanted to trust that their low resolution and their wounds “show the extraordinary, the obvious and the incredible, as long as we are still able to decipher it” (Steyerl, 2014; my translation).


[1] Presented as part of the multidisciplinary gathering FICCIÓ / N / ACIÓN, organized by Telecápita collective. See video record of the full talk here.

[2] As part of Mal de imagen. Seminario sobre nota roja y prácticas artísticas contemporáneas (Seminar on red note and contemporary artistic practices), organized by Iván Ruiz.

[3] Medios Múltiples V, Seminario de Medios Múltiples Cinco, 2018 (ISBN: 978-607-30-1353-6).

[4] Murillo Karam was Procurador General de la República (head of Mexican Justice department) (2012-2015) when the attack against the students took place, and was in charge of the investigation of that case. “Historical truth” is how Murillo Karam called the state version of the events of the Iguala forced disappearance of 2014.

[5] For the Black Mirror series, by Charlie Brooker and Jesse Armstrong, which reflects on the social impact of new technologies, some of them related to screens for digital images.

[6] According to Wikipedia, the Anthropocene is the geological epoch (…) that follows the Holocene. Expressed with greater perspective and eloquence: “First proclaimed at the start of the new millennium by the climate scientist Paul Crutzen, the Anthropocene thesis asserts that since the Industrial Revolution, and especially since the “great acceleration” of the mid-twentieth century, humans have altered the environment so extensively as to create a new form of nature. Expressed geologically, humanity has produced its own sediment layer, which has spread over the globe. We humans are inscribing ourselves into geological time” (Sherer B. M., 2013, 6).

[7] After effects—commonly called special effects– are the parts of the audiovisual post-production with illusionistic results in the work, and are made to transform images that could not be generated in the filming process.

[8] See

[9] See

[10] “Every time you are opening up a scale you are in a different epistemology and you are in a different kind of legal framework. So, you know, on a small scale it’s always a kind of perpetrator-victim relation: it’s linear. You open up to the big scale of the environment, cities, etcetera, and you are within a field of causality; you’re within a relation that you have, rather than a single linear perpetrator-victim (two ends of a single line connecting the end of the gun and the wound), you are in a relation of multiple agencies (…) you are in a political plastic, basically. And the legal frame is kind of lost within a multiple agencies situation (…)”.

[11] That’s the explanation I received in a conversation with Emilio Gómez, a criminalist, criminologist and professor at the Facultad de Ciencias Forenses from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and collaborator of Media Forensis.


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