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Entrance of the embalsamadoras Funeral office located on the Doctor Jimenez street. This embalmer office directed by Mario Drummer is preparing 3 to 15 corpse a night. Neighborhood Colonia Doctores, Mexico City, Mexico, March 09 2016.
The entrance of the Embalsamadoras Funeral Office in the Colonia Doctores neighborhood in Mexico City. It usually handles between three and 15 corpses a night. March 9, 2016.Sébastien Van Malleghem
Entrance of the embalsamadoras Funeral office located on the Doctor Jimenez street. This embalmer office directed by Mario Drummer is preparing 3 to 15 corpse a night. Neighborhood Colonia Doctores, Mexico City, Mexico, March 09 2016.
Adan working on a corpse inside the emblamer office; Colonia Doctores, Mexico City, Mexico on March 07, 2016
Embalmer's tools used to prepare the bodies. Emblasamadores Funeral office, Colonia Doctores, Mexico City, Mexico on March 07, 2016.
A corpse is seen on the working table of the embalming office of the Grossman company. The cleaned corpse is being dressed and presented as asleep. Organs and body are filled with chemical products to make it stiff, the mouth and the eyes are closed to avoid the view of death stigmatas. Mexico City, Mexico, on March 12, 2016.
Jesus on bleach. Bleach is used to clean the corpses. Embalsamadores funeral office, Colonia Doctores, Mexico City, Mexico, on March 07, 2016.
The clothes of a deceased person are disposed inside the working room of the Embalsamadores funeral office, in Mexico City, Colonia Doctores, Mexico on March 07, 2016.The clothes are given by the family and can be different regarding the type of funeral that will be organized, some families bring religious clothes when other just bring normal ceremonial costume.
Arthuro an employee of Embalsamadores Funeral office finishes to dress up a corpse before putting it in a coffin. Embalming allows erasing of death stigmata in order to present the deceased with a peaceful appearance presented as asleep. In our society, death remains a delicate subject. Embalsamadores Funeral office , Colonia Doctores, March 09, 2016.
A corpse is prepared and placed in a coffin in the Grossman funeral, it will be given to the family for the awake . Colonia Doctores, Mexico City, Mexico on march 21, 2016
The cremation is a funeral technique used around the world in order to burn the body of a deceased person. Fire reduces to body into ashes wich can have a sacred dimension and can be used for rituals. On the practical aspect it is the t heat (850°c) produced by the flames of the oven wich reduce the body into ashes. Symoblically fire can be seen as a purification and open the path to eternity, but vision and uses of ovens for cremation can be badly considered by many people and religions due to the recall of the ovens used during the Shoah.
A worker of the Pantheon San Nicolas de Tolentino is putting the ashes of a deceased person in a grinder in order to make them thiner for a better presentation to the family. Pantheon San Nicolas De Tolentino, Mexico City, Mexico, on March 15, 2016.
A young girl works as a secretary for the funeral company Grossman. While she watch the security cameras of the company, she also listens to the video clip of the American singer Fergie, who sings "Big Girls Don't Cry." March 13, 2016.
View from the neighborhood called Colonia Alamos, in the megalopolis car accident are considered as one of the biggest death rate. Mexico City, Mexico on March 06, 2016.
A worker of the funeral center Grossman is resting watching facebook on his phone in the entrance used by the hearse to bring the bodies. He started working as an embalmer and then in the cremation center but psychologically affected by the smell he became vegetarian. Neighbordhood of Colonia Doctores, Mexico City, Mexico, on March 12, 2016.
Itinerant coffins sellers are talking to an ambulance in order to gather info about the funerals stores in need of coffins. Mexico City, Colonia Doctores, Mexico on March 13, 2016.
An owner of a funeral flower stores is going to the flower market twice a week with her daughter to buy Chrysantemum flowers for the families who wants to decorate the coffin of their deceased family member. Mexico City, Mexico on March 08, 2016
The local families of the Itzapalapa neighborhood have a tradition of carrying the coffin of the deceased through the streets of the village to say goodbye to it. It is the same for all places of worship that are on the road, the closest family members bow with coffin in front of them. The coffin is then brought to the local cemetery, where only family members are allowed. Itzapalapa, Mexico City, Mexico on March 16, 2016
Wild grass took over a grave and shows the actual state of conservation of the San Lorenzo Tezonco cemetary, in Mexico City, Mexico on March 15, 2016.
After removing the earth from the grave, the workers must lift up several concrete slabs separating the coffin from the earth. Located more than three meters of depth, the manual exhumation work is extremely physical.A cemetary worker is digging on a familial grave in order to proceed to the exhumation of a corpse, under the watch of family members. After 21 years, burried coffins are considered as obsolete. The family can decide to burn the rest of the body and place it in a funeral urn, and keep the place inside the grave for another deceased family member, Cemetary San Nicolas Tolentino, Mexico City, Mexico on March 15, 2016.
Family members are mourning of them. A mother of 42 years old who passed away due to a pulmonary disease. San Lorenzo Tezonco cemetary, Iztapalapa, Mexico City, Mexico on March 17, 2016.
A funeral bus is seeng at the San Nicolas Tolentino cementary. For practical reasonsm Families and friends ussualy rent a bus to get to the funerals.
A low income family is going by bus trough the San Lorenzo Tezonco cemetary, to assist at the funerals of one of their family member. Itzapalapa, Mexico City, Mexico on March 17, 2016.
A family is gathering and mourning the death anniversary of a Mother and wife in San Nicolas Tolentino cemetary on March 20, 2016. Mexico City, Mexico.
Family members are mourning one of them. A mother of 42 years old who passed away due to a pulmonary disease. San Lorenzo Tezonco cemetary, Iztapalapa, Mexico City, Mexico on March 17, 2016.
A landscape from Cerro de la Estrella giving a view on the graveyard of the San Nicolas Tolentino cemetary. Every day dozens of families gather to the cemetary to bury or wake their dead. Mexico City, Mexico on March 17, 2016.
The entrance of the Embalsamadoras Funeral Office in the Colonia Doctores neighborhood in Mexico City. It usually handle
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Sébastien Van Malleghem
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Confronting Death in Mexico City

May 12, 2016

In a city with close to 22 million people, where concrete has taken over, how do you handle your dead? It’s that question that drove photographer Sebastien van Malleghen to Mexico City earlier this year.

“Around 450 people die every single day in Mexico City,” says the Belgian photographer best known for his in-depth forays into the penitentiary and law enforcement worlds. “The cemeteries are just enormous, and I wanted to show what happens between the moment we die and the moment our bodies are buried in a megalopolis like Mexico City.”

The result is a series of raw and unflinching images that show not just death but also life—the life of the people who work in the shadow, preparing bodies for their final repose. “Their job is to clean the corpses, fix the muscles, remove the fat, erase all of these stigmas and then to apply make-up and dress them up,” says van Malleghen. “It’s very mechanic. [After a while] the corpses become simple objects to them.”

Some of his images are hard to look at, and that’s the point, says the photographer, who admits he wouldn’t have been able to get the same level of access back in his native Belgium. He believes that the tendency to become numb to fictional death on TV and in movies while turning away from real death—because "when you show what happens in real life, people think it’s too harsh, too raw"—is worth combating, even if it's uncomfortable.

And Mexico is an appropriate place to do so. There, in his experience, death isn’t seen as the end. “It’s part of life, and the families’ strength in the face of death is incredible,” he says. “They believe that in order to surmount your pain, you have to feel it.”

Sebastien Van Malleghem is a freelance photographer based in Belgium.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ olivierclaurent

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