Border as Backdrop
Backdrop, theater, and performance are all ways in which I’ve come to see the U.S.–Mexico border in my travels there for almost ten years. Once or twice a year I fly into Brownsville, McAllen, or San Antonio, Texas, to photograph in the Rio Grande Valley and archive the objects left behind by people in motion: a shoe from an immigrant coming north, a coffee cup from a bored Border Patrol officer, or perhaps a bullet casing left behind by someone involved in the illegal transportation of drugs or guns. My archive of over 1,000 objects continues to grow.
I learn the evolving codes of the border, understand how it has slowly shifted, and respond with a performative action on each journey. This winter I set up a gray backdrop typically used for portraiture to help me think conceptually about the border as backdrop. Often a photo opportunity for ambitious politicians, the border is reduced to a prop or distorted to a menace, without regard to the people and the economic and sociopolitical realities of the place.
This project intends to question how the border will be seen as we lead up to the 2016 elections; immigration, labor, border economics and militarization and surveillance issues will be in the news, and the border again will be used to gain political ground and voters. My images emphasize not what has been put in in front of the backdrop by popular media outlets, but what is to the left of it, the right of it, far behind it. I purposefully leave it empty so the viewer is drawn to see the everyday space and landscape that is normally undifferentiated on our miniaturized backlit screens. The politician who would usually be center stage is absent.
More to come.
Susan Harbage Page