My current work, The Border Project is an intervention—at once aesthetic, archaeological, and archival—into the spaces and objects associated with the great migration north across the Rio Grande and into the United States. Since 2007 I have photographed the possessions left behind by migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexican Border near Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, Mexico and west to Laredo and Eagle Pass, Texas. Migrants swim across the Rio Grande and then quickly change from wet clothes into dry clothes and disappear into the general population. If stopped by the Border Patrol, they are asked to empty their pockets of everything non-essential. I see the resultant personal items strewn along the border as symbols or relics not only of a changing culture but also of a longing for a better life, security for one’s family, a safer environment.
My images are visual conversations about the material culture of the migrant experience that compel us to consider our own worldview. Images of a deflated inner tube dropped by the road, a wallet mired, its contents spilling into the mud, footsteps revealed in soft earth, and river-wet clothes wrung, wadded, and cast aside document ordinary things possessed with extraordinary associations of flight, hope, panic, determination, and fear. My work questions how the vanities of our own habits and the frailties of our own seeing reinforce unspoken ideologies of power. It is not just what we see that matters, but how our privileged vantage points contextualize images and their content.
I first photograph the objects in situ as I find them. Then I ship them back to my studio where I rephotograph them in a studio setting, tag and number them and place them in an archive. This anti-archive subverts the traditional concept of the archive. Instead of saving the objects of the rich and famous it holds the objects left behind by unknown migrants heading north. The objects placed in a gallery setting become reliquaries. I now have over 500 objects in the archive and am working to create a searchable online database of the studio images.
NEW BORDER PUBLICATION
Residues of Border Control in Southern Spaces
Susan Harbage Page and Inés Valdez
|Striped Clothing, Brownsville, Texas, 2008|
Since 2007, Susan Harbage Page has photographed objects left at the U.S.-Mexico border, both on site in the Rio Grande Valley, and in her studio. In this photo essay, Inés Valdez comments on the significance of Harbage Page’s images of the traces left by immigrants and by those who control the border. Valdez’s discussion also challenges the historical representation of the U.S. as a welcoming “nation of immigrants.”