B O R D E R
Three of PDNB Gallery artists have documented the U.S. / Mexico border from different perspectives. Delilah Montoya's Trail of Thirst series reveals the migrant border crossings through the Arizona-Mexico border on the O'odham Tohono Nation reservation. Belgium based photojournalist, Teun Voeten, has bravely photographed the Ciudad Juárez drug wars that have made major headlines in the news in the last few years. And from 1980 - 1990's Jeffrey Silverthorne has documented the infamous Boy's Town culture in Nuevo Laredo Mexico.
Delilah Montoya’s (b. 1955, Ft. Worth, TX) Trail of Thirst series in 2004 documents in large panoramic images the perilous desert landscape that immigrants cross. Her intention was to expose the rising risk of death faced by crossing the Arizona-Sonora landscape. Patricia Johnson of the Houston Chronicle stated poignantly that the series is “….testament to a desire so large it ignores all danger.”
In the first few years of 2000 about forty-four percent of all migrants crossing the U.S. border died in the Tucson, Arizona area, mostly on the Tohono O'odham reservation. The journey across this border takes three days. A group called Humane Borders has provided water stations along the paths to help the migrants, which has created much controversy. Montoya photographed her discoveries of these water stations, discarded clothing, backpacks, candy wrappers and shoes disclosing that these travelers were mostly young with no idea of the treacherous journey ahead of them in the desert. Montoya states, "...there is a real feeling of the presence of absence. You feel as though somebody was there. You feel the absence of that person."
In the late 1980's Jeffrey Silverthorne (b. 1946, Honolulu, Hawaii) began a decade long document of
La Zona, or Boy's Town. In 1916 when General Pershing's forces were pursuing Pancho Villa in Chihuahua Mexico a certain "zone of tolerance" was established for legal prostitution. This area would provide cantinas and brothels meant to entertain the U.S. soldiers. To this day Boys Town still operates as a brothel.
Silverthorne's images are raw and intense. His saturated color images of dark lit views of bedrooms that never see the light of day are contrasted with his black and white images of live border crossings and patrol activity alluding to a man hunt.
Teun Voeten’s (b. 1961, The Netherlands) continues his photo essay of the ongoing Drug Cartel wars. Last month the New York Times reported that Mexico updated the death toll in the Drug war to 47,515. The Zetas, an elite faction of the Gulf Cartel, has taken power in 17 Mexico states. The violent war along the border, including the bloodiest in Ciudad Juárez, has slowed; possibly from one cartel’s defeat of another.
Voeten’s photographs convey the abandonment of the city during the day and particularly at night. Military tanks ride through the streets with soldiers aiming automatic rifles. Blood flows on the streets from murdered gang members or informants. Gang logos are seen on cars as if flaunting their affiliation was popular.The cemeteries are overflowing with new palace styled mausoleums that only the wealthy Cartel members can afford.
The images by the these photographers focus on three different aspects of the U.S. – Mexico border culture. The most recent brutal drug wars have added much to the larger picture of this political dividing line.
Terrorism, drug trafficking have offered an excuse to many US citizens to build fences.
But illegal aliens continue to cross for a better life, as since colonial times. Delilah Montoya states, “The Aztlan myth points north as the idealized homeland of the Azteca people, an indigenous tribe of the Mexican migrant. The Road to Aztlan is about the risks taken to fulfill those desires.”
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