5. Border
Veröffentlicht: 20.04.2017
in der Serie Photography and Migration
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An edge, boundary, or line of demarcation. Few concepts feel as critical to the contemporary discourse on migration as border, for every migrating subject must navigate a physical, political, or conceptual divide. Especially thick structures govern my own country’s national borders, whose markings, surveillance, and protection are the subjects of current debate. Soon they may be fortified at high costs, as US President Donald Trump has issued executive orders proposing the construction of a new border wall between the US and Mexico.

A newly built section of the US-Mexico border wall at Sunland Park opposite the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Nov. 9, 2016. Photograph by Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters

As anxieties about immigration resurge in the US, photographers are on the front lines, documenting the nation’s terrestrial borders. In recent years, photographers on both sides of the US-Mexico divide have traveled along its 1,989 miles, picturing them from the land and air. Photographers John Moore, Jim Watson, Jose Luis Gonzalez, and Pablo López Luz, for example, have used their cameras to ask important questions: What does the border look like? Whose needs does it serve? How is it currently defined and secured? What would it take to create a new border wall – physically and economically, but also culturally and emotionally? The photo by Gonzalez above reveals that a partial wall already exists, and invites us to consider the simultaneous beauty and ugliness of its form. Luz uses his aerial shots to argue for the artificiality of dividing the US and Mexico and the absurdity of ever building a continuous, impenetrable wall. He observes that “the landscape does not change much on either side of the border” and so “it’s man who’s dividing the territory between north and south, good and bad.”

Pablo López Luz, aerial photograph of the US-Mexico border, 2014. Huffington Post

Measuring 5,525 miles, the US-Canadian border is officially the world’s longest international boundary. Between 2012 and 2015, Canadian photographer Andreas Rutkauskas tested the popular perception that it is also the longest undefended border. Along his route he encountered guarded patrol stations and surveillance cameras; grand bridges, gateways, and monuments; and barriers between the two countries, both robust and makeshift. In the resulting photographic series, Borderline, stretches of the border appear unprotected or minimally secure. We see this in the photo below; a crossing is marked only by an unmanned telephone booth that people use to announce their arrival to US border guards. Appearances, however, can be deceiving. As Rutkauskas notes, anytime he approached and photographed the border on his trip, a patrol officer was quick to ask questions, although his journey was always allowed to continue.

Andreas Rutkauskas, telephone reporting booth at an unmanned crossing in Angle Inlet, Minnesota, USA, Borderline project, 2012–15

Given the current prohibition of photographs depicting official US border activities, it is remarkable that Rutkauskas was so successful in completing his project. In 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the US Department of Homeland Security, arguing for the lawful use of cameras at border crossings and immigration facilities. To date the case has been unsuccessful, demonstrating that photographing the border remains a mighty thorny issue. The ACLU stands behind Americans’ right to document the public operations of law enforcement agencies, while defenders of the prohibition claim that cameras represent a significant national security risk. What if civilians were allowed to move into and out of the United States while taking photographs? The possibilities unnerve Homeland Security officials, even though they monitor border crossings with their own cameras.

So far I have been considering the work of photographers whose journeys across and along the border were neither forced nor deemed illegal by the US. What of the undocumented migrations into the country? How have their experiences been represented? Consider a group of photos taken by photojournalist Christinne Muschi in February 2017 that sharply contrasts the unrestricted trip on the border that Rutkauskas enjoyed as a white Canadian citizen. Setting up her camera on a dead-end road, she photographed refugees from Sudan, Mauritania, and Yemen attempting to walk from Champlain, New York across the border into Hemmingford, Québec. Muschi’s pictures show families and individuals attempting to cross, only to be taken into custody by Canadian police. Her captions tell a story of police kindness north of the US border, as officers help people up snow banks and hold children in their arms; but nowhere do we see the fearful, sympathetic refugees receiving the asylum they seek.

A Sudanese family is taken into custody by Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers in Hemmingford, Québec, after crossing into Canada on February 12, 2017. Photograph by Christinne Muschi/Reuters

In the Undocumented Migration Project, anthropologist Jason De León takes a different look at unauthorized border crossings, shedding light on the unkindness of US immigration policies. As security increases at US border stations, more and more people select paths across the border that take them through remote, treacherous, desert terrain. Working between Arizona, USA and Mexico, De León has documented the material culture of these clandestine migrations. Photos taken by De León and his team depict the objects left behind by migrants, including backpacks, water bottles, sentimental objects, and other personal effects. They also capture the bodies of the dead, human and animal. The Undocumented Migration Project goes a step further: it equips border crossers with cameras and runs photo camps for Arizona children so that they might use photography to tell their own migration stories.

De León, seated at right, with his team at a large site of discarded objects near the US-Mexico border. Undocumented Migration Project

From where I sit, just a two-hour drive from the US-Canadian border, one thing is clear: a boundary that once signified possibility for many has become rebranded with fear and hostility. It would be naïve to think that America embraced my French-Canadian ancestors with open arms, and that their migration to New England led directly to their social mobility and personal success. It was never that simple. But the character of America’s borders are changing rapidly, and the black and brown bodies seeking to cross them are at risk. Photography can draw attention to that risk, and it can invite the world to look closely at what (if anything) is to be gained from it.

This week I will put this idea to the test at a community event in Waterville, Maine. Working with local partners, the Photography and Migration Project has invited area residents to bring their historical family photos to the local public library for digitization and to share their migration stories on video, in addition to enjoying food and music drawn from local cultural traditions. While celebrating historical immigration to Waterville from the United Kingdom, Canada, and Lebanon, we are concerned to represent migration to Maine as dynamic, continuous, and diverse. And so we are reaching out to the city’s newest arrivals from Africa, Asia, and across the Americas, in the hope that they will contribute their family photographs and narratives. The event will also feature a selection of photographs from Jan Pieter van Voorst van Beest’s New Mainers series, previously introduced in this blog series. How will “old” and “new” immigrants work together to redefine cultural heritage in Waterville in the twenty-first century? How can we represent and preserve the diversity of their migration stories through photography? Finally, how can this work challenge, on a local level, the increasing hostility and precariousness of American border culture? Through the Photography and Migration Project website, I look forward to sharing our ongoing efforts to explore these questions.

Installation of Jan Pieter van Voorst van Beest’s New Mainers series, with a selection of vintage family photographs from the Waterville area, Waterville Public Library, April 10, 2017. Photographs by Tanya Sheehan

4 Kommentar(e)
Wilder Davies
Abgesendet am 30.04.2017 um 03:25

It is interesting to consider the dichotomy between the US-Canada border and the US-Mexico border in regard to photography, especially considering the failure 2012 lawsuit brought on by the ACLU against the federal government concerning photography at borders. I can't say that I am terribly surprised about Andreas Rutkauskas was able to complete the project, considering his Canadian nationality and the low security nature of the US-Canada border. Looking at his work in comparison to that of Pablo López Luz, there is a clear sense of disparate access to the respective borders they photographed. Luz's photos are largely arial shots or shots taken from distant vantage points, highlighting both the negligable differences in geography and pointing to the imposing and inaccessable nature of the US-Mexico border. I would surmise that the government's restriction of photography is enforced more strongly at the country's southern border, and Luz's photos certainly are a testament to that assumption. Rutkauskas's photos, particularly the one featured in this post, are unthreatening and almost quaintly empty. A majority of the sites he photographed had clear evidence of a human presence, but actual people are never present. Rutkauskas points to the unwatched and benign nature of the US-Canada border, there are facilities set up to establish the border, but it seems to be because they have to; the border is almost a formality. While this certainly isn't quite the reality, as shown in Rutkauska's photo, you can simply walk right up to the border and cross the small reeded brook dividing the two countries with seemingly little stress, just providing you make a call first.

The striking difference in ecology in the two photo projects communicates different. Rutkauska's conducted his project during the Summer, when the weather in the north is most fair and which depicts the US-Canadian border to be bucolic and serene. Because of the distance of Luz's photos, any sense of life is diminished, as swaths of green are dull against the texturally striking arid landscape, further asserting an atmosphere of hostility.

Through the affective gestures these photographers seem to capture the unseen politics of each location.

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Natalie Sill
Abgesendet am 01.05.2017 um 04:36

The proposition that a territorial wall that marks the boundary between two nations can be simultaneously beautiful and ugly is particularly striking to me. Jose Luis Gonzalez’s photograph of the newly built section of the US-Mexico border wall is aesthetically pleasing to the eye, and is much more artistic than a simple wall made of bricks or concrete blocks. The reflective orange panels stand out against the dark brown and green desert terrain. However, it is the social, economic, and political implications of this wall that constitutes what may be considered ugly. The wall implies hostility and animosity between nations, economic and political friction, and it excludes non-US citizens by suggesting they are “aliens” or an “other.” Yet, as both Tanya and Wilder have pointed out, the terrain ironically appears to be exactly the same on either side in Pablo López Luz’s aerial photograph. This contextual dichotomy of beauty and ugliness is what makes Gonzalez’s image so powerful and culturally significant.

Additionally, Andreas Rutkauskas’ photo of the unmanned telephone reporting booth at the crossing between Canada and the US reminds me of many of the strong transnational relationships between European states. For those countries that are members of the Schengen Area, passports and other boarder controls have been abolished. This allowed me to travel quickly and effortlessly to nearby countries when I studied abroad in Spain. When I traveled to Portugal, for example, the national territory lines were simply marked by a blue sign on the side of the road stating ‘PORTUGAL.’ Maybe this lack of regulation is an indicator of the quality of the relations between bordering nations. Political and economic relations between each European state in the Schengen zone seem to be strong, as they are able to trust that their agreement will benefit tourism, business-related travel, and European integration. Even in the midst of the recent refugee crisis, the countries were able to provide their citizens security and simultaneously find homes for the refugees. While President Trump is publicly advocating the building of a wall for harsher security enforcement at the US-Mexican border, nothing has been said about the US-Canadian border. I have to wonder if Mexico’s economic standards were comparable to Canada’s, would we be having this issue? Or maybe if corruption in Mexico were not as prevalent?

Being from Minnesota, Rautkauskas’s photo hits home. I have been able to cross into Canada on fishing boats without much question. A couple weeks ago, my dad brought my brother’s passport to the airport by accident when he was on his way to Canada. He was able to travel by air using his passport card, whereas if he were traveling to and from Mexico, he would only be able to use the card by land or sea travel. These varying levels in state relations and security at the borderlines appear to be especially noticeable in the contrast between Muschi’s photograph of police kindness north of the border and the Undocumented Migration Project’s depiction of the Mexican migrants’ hardships south of the border.

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Andreas Rutkauskas
Abgesendet am 06.05.2017 um 01:41

I would like to thank Tanya for her insightful text. As the artist responsible for the Borderline series, the Canada/U.S. border has long fascinated me as an anomaly.

As Natalie points out above, the world’s more heavily fortified borders are often between countries with economic disparity, or conflicting ideologies as they pertain to dominant religions. Between Canada and the United States, not only is the landscape comparable (or most likely identical) on either side of the line, but also Canada is largely informed by the U.S. as a borderlands nation. The vast majority of our population (an estimated 75% according to certain sources) reside within 100 miles of the border, and we take many of our cultural cues from our southerly neighbour as well. These attributes do not make the need to fortify our boundary with walls, fences, and barricades unnecessary however. As Tanya points out in her text, the vast majority of my photographs were preceded or followed by conversations with either RCMP or U.S. Border Patrol agents. These agents were alerted to my presence through remote sensing technologies including CCTV, thermal imaging cameras, sensors embedded in roadways, helicopters, and even drones. These subtle technologies provide a much more comprehensive, not to mention less costly, method of controlling otherwise insecure crossing points. Physical barriers and heightened security are thereby only required in areas with high potential, for example adjacent to major infrastructure bisecting the boundary.

I am frankly surprised that the Trump administration is placing so much emphasis on the further construction of static defences along the U.S./Mexico border. As Jason De León’s project articulates, all that these fortifications accomplish is to compel migrants into more remote and potentially lethal territory. The camera’s potential as the most powerful tool for border enforcement is certainly why it so feared in the hands of the public. We all know how subjective photographic and video documentation can be. I was told numerous times that I was not allowed to photograph the personnel or the infrastructure at the U.S. ports of entry, however no such disclaimer exists on the Canadian side of the line. This is why the vast majority of photographs featuring infrastructure in my series were made from Canadian soil, or on sovereign, unceded First Nations territory.

I look forward to continuing my artistic investigation of the Canada/U.S. border into the future, and hope for cooperation between our nations, and compassion for international refugees. While I am not a visible minority, I am a descendent of immigrant conscientious objectors during the Second World War. I would like to send a reminder to those populations around Emerson Manitoba, who are primarily Mennonites sharing my own family history. Do not forget your recent past, and the compassion that your families were afforded when making a new life in a new country.

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Tanya Sheehan
Abgesendet am 07.05.2017 um 02:44

Thank you for your wonderful comment, Andreas. I'm so pleased to know more about your Borderline project, and look forward to seeing how it develops in response to the current remaking of American borders.

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