In The Nation, John Washington writes about a powerful new photography book called Border Cantos, a collaboration between photographer Richard Misrach and experimental composer Guillermo Galindo. (The book is derived from an exhibition of the same name on view at the San Jose Museum of Art through July 31). The photos depict various segments of the fence built along parts of the US-Mexico border, and the desolate, perilous landscape that surrounds it. As Washington writes, the photos reveal the absurdity and cruelty of the border fence, which is an impossible solution to an impossible problem. Here's an excerpt:
Misrach, an internationally acclaimed documentary photographer, is perhaps best known for his ongoing Desert Cantos series, in which he portrays the American West in forlorn portraits of our collective alienation from the landscapes in which we live. With Border Cantos, he has turned his attention to another form of alienation: the making alien/making illegal of those who cross an imaginary line. In Border Cantos the wall, as well as the “spectacle of national defense” in the US Southwest, as Josh Kun calls it in the book’s introduction, seems, when looking through the lens of Misrach, preposterously hubristic—a vanitas of human will, a Mad-Maxian fever dream.
More tangible, and more painfully melancholic, is Galindo’s contribution: the haunting dirges he creates from instruments/sound installations concocted from objects found along the border. While Misrach’s photographs put in sharp relief our political folly—his view seems archeological, assessing the relics of an already extinguished empire—Galindo’s songs and physical objects are more immediately impactful, and sound as if the landscape itself were crying out in pain.
Misrach focuses on the geography, and the wall’s collision with it. His photographs seem to be doing what a wall wants of you: halt, confront. But Misrach’s confrontation is also an exposure: Little is hidden from his prying lens. The total lunacy of the border wall initiative, for example, is laid bare in a photograph of a short segment of wall in Los Indios, Texas. In this revealing (and beautiful) image, a lonely 36-slat segment of the fence stands in a small patch of grass surrounded by a foggy dirt field crisscrossed in tire tracks. The “wall” here seems more like a preserved relic or a museum piece—a remembrance of horrors past—than any functional element of a security apparatus. And yet for anyone without the proper documentation who climbs over (or very easily ambles around) that section of wall, hence eluding “examination or inspection by immigration officers” (a federal crime), it is far from an empty or antiquated signifier; that one-step transgression could unleash the full force of an abusive and judiciously exempt agency to hunt you down and terrorize your body.
Image: Richard Misrach, Wall, Los Indios, Texas, 2015. Via The Nation.