With the possible exception of some work produced by post-modern wunderkind, photographs that are out of focus, poorly exposed and ill composed are rarely compelling. But The Border Film Project, a collection featuring 150 of such unskilled images, is about as compelling as a book of photography can be.
Rudy Adler, Victoria Criado, and Brett Huneycutt distributed hundreds of disposable cameras on both sides of the US-Mexico border. On one hand there were migrants preparing to illegally cross the border and enter the United States, as thousands of their compatriots do each year. On the other were the Minutemen, armed American citizens who voluntarily patrol the border in the hopes of stoping northward migration.
The three editors soon received over 2000 photographs from the migrants and Minutemen, offering perspectives from both sides of the immigration debate and opening a window through which we gain an intimate perspective of this high stakes game of cat and mouse.
Although photographs from both sides often depict friends, family, and desert landscape, the similarities end there. In documenting themselves, the Minutemen are found engaged in activities reminiscent of a hunting trip. Some have dozed off in lawn chairs, beer cans in hand and pasty bellies turned towards the sun. Others meanwhile are focused on target practice, or are found peering through binoculars off into the horizon, in search of their target. Friendly and fun, the Minutemen have painted themselves in stars, stripes and smiles, as well as the occasional Starbucks and Sam Adams. [More…]
Meanwhile, only a few miles away the migrants are documenting their survivalist struggle. Images of gnarly wounds, lonely desert trekking, and friends navigating barbed wire and concrete walls make it clear that the other side of this standoff is no Sunday picnic. One migrant’s quote of finding another’s lifeless body along the route confirms the danger. The journey is clearly arduous and risky, and the juxtaposition offered by the images taken on each side of the border offers a compelling case to side with the migrants.
Despite this imbalance, it is entirely possible to find sympathy with the Minutemen. When asked why they are staked out on the border, their responses are for the most part rational, not racist. Of the many quotes from Minutemen and migrants that pepper the book’s pages one accurately describes the hypocrisy of the US government that the Minutement are trying to address: “The Department of Homeland Defense is a grotesque joke at best. You know if you’ve flown since the attacks of September 11th—you can’t get a pair of fingernail clippers through airpoirt security. .. But every year, we have millions of people who breach our borders both north and south.”
And while not every Minuteman is there for what he or she believes to be a just cause—one migrant tells of being robbed of his clothes, food and money before being sent on his way—the book demonstrates that these vigilantes are borne more out of ignorance than hostility or hate. They complain that migrants are taking their jobs, yet they do not understand that this is done with the full complicity of their government of business leaders.
It is tempting to believe that if only one could redirect their efforts towards the politicians and capitalists who are the true cause of their problems, the Minutemen would have plenty of passion and dedication to apply to the cause. However this might be done is unfortunately one question that the images in The Border Film Project do not provide an answer for, but the book’s literal lens onto the life and death world of American border politics merits picking up a copy.