Issue Two: In the Shadow of the Wall
Issue 2, November 2011: Download Now
In a beautiful set of images, photographer Eric White documents the heavily contested U.S.-Mexico border as it winds its way through the scorching Sonoran desert to the shores of the Gulf of Mexico.
I first came across Eric White’s work in 2010, at the Center for Photography at Woodstock as part of the exhibition, The New Docugraphics. That title played off of a now-historic photography movement that grew out of a 1975 exhibition: The New Topographics.
The New Topographics photographers’ images of industrial wastelands, tract homes, and suburban developments marked a radical departure from the romanticism of the natural landscapes favored by many of their predecessors.
Documentary photography may be undergoing a shift of its own: away from an “old-school”, hard-line approach to photojournalism for now, and towards a new middle-ground that allows a broader approach. While there will always be a need for hard-line traditional photojournalism, it is in this broadly documentary field where White excels. His ability to take on a highly politicized topic with a markedly non-partisan aesthetic approach is what captured my interest.
White’s photos are not trying to tell the whole story of politics on the U.S.-Mexico border. Instead, they urge viewers to stop and think about the physicality of this fence, not only as a talking point for politicians, but as a physical structure.
One of the most interesting points for me is White’s embrace of the typological format. In White’s images, as in any typology, each photo becomes more intriguing with its divergence from the others in the series. One might expect each section of the border fence to look the same, but instead, we see startling variations of form and function as White moves across the United States. The images, when viewed all together, present a visual survey of the U.S.-Mexico border fence in its various iterations.
In some ways, White’s are the least journalistic of any of the photo essays Once has published so far. White is not a roving war photographer, and his narrative does not follow any human characters through their day-to-day struggles. It is precisely White’s decision to forgo the expected scenes of violence on the U.S.-Mexico border and set the scene in a surprisingly serene way that is so interesting.
The debate over the U.S. -Mexican border is one of the most talked-about of our time, and White’s disarmingly beautiful photographs are a much needed departure from the polarizing din—a pensive note that speaks louder to me than any talking head.