The Relics of Light and Shadow series is an ongoing project since 2010.
From the very beginning of my life in photography I’ve always spent a lot of time “out there,” in the backlands of America. One of my first published pieces (October 1969) was for the Christian Science Monitor (I was their Midwest photographer, based out of Chicago, from 1969 thru 1973). It was a piece I did on the coming of the fallow harvest times of the Midwest, showing images of the solitude that comes with the coming of winter, locking down hearth and home, the time when “it,” the harsh wintertime, is coming and all you can do is get yourself ready for “it.”
There was a day when you could think of Juarez and think in color. I get whiffs of it lately, but one is so cognizant that under that shiny surface is a black and white heart that has been ripped open for all to see and it will take a long time fill with the energy and joy that was -and will be again- the hallmark of Ciudad Juarez. It will happen. It is happening now. A generation has now come that learned to live abajo, and carefully. There has been damage. No one can live under that cloud forever.
It’s nice to look back, now and again. But here, on the border, it has been years since people have allowed themselves to look forward.
Flags are down in Parque Chamizal. Wind must be up and hopefully a little rain. Just a whisper of a season change. Not yet. But not all that far off either. ‘ta bien. The View South. Days come and go. Then years. Then decades. Then…? I turned my back on the past a long time ago. People tell me that’s good. Bible says it too. Do they really mean it?
I drive my old routes. Camera on the passenger seat or my lap. As always, these days it usually stays there, untouched. There are things along the way that spark memories. Object that aren’t there anymore. Gorgeous commercial signs constructed by craftsmen in the 1950s and 60s (not the least of which from the Jimenez Sign Company) were carted off to other cities that were twenty years ahead of El Paso in their bourgeoisie ambitions.You can drink under some of El Paso’s “Motel, Vacancies,” signs in various bars from Austin to Houston to Baton Rouge. There’s a withering away now, aging and weathered, but mostly not endearing anymore, not worth stopping for (to make images). There came a year, a month, a day when the treasures of El Paso were either gone, carted off or just left to rot.
There are whole swaths of this incredible and authentic city that are gone, at least for the long gaze of a photograph: Alameda. El Centro (downtown). Segundo is shrinking fast, bordered by El Paso Street on the west (with nasty tentacles of them all over it) and Cotton on the far east, with old residents living out their days, youth getting out fast and them with their bulging eyes all over it. Off of Delta there are condominiums and some revamped industrial buildings, residents living an almost urban lifestyle (sans humanity). Even the Gay Bars have fled, a sure sign of urban renewal/removal.
It’s not my job to do anything about any of this. My job, as I saw it, at the beginning, in 1980, was to give face to a face that was not known and I have tried. As The Grid lays out its future in the city with two hearts, it’s clear to me that my mission isn’t to pick sides in land rights, power exchanges, or to watch -or judge- the inevitable blandification. But blandification has come. Oh happy day. Some loudly exhale and go, finally! The city is becoming presentable to visitors again. It’s cleaner. It’s newer. There’s baseball. Soccer is coming (watch out Chamizal! The final blow that started in the mid 1960s is finally here). There are restaurants with the preface Le with Foo Fo thing-a-ma-jig dishes with little portions of things that look like they squiggle -vegetables- on top of things it’d be hard to identify below. Fancy. Plates of Foo Foo. There are young people downtown again, well, the kind of young people that look like they’d also be comfortable up in Kern Place on Cincinnati and the upper Westside.
Finally, there’s a Starbucks downtown near the Plaza and the Westin. The kids from the ‘hood can serve the hipsters that come in from outer Zaragosa Road and beyond.
Boring? Not to everyone and I wish them the best. I am not part of this. I left this scene in three other places I lived before this very long stretch here. It’s the same message: you’re in the gentry or you’re equitied out of the gentry.
Developing a portrait, Granada, Nicaragua, February 1986
This photographer in the Plaza of Granada in Nicaragua is developing a portrait that he just made. Inside the box are the normal developing chemicals of Developer, Fixer. Once he has the photograph captured -on portrait size paper- he goes inside the camera through the light tight sleeve and goes from one mini tray to the next until he has the image “fixed.” He then pulls the photograph out and washes it on a tray of water that he has set up in a little bucket attached to the tripod under the camera.
His process was not as fast as the 60 second time for a Polaroid, but, close!
Undocumented Women CrossingThe R2, Juraez-El Paso, 1984
Text and photograph by Bruce Berman
The river with two names: Rio Grande/Rio Bravo del Norte. Depends where you begin and where you end and where you return to. These women are heading north. It was a long time ago. Everything has changed and nothing has changed and I suspect it will continue to change and not change forever.
The river with two names, the R2, is also the place of the personality with two halves.
It is the place of bifurcation. But even that has two sides: twice as much insight.
Where are these women now? Which side happened to them? What happened to me? What happened to Juárez and the U.S.?
What happened to me?
I know this: people will cross going north no matter what and no matter the year. People will cross less, going south, depending on the year.
The river will flow south from Colorado (a Spanish name) to the Gulf of Mexico (an English language name).
And none of it matters to anyone living here except that one government makes it hard for another people to do what they have done for thousands of years and another government makes it necessary.
Robot attacks little girl at Robo-Geek Fest, El Paso, Texas
Story by Bruce Berman
El Paso —-
Four-wheeled robots wielding paintball guns took over the Western Technical College Northeast campus on October 15, when students from nine area high schools competed in the college’s first T-Robo Competition. The students design, program and build the robot vehicles.
The competition was part of a daylong event, which included a Geek Fest with demonstrations by area engineering and technology businesses, as well as Fort Bliss and White Sands.
There was a military flare to the event showcasing various careers in the STEM fields. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Possible applications for the robotic vehicles would be non human operated military vehicles or “drones.”
El Paso –Six blocks to the border. There are diamonds. Well, they ought to be diamonds. He says they cost $250. I believe him. Sunday drive. Family in the Dodge. Stylin’ on Paisano Street by Bowie (Boooie). If you know El Paso you know the references. If you don’t it wouldn’t matter. Chuco street.
One of the riddles of photography for me is that every once in awhile there is an image that must be in color. Most everything I see and shoot is in B/W, but every once in awhile…
EL PASO –It was an amazing storm. Hard to believe it happened. Zero temperatures (in El Paso!!!!). Ice. Snow. Irregular electricity. No internet. Intermittent Gas (for some people). Highways closed. Jobs (including mine. I haven’t been to NMSU since last Tuesday! Bummer! I like it) canceled. Everything closed. Voluntary curfew (requested). Went on for three to five days (depending on which part of this freaky happening we’re talking about, and, when it was all over, yesterday, it wasn’t over because there were major outages of water (I’m going to get that shower eventually…like today!).
Now I think it’ll be El Paso again and we’ll be in shorts T Shirts and swamp coolers, squishy asphalt, hoods up and steaming radiators and complaining about the heat in no time at all.
Like I said, it was like a dream and hard to believe it ever happened.
Today in Juarez. More of the same. If this were anywhere else we’d be sending aide and 120,000 troops. Instead we send DEA Agents (under the terms of the “Merida Initiative”) and clandestine military “trainers,” to train soldiers and police…to do what, exactly?
The last time I heard the term “trainers,” it was the early and mid sixties and the trainers were being sent to Viet Nam.
How’d that work out for us?
More importantly, how’d that work out for Viet Nam?
Watch out Mexico, there are many many dollars seeking calamities. Buy cheap, wait, sell strong.
Anyway, six Federales and one murderer (sicario), today, so far.
A piece written to my photography students at the end of a fine semester at New Mexico State University. Forgive the “first person.” Originally posted on their class website at www.nmsu.documentaryshooters.com:
Brucini w/New Blanket from a Good Friend, El Paso –Dec. 9, 2009
So it comes to this, the semester ends, we go our own way, we know more for having known each other.
We have had our ambitions and we have had our disappointments but, what we mostly have had, I think, is a journey of discovery.
At least, it’s has been that way for me.
I was given something wonderful today: a very warm blanket from a very good and thoughtful friend (she had heard that my Loft is frigid in the winters, a concrete old factory building of a palace, not designed to be lived in).
I stopped on the way home for some Christmas lights. First time in my life I have bought any. How can one not succumb to this Season when such kind gestures are extended?
El Puente Cordova, El Paso/Juarez, November 30, 2009
A rarity in this no-mans-land.
Hardship. No one is ready for it. Not man nor beast nor domicile. The aftermath will be unnavigable mud on some of the streets in Juarez: there’s always a fire from people using heaters they’re not used to using; tons of $14.95 coats will be sold on El Paso Street and Stanton Street and the various Fallas Paredes tiendas all over town; car crashes aplenty; you can bet on it. The homeless freeze. Rich people buy juniper logs for five bucks apiece to have their moment of apres ski. Everyone will adapt eventually, but by then we’ll be back in T-shirts and shorts; my loft turns to a freezer; life is anew. This is a place of the sun, not really set up for anything else.
So what else is there in Juarez besides murder and catastrophe?
Right now, it doesn’t seem like anything.
But, then, there are those moments.
I walk the streets. I walk the beaten down downtown. I bus through the factory landscape with For Lease signs more plentiful every time. I walk through the night clubs on Avenida Lincoln, defying myself, defying my fear.
But it’s there. The noise comes out of the clubs, loud, but not the joyous sound, more like the power-driven sound of defiance and booze.
People wait for the situation to end. It will. Someday.
Daily, the murder rate climbs, like an upward missile, slicing through the inherent good nature of this state and city, through this sunny northern Mexico metropolis that was turned into, first, a factory for first world consumption and, then, a monument to the future of world global wage reality. It was that, just a few years ago.
Needed a trip to see someone “rich,” get to my home, my ‘hood, the epicenter.
A day -part of a day- in Americaland was enough for me. Felt sick. Left wobbly. Everyone comes to that place where you’ve got to weigh the illness of your certainties against the “healthiness (or lack of it)” of your insecurities.