“I want you to come on, come on, come on, come on and take it,
Take another little piece of my heart now, baby!
Oh, oh, break it!
Break another little bit of my heart now, darling, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Oh, oh, have a!
Have another little piece of my heart now, baby,
You know you got it if it makes you feel good,
Oh, yes indeed.
You’re out on the streets looking good,
And baby deep down in your heart I guess you know that it ain’t right…”
Rancho Boots (from the book JuÃ¡rez), JuÃ¡rez, 2009
Photographs and text by Bruce Berman
Every once in awhile you have to just throw yourself on the ground and go for it. Sometimes it’s worth it. This was worth it. My eyes needed it.
JuÃ¡rez is changing. It’s good. People are dancing in the streets. The Cartel is receding into memory. JuÃ¡rez has always had its own style, its own punch, it’s little kick in the gut that reminds you you’re not in Kansas anymore.
JuÃ¡rez is the center of the world of nowheresville.
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)Â was for the Christian Science Monitor (I was their Midwest photographer, based out of Chicago, from 1969 thru 1973). It was a pieceÂ I did on the coming ofÂ 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.”
You were texture. You were identity. You were muy macho. You had cajones. Your candy stripe shaft spewed your acids and we ran for cover. At least we were moving. You were not vanilla. You were not something else. You were, well, ASARCO, un madre. You were definitely not bourgeois,Â pro seguro.Â On dark nights, down on Paisano, huge trucks dumped your excrement and giant flames roared into the sky, lighting up I10 like a festive firecracker.
Now you are a bald pallet awaiting “The Grid.” They fiddle before they drop the hammer, just enough time for one to build trust in the untrustworthy. What should go on the ground that has your blood? Should it be a Western Town? Giddy up! Should it be an amusement park? Ice cream! Maybe it could be a “multi use” nothing (Ha! What else do you think they will do!)? We need more apartments and strip centers! Maybe we can just let UTEP spread its, its…well…it could just spread whatever it is that UTEP has.
I will politely clap. I am not lamenting the inevitable any more than I do on The Day Of the Dead.
Yes you were a cancer dispenser, a reminder of danger, vulnerability and of the sweat and blood of working men.Â Oh yeah, you were one bad hombre. Oh, and how the gerentes avoided your gaze. You were so not sheik. How could we sell this bipolar berg as the cultural and artistic epicenter of the great southwest with your giant schlong sticking into the sky, having intercourse with the eyes of every passerby? No no no, you had to go. You were so, well, nasty!
I drive my old routes. Camera on the passenger seat or my lap. As always,Â 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 theirÂ bourgeoisieÂ 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 inevitableÂ blandification. But blandification has come. Oh happy day. Some loudly exhale and go, finally!Â 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 ofÂ Foo Foo. There are young peopleÂ downtown again, well, the kind ofÂ Â 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.
Halloween is The Great Day in El Segundo barrio. The ‘hood comes alive. People are pouring over the bridges heading from Juarez on the candy quest. People in the neighborhood put on the costumes and come out of invisibility. The first block of America (6th and El Paso) is a riot of laughing and color and wild abandon.
Nothing is sure on this border in this neighborhood anymore. “They” are back! The Developers. “The 180s” aren’t around on this day. The Developers, their Pol puppies, the Gov. employee “Good Germans,” even the The Do Gooders (even if they are really the Do Badders). That’s what I have come to call them all. They say something and if you want to find out what they just said just think 180 degrees opposite from what it was. Most of them are up inÂ Kern Place handing out candy, their yearly contact with the rabble.Â They’re all afraid of the people when they have fun.
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.
EL PASO –Angelica Alvarez. A true believer. A believer in her faith. A believer in a better day. A believer in joy.
I noticed her as she worked her way down the street, engaging every person that she encountered, leaving each person she talked with a smile on their face, enthusiastically waving goodbye to her, they no longer strangers.
Martin, man of dignity and courage, Lomas del Poleo, Summer 2009
I said I would be back to Lomas and I haven’t been back in a year now. It’s crazy. I drive to work in Las Cruces three times a week and I look to the west and I can see you, I can see Lomas, right there, the flat top mesa poking out from behind Cristo Rey.
No, I haven’t been back. I am sorry. Life caught up with me and I had to do my labors, take care of biz, run around like a chicken without a head. And, in the meantime, I have fallen in love with a photo project, far away from here, up in Nuevo Mexico, and I have given it a lot of my attention.
All weak excuses.
I said I’d be back and continue the work we began and I haven’t.
You -and sus vecinos, sus compaÃ±eros in Lomas del Poleo- are never out of my thoughts.
February 13, 2010, the day before the Day of San Valentin – El Paso, Texas
Photographs by Bruce Berman
Pipo’s Hair Salon and School held a beauty competition and the best of the best turned out to coif, spray, paint and shape the “models,” in a competition that determined who was the most beautiful and who was the best beauty maker.
The night’s Dj, a veteran of two tours of duty in Iraq was overheard telling the photographer (me), “I’ve seen a lot of things but I have never ever seen anything like this.
Not even in Iraq.
The border always has a twist. But this event, at least to your correspondent, seemed to make sense.
In journalism, they always teach you to ask, “Why?”
This used to be happy street. It’s still a busy street. It’s the street where the downtown bridge from Juarez exits or, conversely, it is the street where you leave the United States and enter the bridge to Juarez.
There’s a strange urgency on this block now, on this border now, if you’re looking and listening these days. People try to get back to Juarez before dark. Dark is when the heavy killing begins. At least that’s the way it’s been for the last year. Lately, things are getting even crazier in Juarez. Burrito ladies shot in the middle of the street in broad daylight, children executed in plain sight, house invasions and retaliations. Hard to know when a “safe” time to be in Juarez anymore.
Been thinking about this guy and borders and the idea of the Big Picture versus the small picture ever since I made it (the photo) this summer, on an almost rainy night, in the northeast section of town, out by the military base.
Angry. Joyous. Funny. Dangerous. Sweet. Full of love, hate and ambivalence. Boozed up, half mad, half brilliant.
“I am free,” he shouts at the night. “I am free and I am in hell.”
I ask him if he ever goes across the border?
“I am borderless,”he replies, “aren’t you?” He shakes his hand and does a twirl, almost stepping into busy Saturday night traffic.
He does a little dance and steps so close to the edge of the curb that I go to grab him but he spins back onto the sidewalk and does a very theatrical bow. He is a tight rope walker and it looks like he has done this toe dance forever.
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.
Lomas del Poleo. The battle goes on. More people leave. People fight to stay.Â A mean strip of ten lane highway has snaked its way through Lomas del Poleo (see previous posts or Google it). The Developers got what they needed and left what they didn’t, more or less. They don’t even blink as they plow ahead. This highway is going to happen, no matter what. The development will follow, is gonna happen, no matter what. Nothing stops the grinder. The Grid viene: Diamond Shamrock, The Chicken Colonel, Pemex, trucks full of electronic crap, three bedrooms, two baths, probably a Wal Mart (whoa..let’s not get too crazy!), the same vexing and stinking Grid that we hate and that people fight to have (Iran, Cuba, Libya, you, too, can have it!). There goes the texture, and, in the case of Lomas del Poleo, the isolation and faux rural vibe, the farm at the edge of the city, the special dream that has been Lomas: get out of the city, raise some chickens, leave us alone. A quiet hope on the edge of always possible chaos that is Juarez.