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.”
No telling what and who will come over the Cordoba bridge that links El Paso, Texas with its sister city JuÃ¡rez, Chihuahua.
In this case, crossing from south to north, was Spencer.
Pipe, a hat that said “F___ Off,” aged Doc Marten’s, punk rock labels every where, Â he is as ecclectic as the border. In a strange way he, is the border: neither this or that, neither Mexican or American, neither barrier nor passageway.
A friend once called the border a metaphor for a person who has “an undefined personality.”
Looking at Spencer -and some others (in my mirror!)- I’m thinking it’s a place for very defined personalities.
The problem is that it’s really difficult to say exactly what they are.
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.
The war for justice and integrity in government, the war to develop a country that doesn’t need a drug transporting business as it’s second most important economy (after petroleum), is not over and won’t be for the foreseeable future.
On the streets of JuÃ¡rez, there is a strange mix: Old people who couldn’t get out, the poor that couldn’t get out, the young that didn’t know there was anywhere to go to and babies!
There are a lot of babies in their teenage parents’ arms these days. In the streets in from of the Mercado Reforma there is this strange blend of young parents weighing babies in their arms, interspersed with the very old, interspersed with prostitutes, interspersed with an economy that is not longer threatened by the incursion of “the franchises.” Franchises bailed out of JuÃ¡rez years ago, when the war began, in 2011.
This isn’t the JuÃ¡rez of the glamour 1950s or the boom boom 1960s and their international factories, or of the up and down 1970s and 1980s with the rise of the licenciado middle class, nor of the “we are almost first world” JuÃ¡rez of the 1990s and beyond.
This man shocks people in bars! He takes his battery operated tool around and for five bucks looks for masochists who, drunk (or insane?), pay him to turn up the juice, hit the button and let ‘er rip..
It takes all kinds, no?
And it takes someone to recognize certain kinds of Humanity and let ‘er rip…for…five bucks!
Juarez, Chih., Mex. — So how did this Cartel War begin and how does it end?
The Border Blog will not answer that today. We look for the things that make the heart tick and leave the fancy thinking to those that make these messes in the first place.
Roughly, for me, it began a long time ago, when the people who haveÂ most of the marbles understood that they didn’t have to do a thing about bringing along another class of people who had hardly any marbles at all. Impunity. No apologies. In Juarez the maquila industry began when someone figured out that Labor was a cheap product that Mexico had a lot of and that it could be exchanged for some major profit. Of course nothing so crass as that was said. Rather, this was the bright new day that would lead to a burgeoning “middle class,” and bring everyone up from the bottom. So they said.Â So the “development” of Juarez began. The powers that be brought willing companies looking for labor and they delivered “labor.” This labor, also known as the citizens of Mexico came from the far flung corners of Mexico. They had nothing else to do and would work at any price, went the theory. Everyone would be happy. You move here, we’ll give you subsistence (and societal dislocation), and we’ll go to the bank. Everyone will be happy.
When I first started photographing in the maquila factories of Juarez in the early 1980’s the salary in a maquila was $5 per day. Today it’s a little over $7. A full two dollar increase in 20 years. Imagine!
It wasn’t sustainable then and it isn’t now.
The promise of some kind of job, of rising above downright depraved poverty, was strong and people flocked to the border factories. First from Veracruz, then from Durango, then from Torreon and on and on.
If you were a Mexicano and wanted to improve your life without the terrible alternative of actually crossing the border and trying to make it work in El Norte, you headed to the maquilas of Juarez or Tijuana or Nuevo Laredo. If you made that journey you left your culture and customs behind. This was the brave new world.
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?Â
Check this video out.
When Americans talk about the violence in Mexico they often view the situation through “western” eyes, thinking of Good Guys v. Bad Guys.
As this Al Jazeera report shows, the conflict is often between Bad Guys and Badder Guys and the public -the oppressed people of Mexico- have to stand on the sidelines, knowing but unable to alter the situation.
This video asks, Where do you turn when there is no one to turn to?
When Aljazeera -who shouldn’t give a hoot about what’s happening in Mexico- publishes a well done piece on police kidnapping in Mexico, when Mexican journalists go ahead and publish their own work, under duress, knowing that to publish is to perish, and increasingly the xenophobic U.S. press dithers on entertainment and cheesy presidential inanities, we are talking about a new arrangement of the deck chairs on the the good ship journalism.
The truth is that most American newspapers and magazines aren’t undergoing the huge transformation they are experiencing in a vacuum.Â It’s not that hey are not irrelevant. They are merely irrelevant as the source for hard news (at a minimum) that relies on being the “go to” media.
For the most part, they are not that any longer.
If there is one source “out there,” it will be Tweeted or Posted on some social media site, within minutes, and then the fun begins. From there, people will Retweet it (RT), add links or complimentary sources and then the multiplier of social media begins. The question isn’t, Are you getting the news, but, rather, How much can you take?
Of course the eternal existential question remains, What happens when there is no longer a source of information (such as the New York Times. Sky News, CNN or Fox, i.e the “media giants?
This is not likely.
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.
It’s getting the squeeze. The squeeze has been coming for a century or more but it’s a full assault now, and a generation that had roots in the ‘hood, that was born of a time and place that demanded they fight, is no longer there in numbers and possibly not there in energy and historic resentment.
The neighborhood is being squeezed from the north with the Dreamland Downtown Plan back on Premium and from within. A proposed Science museum in the old Armijo School would be the death blow.
If the deathblow can be delivered to an already dead corpse.
Giant Pistachio, Alamogordo, New Mexico, Jan. 2013
Just got a very welcome announcement from a Border Blog viewer. He pointed out that the above image is a representation of a pistachio not a pecan.
We don’t have much of a defense, but really, when this was posted on April Â 24, your Border Blog photographer, Bruce Berman, wasn’t much Bruce Berman either. That’s what happens when one “does what one has got to do as opposed to doing what you do.”
We at Border Blog are pleased to announce that the real Bruce Berman is back, on the border, three blocks from the bridge, in his decaying ruin, tape -metaphorically- over his mouth, no longer talking about photography but living his life, and making images that, hopefully, will do, as we wrote almost a decade ago, stating our intention to (see the “About” tab above), Â “…cover the news, opinions and culture of the 2000 mile border of Mexico and the United States, concentrating on the epicenter of El Paso and Juarez. The Border Blog is not meant to be a newsÂ sourceÂ as much as it is meant to be a news ‘feel’.”
Thank you MB and thank you Bruce (but tsk tsk on your caption!).