La Frontera

This post serves a few different purposes. Someone asked the other day if I would show some things that didn’t work, so I’ve got an image here that doesn’t work and I’ll explain that. I’ll also explain the images that work and why I feel that way. The reason I posted this now is the fence is, once again, a hot topic, especially in these parts, Arizona, New Mexico, etc. If you have ever spent any time on the border you will know what it’s like to be around this fence and will know what it does to the areas where the fence exists. In my opinion, it doesn’t work, but I also understand why they are building it. That’s not to say I agree with it, but I feel it is our political machine saying, “We have to do something.”

This exact location is where the border fence runs into the Pacific Ocean. It FEELS like a no man’s land when you drive up here, parking your car in a lost area where you aren’t entirely who or what is lurking nearby. You are always under surveillance, from both the Mexican side and the watchful eyes of the Border Patrol. The fence itself is..well, not really a fence. You can pass in between the bars and move freely between the US and Mexico(Not sure it is still this way). You aren’t supposed to do this, but when you are standing there it makes you want to cross it. Like being told NOT to do something and it makes you want to do it even more. The initial image in this post is foreboding and gives you an idea of what this place FEELS like when you are standing there, and it REALLY feels like this to many of the folks on the other side. The second image in the post is what I feel is the best image. When you are standing there and looking through the fence, talking with people on the other side it REALLY makes you realize how fickle life is. Just an arbitrary line in the sand, literally, but it means everything in the grand scheme of life. You look through and see this young couple, arm in arm, and you realize “Hey, that could be my wife and I.” We are all the same, but this line in the sand reinforces our differences more than anything else. I think this image works due to its simple graphic nature and human element balanced in the middle.

This third image is very important because it says everything you need to know without actually seeing it. This image is a reminder. This image is a reminder you are never alone when you are standing in this place. There is ALWAYS someone watching. The tracks here are from a Border Patrol vehicle, which I would guess are the only vehicles allowed on the beach. What I think works with this image is the fact the tracks just vanish as they blend into the fence. I love the diagonal pull and the stark, black lines of the fence paired with the stark, black lines of the tracks.

Moving on the to next image I go back to the human element. I like how the people are lined up like the lines of the fence. I also have hard directional light from the left, which is side lighting the faces. Having them small in the bottom of the frame highlights the fact the fence is VERY high. It also adds to the sense that this is a BARRIER meant ONLY to keep people in, out, away or “on their side.”

Moving on we land on the image that simply does not work. This has nothing to do with the gentleman in the image. Not his fault, entirely mine. I’m working in light that demands I work a certain way and in a certain direction and I simply failed to work the light the way I needed to do make a successful portrait. The light is too hot, forces me to lose detail in the face, and is blown out on the top and side of his head. I’m not back far enough to really use the repeating pattern of the fence, and I don’t like my crop on him either. Poor guy. I feel bad for even asking him to make this picture. This is one of those things that makes me appreciate photography more than normal. I KNEW this image wasn’t good the moment before I made it but I did it anyway. The vast majority of images I make don’t work, and this is just another example.

Going back to the human element, this final shot I DO believe works. The reason I made this image was to add a sense of scale and also remind the viewer of just how damn beautiful this place really is. Everything in the picture looks like it belongs…EXCEPT for the brutality of the fence. You have this powerful body of water, islands dotting the coast and humans taking in the last light of day. And then there is the fence. Cold steel. These images in themselves are not Earth shattering by any means, but do like the second image a lot, and for me going to a place like this, and making these images, is all about reminding myself why I’m doing this. This place is poignant, in all our lives, and it makes a difference. For me it’s about participating in history, in the way I know how, which is my aiming my camera, a Fuji 6×9 in this case, and showing you what I saw. That’s all.

8 responses to “La Frontera”

  1. It all make sense, thank for going throughout the exercise

  2. Eric Jeschke says:

    Good post. Very interesting topic, the fence. Got any good pointers to photographers who have made a project out of shooting the fence? (I mean an ongoing project).

    • Smogranch says:


      Well, the border has been done A LOT, so you have to realize there is a fatigue associated with it. You has to ask yourself why it’s important to you and why would it be important to someone else. Look for an angle that makes us see this place in a new way.

  3. Randy says:

    Good post, a good lesson

  4. The second it’s also my favorite of the images. Did you make it from the Mexico side towards the US? Regarding the last image, I like the concept and why you made it. For me, it would have been stronger if there was a little more detail in the fence. Even though we were in the subject I had to look twice, perhaps because of the angle, to confirm it was a fence, somehow looked much smaller and subdued.

    Thanks for sharing your thinking. It is so helpful. Appreciate it. Martin.

    • Smogranch says:


      These images were made from the US side toward the Mexican side. I’ve been to both sides many times, but it’s FAR easier to get to the US side of the fence in this particular place, at least for me. There is a lot of detail in the fence, but I printed it down as I do with a lot of my black and white work. I’m a hard shadow and highlight kinda guy. It’s why I got “F’s” on all my college printing assignments.

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