My View

Focusing on the Human Spirit Along the Border

Texas photographer Monica Lozano seeks to humanize the struggle of individuals along a divide, especially on the Juarez-El Paso border.

Monica Lozano is a photographer from El Paso, Texas.
National Journal
Monica Lozano
Add to Briefcase
Monica Lozano
Nov. 15, 2013, 6:11 a.m.

Mon­ica Loz­ano, 33, bon­ded with pho­to­graphy at age 9, cap­tiv­ated by her pink Po­lar­oid. Now up­graded to mod­ern gear and hold­ing a mas­ter’s in pho­to­graphy, she fo­cuses on ways to bring the world closer to­geth­er by doc­u­ment­ing life on the bor­der — and bey­ond.

Her work is on ex­hib­it in New York, Bar­celona, Mex­ico City, and El Paso, Texas, where she now resides. She also re­cently dis­cussed her ef­forts to “hu­man­ize the struggle along the bor­der” at the Septem­ber TEDx El Paso event, “De­fy­ing Bor­ders.” (See her seg­ment at 8:10:56).

This in­ter­view, con­duc­ted by Jody Bran­non, has been ed­ited for length and clar­ity.

I was born in El Paso. but was just an in­fant when we re­turned to Ciudad Juarez. When I was 14, I star­ted high school in El Paso. I stud­ied at San Ant­o­nio Com­munity Col­lege but went back to Monter­rey to fin­ish col­lege, earn­ing my de­gree in visu­al arts. In re­tak­ing a pho­to­graphy class, I began to ex­per­i­ment in the streets of down­town Ciudad Juarez, and I found beauty where you might not think there is much.

I went to Min­neapol­is to live with my aunt and uncle and I got a job do­ing graph­ics for a TV sta­tion, and my boss let me use the sta­tion’s cam­era on week­ends. I real­ized I had the ideas and I could see what I wanted to take pho­tos of, but I didn’t have the tech­no­logy skills. My aunt and uncle op­er­ate the Car­penter Edu­ca­tion Fund and offered me a schol­ar­ship to study pho­to­graphy in Spain. There I presen­ted a pro­ject on bor­der por­traits that was in­spired by my earli­er work in Juarez and by a photo my mom sent me about a guy who hid him­self in a car seat to try to cross the bor­der.

For three months, I really came to be in front of this raw situ­ation of des­per­a­tion among people who cross bor­ders around the world. I gathered 18 stor­ies, and to my sur­prise it was something that has changed my life.

It was amaz­ing to see how bor­der is­sues are world­wide. That’s something I know about. The bor­der between El Paso and Juarez is ex­tremely ori­gin­al. We have our own cul­ture, we have our own lan­guage and form of sur­viv­al. We have to make it work.

Ori­gin­al­ity is in the minds of people who are des­per­ate to cross the bor­der. They’re will­ing to cre­ate and make any­thing hap­pen in or­der to cross. I wanted to speak out on this sub­ject, tak­ing out all the drama and in­stead con­cen­trat­ing on what people are will­ing to do un­der pres­sure.

I am def­in­itely at­trac­ted to telling these true stor­ies and tak­ing these so­cial por­traits, so I went back to Juarez in 2010, a vi­ol­ent year. After liv­ing away, I could see a type of numb­ness be­cause of the fear — I could sense it. I felt with pho­to­graphy I could do something to shake up the situ­ation, make some people wake up and bring a new con­ver­sa­tion to the table. I was like, “Let’s do something. We can’t stay like this.”

I got in­volved with the In­side Out pro­ject col­lab­or­a­tion [a glob­al art pro­ject that fly­posts por­traits]. We went in­to Juarez and pas­ted faces all around, por­traits of people smil­ing and laugh­ing, to bring back to life pub­lic spaces. [About 300 of the 800 from the Mex­ic­an side were hers.] I can say that it def­in­itely did shake up the city be­cause this happened in Septem­ber 2011 and right now the city has opened a lot. I can say maybe 60 per­cent or 70 per­cent more busi­nesses and shops have opened. And now down­town is be­ing re­modeled, many old build­ings are be­ing torn down and they’re re­build­ing a walk­ing park.

Some people in Juarez had the eco­nom­ic abil­ity to get to the U.S. through an in­vestor visa or many have dual cit­izen­ship, so they moved to El Paso. It was amaz­ing to see the con­trast. El Paso was ranked as one of the safest cit­ies and Juarez was one of the most vi­ol­ent. It was really crazy. So many people went to El Paso to pro­tect them­selves from the situ­ation. I did speak to Amer­ic­ans who live in El Paso who say, “We really would like to help in a way — we are con­scious of the situ­ation but don’t know what to do.” This is one of the reas­ons we did the col­lab­or­a­tion, pro­posed by Ann Horak, dir­ect­or of re­li­gious stud­ies at the Uni­versity of Texas at El Paso, be­cause we mixed pic­tures on the re­bar in­stall­a­tion of people from El Paso and Juarez who wanted to unite. In­side of the city, some of the pho­tos re­main, and most people do re­mem­ber.

What happened along the Mex­ic­an-U.S. bor­der was that a lot of people were really touched. Oth­er In­side Out lead­ers were in­spired by this ac­tion, spe­cially the lead­ers from Athens, Greece. They’d say, “Smil­ing? In El Paso, in Juarez? Really?” They were really sur­prised and ex­cited about tran­scend­ing bor­ders. Lead­ers from Athens then pro­posed a big­ger col­lab­or­a­tion where we ex­changed pic­tures not only between neigh­bor coun­tries but between con­tin­ents. We called his ac­tion “Be the Change.”

I hope something con­tin­ues to hap­pen. I can say that the art scene along the bor­der has def­in­itely had a boost. A lot of in­ter­est­ing pro­pos­als are per­col­at­ing.

For me it is talk­ing about the oth­er side that ex­ists, through art. It is about hav­ing the whole pic­ture and ex­press­ing the whole story, not part of it, and the people be­hind the story. If that can bring about some peace, that’d be great. It goes to the roots of the hu­man be­ing and all these things they hold on to — the sur­viv­al of the hu­man spir­it, the res­ist­ance and fra­gi­le­ness of life — and how at the same time we’re all the same.

This pro­ject has been one of my biggest and most hum­bling learn­ing ex­per­i­ences of my life. It star­ted with 30 pic­tures I took in down­town Juarez, and it ended as an art and so­cial move­ment. The com­munity em­braced it. It was al­most two years of vo­lun­teer work that taught me so much, spe­cially how to keep a team mo­tiv­ated and united in such ad­verse situ­ations. This shapes my fu­ture in many ways, un­der­stand­ing that I am not an act­iv­ist but an artist. My work does talk about so­cial is­sues, and it ex­presses what I see and feel. I am in­ter­ested in talk­ing about these stor­ies of people that res­ist and ex­plor­ing the dif­fer­ent ways they have to hold on in or­der to sur­vive. I want to do more work, pos­sibly film pho­to­graphy in the fu­ture.

‘MY VIEW’ OF THE NEXT AMER­ICA

Jody Brannon contributed to this article.
What We're Following See More »
A CANDIDATE TO BE ‘PROUD’ OF
Chicago Tribune Endorses Gary Johnson
27 minutes ago
THE LATEST

No matter that his recall of foreign leaders leaves something to be desired, Gary Johnson is the choice of the Chicago Tribune's editorial board. The editors argue that Donald Trump couldn't do the job of president, while hitting Hillary Clinton for "her intent to greatly increase federal spending and taxation, and serious questions about honesty and trust." Which leaves them with Johnson. "Every American who casts a vote for him is standing for principles," they write, "and can be proud of that vote. Yes, proud of a candidate in 2016."

FUNERAL FOR ISRAELI LEADER
Obama Compares Peres to ‘Giants of the 20th Century’
46 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

Speaking at the funeral of former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, President Obama "compared Peres to 'other giants of the 20th century' such as Nelson Mandela and Queen Elizabeth who 'find no need to posture or traffic in what's popular in the moment.'" Among the 6,000 mourners at the service was Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Obama called Abbas's presence a sign of the "unfinished business of peace" in the region.

Source:
THE QUESTION
How Many New Voters Does the Clinton Campaign Aim to Register?
53 minutes ago
THE ANSWER

Three million—a number that lays "bare the significant gap between Donald Trump’s bare-bones operation and the field program that Clinton and her hundreds of aides have been building for some 17 months."

Source:
“STANDING FOR PRINCIPLES”
Chicago Tribune Endorses Johnson
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

In a somewhat shocking move, the Chicago Tribune has endorsed Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson for president, saying a vote for him is one that voters "can be proud of." The editorial barely touches on Donald Trump, who the paper has time and again called "unfit to be president," before offering a variety of reasons for why it can't endorse Hillary Clinton. Johnson has been in the news this week for being unable to name a single world leader who he admires, after earlier this month being unable to identify "Aleppo," a major Syrian city in the middle of the country's ongoing war.

Source:
NEVER TRUMP
USA Today Weighs in on Presidential Race for First Time Ever
14 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"By all means vote, just not for Donald Trump." That's the message from USA Today editors, who are making the first recommendation on a presidential race in the paper's 34-year history. It's not exactly an endorsement; they make clear that the editorial board "does not have a consensus for a Clinton endorsement." But they state flatly that Donald Trump is, by "unanimous consensus of the editorial board, unfit for the presidency."

Source:
×