Post contributed by Patrick Stawski, curator, Human Rights Archive
The Human Rights Archive recently acquired a copy of Petra Barth’s photobook “Los Mochileros” which is on exhibit in the Mary Duke Biddle exhibit suite through October 2017.
Through a series of piercing black and white portraits, Barth tells an intimate, visual story of people moving across the US-Mexico border. As with much of Barth’s portrait work, her collaborators capture the gaze of the camera, rather than be caught by it. Their pride, their strength, and their history challenge the camera and seem to confront us who stand behind it.
“Los Mochileros” (The Backpackers) has received critical praise in Lenscutlure.com and the Huffingtonpost.com. The photobook is part of larger project undertaken by Barth which includes a traveling exhibit of the prints featured in the book. “Los Mochileros” joins a large body of Barth’s prints currently part of the Human Rights Archive collections which documents her long relationship with Latin America and more generally her interest in the human condition. Eventually, the prints from “Los Mochileros” will be added to Petra’s collection at the Rubenstein.
I reached out to Petra to delve a little deeper into the origin of “Los Mochileros”.
Q: What was the history and motivation for “Los Mochileros”?
A: The ‘Mochileros” has been a ‘bi-product’ of The Americas. Traveling from South to North, it was natural to cross and stop at the border, being a point of discussion in politics on both sides of the border. Originally, I enrolled in a workshop in AZ, which did not happen after all. Nevertheless, I did go and decided to explore the region on my own. I did not know at the time that I would return and the impact the story would have on my work.
Q: Your work at the US/Mexican border has involved both portrait and landscape. How do you feel each of these contributes to the visual representation of the border? How do these add to the dialogue around immigration?
A: I feel that my work is quite different than most of the work done in that area, which was my original intention. Despite the fact that it had a more journalistic starting point, I see my work at the border as pure documentary, quiet and not involved in people’s daily life. I wanted to document the border strip as how I experienced it myself, pure in its identity, as a boundary dividing two countries with barriers, walls and sometimes only barbwire. The display in Venice ties both portraits and landscapes together, as all these people crossed the border somewhere.
Q: Who were some of the important partners that contributed to “Los Mochileros”, directly or indirectly?
A: The project was made possible with the help and support of the Juan Bosco Shelter in Nogales, FESAC Fundacion del Empresariado Sonorense, A.C., BCA Border Community Alliance and all the migrants, of course, who passed through the shelter.
A: There were two moments, which had an impact on the story. The first was during my second visit in the shelter when I realized that I wanted to change the focus of the story. Initially, I had planned to focus on the broader border issue. After meeting and talking to many of the migrants, I decided to make a portrait story and focus on their faces and memories. The second moment was when I edited the pictures for the book, realizing that the people were not only a part of the story. They were a story themselves.
Q: What are your hopes for “Los Mochileros”?
A: I hope that the exhibit which is currently shown in Venice can travel to the US and become a travel exhibit – especially under the current political circumstances and can evoke interest and discussion for the subject. Hopefully through a broader distribution of the book, attention can be brought upon this issue. I hope we can display/exhibit the project in Nogales, so the population living on both sides of the border as well as passing migrants can see it.