Collecting (15) — Bordertown

I found this photobook in Texas, in 1999, in a dreary bookstore of a dreary shopping mall, not very far away from the infamous border described by Barry Gifford and David Perry. No, not very far away, and, still, far enough. The line that separates the USA from Mexico is at a safe distance from San Antonio. The disorder of the geographic boundaries, that restlessness that corrupts beyond the tolerable giving in return nothing more than a romantic aura which seduces the twisted passersby without any strong arguments besides the honesty of the putrid blind alleys, is kept at length from the city of the Alamo.

Strangely, and maybe because it is so close to a hole that, like a sneaky vortex, attracts all the chaos in the world, San Antonio is a relatively quiet city (or so it seems, to the short-term visitor). Not very exciting tough, besides the Alamo Mission, its memories, cultural references and influence in the history of USA and Mexico: it was after the battle of the Alamo, in 1836, that the border between the USA and Mexico began to converge inexorably to its current state. In that no man’s land where North America meets the Latin world, two American artists wandered, scratched and wallowed in a filthy territory, and created Bordertown, a straight and harsh sketch of the life in the frontier territories of Mexico.

With photos by David Perry and text by Barry Gifford (author of the novel Wild at Heart, published in 1989 and later adapted to the cinema by David Lynch), Bordertown is carefully designed, with words and images combining in a consistent whole, the text printed chaotically, the photos oscillating between the sepia toning and a beautiful — and yet mysterious and gloomy — silver glow. And while not being a moralist indictment, Perry and Gifford’s book avoids the romanticization of a deeply wounded, dirty and dangerous world. There, in la frontera del infierno (hell’s frontier), drug abuse, abductions, murders, prostitution and petty crimes live side by side with men and women that must carry on with their lives, no matter how brutal things may become. And the curse is spread through the 3000 kilometers of world’s busiest border.

Bordertown describes a closed universe with no redemption. In fact, those characters do not seem to seek redemption at all; they just pass by these photos, laying against the silhouettes of the urbanscape, like they walk the streets of border towns: resigned, no matter how happy or unhappy they are. In their own, extreme way, these cities and villages are also happy and sad, but unlike Victor Palla and and Costa Martins, Gifford and Perry will not be enrolled in a prominent place in the history the photography book. Nevertheless, Bordertown is not a negligible work and served perfectly as a complement to a trip that could not go beyond San Antonio. With this book, I had the illusion of going one step further. And there are places we can only reach through books.


 Carlos M. Fernandes

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