In 2007, David Taylor began photographing the monuments that symbolically mark the U.S.-Mexico border to the west of the Rio Grande—276 obelisks, positioned by the International Boundary Commission after the Mexican-American War. Erected mostly in the 19th century and spaced at distances determined by the terrain, to be visible to a viewer on horseback from one to the next, the monuments are carefully positioned stand-ins for distant political and historical forces—they stand guard against the glowing expanse of Tijuana at dusk or get bisected by a stretch of fence. The project reenacts the work of a 19th century Boundary Commission photographer who documented the markers and published an album of them. A show of Taylor’s images from the project is on view at Phoenix Art Museum until October 16.
In Taylor’s photos, the monuments are often framed by the rusty metal wall that straddles the border. Others stand free, surrounded by desert or mountains, or are flanked by more porous fences made from a few posts and strands of barbed wire. Since Taylor began the project, open sections of the border have been closed as the federal government has added 600 miles of pedestrian fencing and vehicle barriers. Taylor writes in a statement, “My project is organized around an effort to document all of the monuments that mark the international boundary west of the Rio Grande. The rigorous undertaking to reach all of the 276 obelisks…has inevitably led to encounters with migrants, smugglers, the Border Patrol, minutemen and residents of the borderlands,” some of whom he photographed, engaged in their work on either side of the border. “[The] resulting pictures are intended to offer a view into locations and situations that we generally do not access and portray a highly complex physical, social and political topography during a period of dramatic change.”
Beyond the Single Video Screen: Richard Barnes’s Multi-Channel Video Exhibition (for PDN subscribers; login required)