This is my first review of the photobook series published by Svetlana Bachevonaova and FotoEvidence, which is a non-profit organization that focuses on the global issues of Social Justice.
Michelle Frankfurter (b. April 1961, Jerusalem, Israel – living in the US since 1967 and currently resides near Washington DC) is using a classic black and white photographic medium (film) in a documentary style to investigate the illegal influx into southern United States. Frankfurter sequences her photographs to allow us to follow the progress of a journey, laden with boredom and interspersed with moments of sheer terror, from Central America to the various Mexican borders of the United States.
Her subjects, single individuals to entire multi-generational families, have meager economic means thus they leverage the available Central America commercial transportation infrastructure, primary riding atop freight trains. To further understand what lengths these individuals were willing to undertake, Frankfurter similarly hopped onto one of these same freight trains to ride alongside her subjects. In so doing she shared a part of their perilous journey while enduring the same risks and become an insider, not a casual and emotionally distant observer.
Since I live in Southern California I interact on an almost daily basis with Latinos, and many due to their difficultly with English are most likely a product, directly or indirectly, of a similar journey. In discussions with them about their heritage, they will eventually open up to the circumstances of their arrival and current situation. For those who are “undocumented”, the Politically Correct term for illegal, their lives which although are much better now than where they originated is still fraught with great danger. Nevertheless the enormous efforts and risks undertaken to arrive in the United States are seldom discussed and for the most part unknown to me and most others who live here. Usually discussed in the local news are the events around a terribly failed attempt at a border crossing, perhaps a family who has passed away attempting the trek through the arid desert that lurks in the midst of the U.S. and Mexico borders.
The photographs are very sensitively composed with her subjects photographed from a close and intimate distance. These portraits are intermingled with the passing landscape photographs, slightly larger in scope and providing a context to her subject’s journey. As an example the photobook’s cover image is a subtle story. The man in the right side within the frame has his eyes focused slightly to his right. Then I realize that he is not shifting his gaze away from the photographer, but to whom is probably his family, a woman and small child who are covered with a black plastic cover to protect them from the natural elements on top of the freight car. This photograph provides a poignant narrative as to what this man is actually risking, not just himself, but his entire family. The photograph also asks the reader to consider the uneasy question as why would someone take such a huge risk? These are the unanswered questions that Frankfurter elegantly raises throughout this photobook.
The resulting openness of her subjects comes through in her photographs, perhaps as Frankfurter shares in her introduction, she and her family are also immigrants into the United States, be by much different circumstances. I found that her visual narrative reminds me of the Freedom Train, the illegal movement of the African-Americans preceding the United States Civil War in the 1860’s, a much earlier era of the American history, pursuing similar dreams of freedom.
Her black and white photographs alternate between a full bleed images to a classic border with paper white margins. The images alternate between a single photograph on a double page spread, which provides singular emphasis, to pairs of photographs facing across the book’s gutter. Most of the paired images one image is full frame while the facing image is smaller encircled with large white paper margins, which creates an interesting interaction between the two photographs.
As a book object, this is an Image-wrap hardcover book, while the interior Black & White photographs beautiful printed and bound by the printer in Istanbul, Turkey. The Forward text is provided by Susan Terrio with an Introduction by Frankfurter and the book design is by Mark Weinberg. The photobook includes pagination and the captions are summarized within the end notes as well as an extensive listing of the backers for this publication. This is a book that I also selected for my blog as an Interesting Photobook for 2014.