Artsy features Divided and Implied Lines works about the border

Artsy, the premier online platform for art collectors, features my Divided video installation and Implied Lines drone prints of the Mexico-U.S. border in an article titled 10 Photographers Who Have Told the Story of the U.S.–Mexico Border by Jacqui Palumbo. Leading with my Divided video, the article also explores the works of established artists Richard Misrach, Dorothea Lange and Alex Webb. An excerpt of the article is copied below.


“The histories of borders have long interested photographer Tomas van Houtryve. “If you’re born on one side or the other, that can decide how prosperous and free you are,” he said. But the line itself can be arbitrary; borders have been decided by any number of reasons, he continued. “With the passage of time, people start to see them as permanent.”

The origins of the U.S.–Mexico border trace back to President James K. Polk’s “Manifest Destiny”—which sent American troops into Mexico to expand the U.S.’s territory to the western coast—as well as the desire among Southern Americans for more slave states. The Mexican–American War ensued, and at its close in 1848, the border was hotly disputed by the two countries. The following year, after an agreement had been reached, the American survey team that set out to plot its path nearly died due to to the unforgiving climate and terrain.

Today, the impact of the border on both countries is boundless. The immigration debate has reached a fever pitch under the administration of U.S. President Donald J. Trump, who enacted a harsh zero-tolerance deportation policy this spring, and continues to seek funding for a complete border wall.

But the 2,000-mile border remains untameable. In some sections, it is marked by thick metal barriers, but it also crosses over rivers and canyons. When photographer Benjamin Rasmussen visited the border in Texas, he was struck by how “brutal” the land is. He, van Houtryve, and countless other photographers have traveled to the great dividing line to document the people crossing and patrolling it, the towns that sit upon it, and beyond. Below, we share the work of 10 such photographers, who have explored this territory from the 1930s to the present.

Tomas van Houtryve
Year: 2018

A wave is split by fencing along the Mexico-U.S. border at Tijuana, Baja California and Imperial Beach, California. From Tomas van Houtryve’s series “Implied Lines,” 2018. ©Tomas van Houtryve.


From high in the air in California, looking down, the impression that the U.S.–Mexico border makes depends on the light, according to Belgian photographer Tomas van Houtryve. The metal wall can be seen as a line cast by its own shadow. If it’s cloudy, it gets lost between the surrounding parking lots, freeways, and rivers—“it almost disappears because it’s so thin,” van Houtryve described. But when the sun is low, “it casts this very long shadow.”

Van Houtryve focused on how the border divides the land in his drone series “Implied Lines,” which was supported by a CatchLight fellowship and published in Time magazine this past May.

Van Houtryve, who was raised in California, has been shooting with drones since 2013, using a birds-eye view to evoke the idea of surveillance. His images, in high-contrast black and white, render texture and form like a sculptural frieze.

From above, he said, the border loses its sense of permanence—especially to a drone, which can unwittingly drift over it. “The wall’s physicality becomes completely irrelevant to the drone,” van Houtryve explained. “This very important line suddenly becomes a very virtual line once you’re in the air.”

At its farthest western tip, in San Diego, the border cuts into the ocean. Van Houtryve filmed a short video from above the wall’s end, entitled Divided (2018), which seems almost meditative. “You see the waves coming across the Pacific, and they form these really beautiful very long lines,” he said. At the end of their journey, the waves hit the wall and break in two. “There was something very symbolic there in the difference between the slow, geological [movement] of the waves and the impermanent line put up by humans,” he mused, “that seems a little absurd…”



Read the full article on Artsy.