Brooklyn Bridge Plaza
Brooklyn, New York City
I will also take part in a CatchLight panel discussion about photography and social impact on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018 at 3:00pm.
60 Water Street
Brooklyn, New York City
Although borders can play a consequential role in our lives and with our sense of identity, these lines between countries are impermanent, artificial and often absurd. Seen through the prism of contemporary politics, national borders can take on dramatic and distorted meanings. From 2017 to 2018, I created a series of lens-based works about the Mexico-U.S. border that reframe our perceptions using line, memory, and perspective.
Divided, 2018, is a single-channel video installation that focuses on the timeless repetition of lines of waves from the Pacific Ocean. The border between Baja and upper California dates to 1848, when the United States military seized the northern half of Mexico. Over the years, the border was reinforced from an imaginary line to a fence to a steel barrier that juts into the water.
Lines of waves have crossed the Pacific Ocean since time immemorial. Now, this barrier splits them just before reaching the shore.
About Lines and Lineage
We often forget that the boundary between Mexico and the United States was not always where it is today. It used to be 1100 kilometers farther north, following what is now the state line between Oregon and California and running east to Wyoming before zagging southeast to Louisiana. Originally home to the indigenous peoples of the region, much of this land was Spanish and then Mexican territory for centuries before becoming what we now think of as the American West.
Spanish colonists and missionaries settled here beginning in 1598. In 1821, Mexico won independence from Spain, and by the middle of the century, it was in some ways far more advanced than its neighbor to the northeast. It abolished slavery shortly after independence; black Mexicans soon gained prominent positions, including the governorship of California. Indigenous people were given the right to vote. All this came to an end in 1848, when the United States attacked Mexico, seized half its land, and created the border that we know today.
At the time, the war on Mexico was emphatically opposed by prominent Americans, including Abraham Lincoln and John Quincy Adams. Henry David Thoreau penned his groundbreaking essay on Civil Disobedience after his arrest for nonpayment of taxes, an act of defiance of what he called an “unjust” war that aimed to “expand the slave territory.”
Mexican administration was cut short before photographic technology, revealed in Paris in 1839, arrived in the region. The well-known visual record of the American West—dominated by photos of cowboys and white settlers, the Gold Rush and the arrival of the railroads—was created after 1848. Images from the Mexican era, on the other hand, were never fixed in our memory. Using glass plates and a nineteenth-century camera to photograph landscapes along the original border and create portraits of descendants of early inhabitants, this project imagines what that history might look like. It questions the role that photographs—both present and missing—have played in shaping the identity of the West.
The CatchLight Fellowship is in partnership with the Pulitzer Center.
The exhibition showcases iconic work by more than 30 Belgian photographers, also including Carl De Keyzer, Bieke Depoorter, Stephan Vanfleteren, Katrien De Blauwer, and Sébastien Van Malleghem. The show is curated by Kaat Celis.
About Blue Sky Days
In October 2012, a drone strike in northeast Pakistan killed a 67-year-old woman picking okra outside her house. At a briefing held in 2013 in Washington, DC, the woman’s 13-year-old grandson, Zubair Rehman, spoke to a group of five lawmakers. “I no longer love blue skies,” said Rehman, who was injured by shrapnel in the attack. “In fact, I now prefer grey skies. The drones do not fly when the skies are grey.”
With my camera attached to a small drone, I traveled across America to photograph the very sorts of gatherings that have become habitual targets for foreign air strikes—weddings, funerals and groups of people praying or exercising. I also flew my camera over settings in which drones are used to less lethal effect, such as prisons, oil fields, and the US-Mexico border. The images captured from the drone’s perspective engage with the changing nature of surveillance, personal privacy and war.
On May 1st, 2018, I gave a 30-minute artist talk about Lines and Lineage at The New School in New York as part of the Magnum Foundation‘s Photography Expanded Symposium. The symposiums’s theme was counter-histories. During the my presentation, I explained how the existing visual record of the American West helped create the Western mythology of Anglo “pioneers” and… read more.
In its most ambitious use of drone imagery to date, TIME published my series of aerial photographs above the Mexico-U.S. border as the lead photo essay of it’s special report on the Drone Age. The new photos update my Blue Sky Days series, visualising the U.S. government’s use of drones in the time of Trump. Below is the original, unedited introduction… read more.
Aline Smithson, founder of LENSCRATCH, featured my trio of works on the Mexico-U.S. border to mark my selection as the First Place Winner of the Producer’s Choice Award from CENTER Santa Fe. Her post is copied below: . . . Congratulations to Tomas van Houtryve for his First Place win for the CENTER’s 2018 Producer’s Choice Award for his… read more.
Sarah Hotchkiss, the Visual Arts Editor of KQED, reviewed the Lines and Lineage exhibition at SF Camerawork in San Francisco, part of the inaugural CatchLight Fellowship show that includes work by Sarah Blesener and Brian L. Frank. The exhibition is open through 27 June, 2018. An extract of the review is posted below. “…Van Houtryve’s Lines and Lineage is based on the… read more.
Divided, a single-channel video installation has won First Place, Producer’s Choice Award from CENTER. Juror’s Statement: “This work took a very simple concept, a border wall between two countries, and visually infused it with all the complexities of the contemporary American debate. The ‘moving picture’ that tells this story, does so in a leisurely way, but clearly one… read more.
Ahead of the opening of the Lines and Lineage exhibition at SF Camerawork on May 3rd in San Francisco and a May 4th talk at the Palo Alto Photo Forum, I spoke with Charles Russo of The Six Fifty about how this work takes aim at the “collective amnesia” of U.S. history. Interview copied below: The American West has never been short on… read more.
I will be speaking about my Lines and Lineage project at the Magnum Foundation symposium in New York City on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. The symposium will explore counter-histories and alternative narratives. The day’s program runs from 9:00am to 5:00pm.
The New School
John L. Tishman Auditorium
63 5th Avenue
New York, NY 10003
The symposium is an annual event that brings together photographers, writers, technologists, students, and other creative thinkers to experiment with new approaches to visual storytelling. The program is organized by the Magnum Foundation in collaboration with Parsons School of Design at The New School, and featured as part of The New School’s Nth Degree Series: Creative Minds Creating Change.
About Lines and Lineage:
Mexico once ruled what is now called the American West, yet there was no photographic record of it. The first cameras arrived just a few months after the U.S. seized control. What did people’s faces look like? What did the old border look like? I’m using 19th-centurty wet plate photography to re-examine our past.