Roy Flukinger En la tierra de nadie
Time never stops flowing,timenever stops creating,time never stopserasing its creations,the springof visions never stops.The mouths of the riverspeak clouds,human mouthsspeak rivers.Reality always has another face,the face of every day,the one we never see,the other face of time.—Octavio Paz
When Edward Weston packed his bags in 1923 and headed both into Mexico and into the folklore of modern photohistory, he subjected himself to great levels of personal, cultural, economic and creative change. In the course of redefining both himself and his aesthetic he often remarked upon his “fight to avoid [Mexico’s] natural picturesqueness.” In the end he succeeded and would return home with a body of work that would begin to reinvigorate modern photography with an objectivism and symbolism that continues to be felt today.Weston was able to recognize the pictorialist trap which many had not and many more still cannot: that tendency to selectively depict the obvious, clichéd elements in a most impersonal manner, substituting form and style in place of understanding and analysis. There are far too many of us tourists/turistas who return from either side of the border with portraits of individuals whose names and lives we do not know or with genre scenes we have not attempted to fathom.On the other hand there are the documentarians from both our nations who work both sides of the line. With intentions ranging from the noble to the exploitative, they have secured the faces and landscapes which often feature the societal scars that have been engendered by crime, economics, prejudice, or simply the loss of hope. Their truth is no less valid but, like Weston’s, it is only one other truth throughout this river of change.
The only fence against the world is a thorough knowledge of it.—John Locke
Like the river that creates it, the United States-Mexico Border is subject to —frequently, relentlessly, eternally— the changes of time. Nothing about it is immutable. Indeed, the river itself has two names—Rio Grande and Rio Bravo—determined by which bank you view it from. It all depends where you stand.Byron Brauchli has stood on both sides, lived on both sides, and crossed it frequently and passionately. And, since his very first residence in Mexico in 1981, he has photographed both nations with the same degrees of frequency and passion. As such, he has created and continues to produce photographs which can scale fences, tear down walls, celebrate the human, and embrace the change.Since 1996 he has formed the core for the —Cultural Refractions project, a far-reaching photographic engagement around this border of nations, cultures and beliefs. While the project has its current manifestation in the present exhibition at the appropriately-named Galería Sin Fronteras here in Austin, it is only part of a longer and broader vision.For the past year and more Brauchli has directly engaged himself with a number of photographers in Mexico. This has resulted in his teachings and dialogue stemming from his own experience of years of making photographs both along the border and throughout the societies of both nations. As well as exploring ideas and aesthetics, he has also brought his technical expertise to bear, teaching these photographers about the qualities of palladium printing, a nineteenth-century medium of which he is one of our finest contemporary practitioners.It is notable as well that Brauchli has taken the others through not only the chemistry but also the vision inherent in both the borderland subjects and in this medium of expression. Certainly he has helped them to secure the necessary chemicals and hands-on experience to begin palladium printing themselves. It is equally certain, however, that he has also introduced them to the sensibilities and qualities inherent within both this medium and its application to the production of works about the theme of the border itself.For those of us who have followed Brauchli’s work for years this comes as no surprise. He has taken palladium and other early photographic and photomechanical printing processes and adapted them to his own modernist vision. He has challenged the long-held illusion that such processes must only be applied to making traditional and/or historically-referencial â€œprettyâ€ pictures. Brauchli’s concerns are with the present and, in applying a process from photography’s past, he has assured the future influence of how he sees and what we must all see in the worlds around us.Thus, it is significant that he has brought his untiring eye to the border while expanding the boundaries of this Cultural Refractions project. For, during the last year and then some, he has also, in addition to teaching and dialoguing, engaged in photographing the human vistas along the river. And it is these explorations of humanity and environment and mystery that constitute the second portion of the project—namely the present exhibition.The works you see in this exhibition—executed with insight and palladium and care—reflect this most humane quality of his art. They incorporate the new and the old, the original and the clichéd, the poignant and the witty, the documentary and the abstract—all in one eloquent palette. When I explore Brauchli’s Mexico I always recall Paul Strand’s old admonition: “It is one thing to photograph people; it is another thing to make others care about them by revealing the core of their humanity.” Byron finds that core.
There will always be those who do not understand, who look too quickly or paternalistically or as voyeurs. But there also will be those who see in the moment of the photograph what I see—and maybe even things that I didn’t see.—Julianne Newton
There is also the third phase of the project still to come: the part that circles back to its beginning and completes the creative cycle.For let us not forget that the photographers who interacted and studied with Brauchli are out there right now—finding their own levels of engagement, making their own photographs, creating their own palladium prints. What have they seen that we have not? What have they to say about the mundane and the monumental, the prosaic and the mysterious? Where do the fences, walls and rivers of this borderland offer them challenge or try to hold them back?It remains now to gather together the works of a number of these others, to edit them into yet another show and to have this statement of multiple visions begin its circulation. To both sides of the border. And, perhaps, into the interiors of both nations as well.For Brauchli continues to open these windows of palladium and wonder, en la tierra de nadie. And the photographs must continue to offer us yet further refractions upon how we view this borderland. And our nations. And their inhabitants. And ourselves.