American photographer Richard Misrach and Mexican composer Guillermo Galindo discussed their photographs and music pieces on the U.S.-Mexico border at a lecture on Tuesday.
The audience in attendance was composed of students, professors, and other University academics, looking at a table full of wires, bottles, shotgun casings, and other artifacts from the U.S.-Mexico border that had been transformed into instruments.
Misrach is an acclaimed photographer who pioneered color photography in the 1970’s, which earned him numerous accolades including four National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships.
Misrach proceeded to present his photos of the U.S.-Mexico border, the first half of his collaborative project with Guillermo Galindo. The lights went down as Misrach projected the beginning photo from the first canto, focused on the wall itself. He introduced the differing styles the wall was built in.
“Whoever designed the wall was working with Richard Serra,” said Misrach, which elicited a laugh from the crowd. Serra, who has a sculpture at the University, was known for rustic, simplistic steel structures.
Misrach continued to note oddities about the wall, saying “you can go around it,” as he showed pictures where the wall abruptly ends. He added that the gates are really just an “arbitrary line in the sand,” and that “money could be used for a range of things, from fighting terrorism to education.”
Misrach showed photos from different cantos in the project, ranging from “Effigy,” composed of long agave sticks stuck in the sand and dressed in Mexican clothing, to “Ballgames,” a collection of photos of stray sports balls that could no longer be retrieved as they had crossed the border. In “Target Practice,” Misrach recalled sneaking through an electric gate that had been left open to find a border patrol practice target range. He said that “Agua” was a collection of photos that he “didn’t even know what it was at the time” and went on to explain that “humanitarian groups put water out along the border where people die most often.”
Galindo followed Misrach’s presentation by demonstrating the other half of this project: taking the artifacts that Misrach photographed in their natural context, and transforming them into the medium of music.
Galindo performed a selection by sampling sounds from each of his instruments — bottles, a wooden box with strings, shotgun casings, to name a few — and looping them to create a rhythm. He intermittently spoke phrases of his own: “hypothermia,” “mexico,” “fatal shooting,” and “skeletal remains” on top of the beat to create a haunting amalgamation of intertwining musical sounds.
The lecture ended with a question-and-answer session during which the floor was opened to audience members with questions. Sarah Lopez, a Princeton-Mellon Fellow, raised the question of whether or not Misrach made a map of the locations he photographed.
Misrach said that he thought of his photos as a “family album” consisting of photos that take him back to the location, but there is no physical map.
“The work I’ve seen so far that has documented the border via photos or other schools that archive objects, hasn’t done anything like this that transforms them into another medium,” Lopez said. “That’s a lot for us to think about, the lives that are lost, the stories that are lost.”
“I’m a researcher, so that’s why I asked the question about if he mapped,” she later added. “So the next question is where these images are coming from, are there patterns?”
Stephen Rossetti ’17 said the lecture was an “incredible experience” that “put you in like a trance of metaphorical realization.”
The lecture, titled “Border Cantos” was part of the Wilson College Signature Lecture Series and took place on Tuesday, Sept. 27 at 7:30 p.m. at McCormick Hall 101.