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News > Culture

In 'Undocumented', Photojournalist Chronicles 'Resilience of Human Spirit'

  • People hoping to reach the U.S. ride atop the wagon of a freight train, known as La Bestia (The Beast) in Ixtepec, in the Mexican state of Oaxaca June 18, 2014.

    People hoping to reach the U.S. ride atop the wagon of a freight train, known as La Bestia (The Beast) in Ixtepec, in the Mexican state of Oaxaca June 18, 2014. | Photo: Reuters

Published 26 March 2018
Opinion

The photobook not only tracks the landscapes and people's taxing journeys but also captures intimate details of the belongings of the undocumented.

A documentary photographer working for nearly eight years in Central America and Mexico is set to publish this week a large format book titled 'Undocumented' that chronicles the journey of migrants fleeing violence in the region to the United States.  

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John Moore, a staff photographer with Getty Images went along the entire length of the border between the U.S. and Mexico, a stretch of nearly 1,989 miles to complete the project. He went to several regions like the Imperial Sand Dunes of Southern California, Big Bend National Park in West Texas and the Boca Chica State Park, to photograph the protagonists of his book.

During the time Moore was documenting the project, he also went on La Bestia, 'The Beast,' - the freight train on which Central American men, women, and children journey through Mexico to reach parts in Mexico and the United States. 

"When you hear on the news that there are nine million undocumented immigrants in the United States, that cold figure seems to steal the soul of all those people who have gone through unimaginable things to get here. I wanted to humanize the story of immigration in this country, to confront more people to this harsh reality through my photographs," Moore told Univision News.

"It was important for me to tell a complex story because what we hear and read about immigration and, above all, about the undocumented, is usually black and white and I wanted to find the nuances, talk to all parties, travel to all the countries involved." 

The photo project's protagonists are those who either remain neglected by the mainstream media or are demonized by the authorities, often detained and deported. 

In a 2016 interview about the book in progress, Moore told Time magazine, "With Donald Trump and his intention to build a wall, I thought it was important to show the immense security apparatus the U.S. already has in place."

"I already had solid contacts, both with U.S. federal agencies and NGOs, so I didn’t have to start this project completely from scratch," he said  explaining the taxing workload behind his project. 

"I reached out to them a few weeks ahead of the trip to set up access at official border crossings and to fly with agents who patrol the border by helicopter, both day and night. On the Mexican side, immigrant rights activists were generous in helping me to photograph deportees."

The photo book contains nearly a decade of journalistic commissions by Getty Images. 

"I had rejected the idea of making a book with my photos, but then I got the surprise we all got in 2016, and when Trump won the election I knew it was urgent that all my material be put in a book. I had photographed immigration from very different angles and this was the appropriate moment so that through the images people could witness all that is behind it, beyond political discourse." 

The photobook not only chronicles people's arduous journeys but also places intimate details by documenting the belongings of the undocumented in the custody of border authorities, who died on their way to the United States.

For instance, the small plastic bags containing the personal belongings of those who died collected by the forensic doctors of Pima County in Tucson, Arizona.

"I have photographed the objects that people leave behind in the roads for years, the suitcases, the empty bottles, the toothpastes, and with this series of photos I wanted to get closer, be more personal when showing the suffering of the immigrants through these abandoned artifacts," he said, according to Univision News.  

"For me, the important thing was to open the eyes of people about the dangers of travel that immigrants face, I wanted to show the conditions in which people live in Central America and Mexico, and the reasons why they want to leave, but also I wanted to show the undocumented people who came to the US and that today have productive lives and serve this society," Moore added. 

'Undocumented' (Undocumented), published by the PowerHouse Books publishing house, will be available Tuesday March 27 in both English and Spanish. Moore calls it, "A book on the resilience of the human spirit."

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