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Episode 51: Ken Light is a photographer working in America who has recently released an incredible book entitled Midnight La Frontera with TBW Books.
The book examines the the US and Mexico border between the years of 1983-1987. Ken was given permission to drive along with the border patrol of the then non-militarized border. The ride along included surveillance and apprehension of illegal immigrants. The work is at once tender, vulnerable and fascinating. If you are unfamiliar with Ken and how he views the world, you might mistake the cold harsh flash of his medium format camera as dispassionate or objective to the point of dismissal. This is not the case and could not be further from the truth.
Ken is first and foremost a compassionate human being full of a sensitive awareness of the people within his frames. Midnight La Frontera is a compelling book that has been published a very specific time in American history. Though photographed over 30 years ago, the subject of the border and immigration are now more pertinent than ever and what we are asked to see in Ken’s book are the similarities and differences in the American attitude to the border and the people who risk, life, child and family to cross it for the promise of a brighter future in the “Land of the Free”-a country who prides itself on its “melting pot” history.
In general terms, Midnight La Frontera describes the harsh realities between the have and have nots, but also points to larger questions about territory and governance. What I find most difficult to assume in looking through the book is not only the plight of the subjects within, but also how America and its policing along the border and the rapacious policing of otherness has shifted and changed into a much more drastic military form with state sanctioned and often abusive formats of brutality. Gone are the ride alongs and the Barney Fyfe uniforms. Instead, the border patrol has been replaced with militant occupancy and PR photo-ops that belittle the humanity of the situation.
This vast and unrelenting military machine has replaced the flatfooted and overweight border patrol guard and the status of people trying to make their way across the border as changed from illegal to something that invokes a status of uncleanliness or plague-oriented as was seen with the “caravans” of 2019 as they were trying to make their way to brighter futures for their children. The rhetoric and the violence of security has changed-the blunt force of which has culminated recently in images of ICE garages filled with Central American children sleeping in dog kennels waiting to be tested for Covid19.
Ken’s background is based in photojournalism, but perhaps more presciently he could be described as an activist. Midnight La Frontera describes the epic struggle of economic woe and historical biases played out from the past in the very clear present. The book is clear-headed in its handling, sequence and production. The prose from José Ángel Navejas adds a beautiful rendition of his experiences as an illegal immigrant and adds to the personal weight of the project. It is on my list for the books of the year and I think its importance cannot be understated. We spoke about this work and Ken’s background in the episode.