Date of Degree

5-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Art History

Advisor

Anna Indych-López

Committee Members

Antonella Pelizzari

Katherine Manthorne

Adam Goodman

Subject Categories

American Studies | Chicana/o Studies | Contemporary Art | History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology | Latin American Languages and Societies | Latina/o Studies | Photography

Keywords

Latinx, Photography, Borderlands, Border, Mexico, Contemporary Art

Abstract

This project investigates documentary photography at a critical juncture in the history of the US-Mexico borderlands. Following a period of rapid industrialization and growth in Mexico, the 1970s and 1980s were marked by moments of economic and political crisis, which simultaneously spurred a massive wave of northward migrants and the militarization of the US-Mexico border. These developments produced a large class of Mexican undocumented workers in the US, which in turn stimulated the formation of a hybrid border culture. At the same moment, a generation of young artists from Mexico and the United States, eager to document these changes, radically rethought the meaning of documentary photography, and established new photography collectives in both countries. I argue that the development of a distinct aesthetic of border photography can be attributed to the convergence of these two moments in history—a renewed politicization of the US-Mexico border and an increased awareness of the documentary medium following 1978. As a cross-border network of photographers from the United States and Mexico came together, they fueled the creation of a unique border photography.

This dissertation asks, how do documentary photographs contribute to our understanding of the lived reality of the border at this moment in history? Each chapter provides a lens by which to ponder this inquiry, through explorations of citizenship and identity; the urban environment; kinship and familial spaces; and migration narratives in the photo book format. Chapter 1, “Images of Cross-Border Identities,” considers the case study of Graciela Iturbide’s Cholo/as series taken on both sides of the border—in Los Angeles in 1986 and Tijuana in 1989—to explore theories on citizenship, national/political identity, and photographic space as a site of agency and resistance. Chapter 2, “The Urban Border,” considers the case study of Ricardo Valverde’s photographs that document the built environments of Los Angeles in the 1970s and 1980s, and critically engage with the geographical boundaries of where Latino/a populations live, positioning the city’s spaces as central sites of political struggle. Chapter 3, “Familial Spaces on the Border,” explores how Louis Carlos Bernal’s and Ricardo Valverde’s photographs of domestic and familial spaces in the US-Mexico borderlands troubled propagated conceptions of heteronormative familial structures in the decades following the Chicano movement’s peak. In chapter 4, “Border Stories,” I examine three published photo books by artists from both sides of the border: Eniac Martínez’s Mixtecos: Norte Sur (1994), Lourdes Grobet’s Tijuana: La casa de toda la gente (1989), and Alex Webb’s Crossings (2003). These three publications contextualized immigrants’ struggles and made them the subjects of substantive and extended stories through the book format, serving as counternarratives to the derogatory images of immigrants in the mainstream media, several of which I analyze comparatively against the photo books.

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