This story was edited out because it was the only one about a city... and while I thought it was important, it seemed disjointed in terms of the other very brief stories regarding more personal interactions.
I saw a bunch of cities traveling, but El Paso was the city that showed me what I wanted to put forth in this book. I came to El Paso because it was a city with a relatively short drive to the Trinity site in New Mexico, the spot where the first atomic bomb was detonated. I drove up to the Trinity site and the visit carried a lot of weight, the paradoxes of America were on full display there, but it was on the drive back into Texas when saw how I wanted to talk about America…driving through the Border Patrol highway stops, past the power sign with the “p” out and back to the motel where Carlos worked.
The Trinity site is located on the White Sands Missile Range in Southern New Mexico and tourists can visit the site twice a year. You can stand where the first atomic bomb was detonated. Unbelievable.
I didn’t know what to expect there, standing at the spot where the cold war started. It turned out to be amazing and surreal… a kid had his face painted with a flag and a bomb, a woman told me that her brother had seen the flash about a hundred miles away and how he died of cancer, hot dogs were for sale, people searched for pieces of Trinitite, glass from the explosion that’s still radioactive 63 years later. No images from my visit to the Trinity Site made this collection of photos, but the visit impacted how I saw America, and what I wanted to say with the photos in this book.
Most of the amazing and important moments that happened while traveling didn’t translate to photos, and this was particularly true in El Paso. My head was imploding with taking so much in within a few days, the Trinity Site, the US/Mexico border, meeting Carlos and his family. An enormous amount was going on.
I had planned to fly into Texas, stay in a hotel there and drive to a couple places that I thought would be interesting to photograph, primarily in New Mexico. But while I headed down there for the moment when I could stand at Trinity ground zero, I found myself fascinated with El Paso. The US/Mexico border was an oppressive presence and a part of daily life. I’d never been in a border city before and had no idea about how the border was such an integral part of the city culture.
I was blown away by the fortifications and armaments of the border, it was more than I could have ever imagined. The walk into Mexico was going through an old and quiet turnstile with no wait, the walk back into the US was jammed with traffic on the bridge and on the sidewalk, vendors in the middle of the stopped traffic and over an hour in line to get back into the US.
Right after my walk across the border and back, I met this a guy at gas station and he offered to take me further into Mexico to buy heroin with him. This was after we had talked for a few minutes and I’d made a few photos of him. He was hanging out with a group of guys who seemed like total dicks, but he was a good guy. He thought that I would love to see the business of the transaction, but it could never be for photos, only “for my eyes.” As much as I wanted to go, I ended up passing on it because I wanted to drive for a while along the American side of the border and was coming home the next day, so I hoped to produce a few more photos. It was a gracious and generous offer and I was sorry to have to decline. I was moved by how this stranger offered to show me something because he thought it would interest me, not because I wanted to buy heroin or so I could record what happened, but to take me there just so I could see it.
Only 4 of these photos are in the book, but all of these photos helped me figure out how I could articulate what I saw.