Jimmy Galt is a San Diego-based photographer dedicated to documenting humanitarian causes. His motto is “Shrink the space between empathy and action.” Recently Jimmy did his first project with the online magazine byFaith, published by the Presbyterian Church in America. Focused on stories of improving the lives of human beings globally, it was planning a photo essay on families stranded at the California/Mexico border. Metaleap Creative, a full-service design studio working with the publication, found Jimmy and recommended him.
When Eric Capossela, Metaleap Creative’s creative director, reached out to me, he said he was initially drawn to my travel photography. He said the mood, tonality, warmth, and composition of my photos were what he had in mind for this article. He wanted a candid/documentary style that would be less posed alongside a few regular portraits included in the mix.
Eric explained that this article is from a Christian perspective. This resonated with Jimmy’s own faith as a practicing Christian. They discussed the direction of the article, with most of the pre-planning done on the day of the shoot. Jimmy has traveled to Mexico fairly often and was already comfortable getting around. He linked up with Susie Fikse, the writer of the byFaith article, and crossed the border.
We started off by joining a small crew from World Relief who have close ties with an immigrant day shelter in Tijuana. The team leader gave a briefing before we crossed the border and that was the extent of our preparation.
When Eric said the article would attempt to move the topic of immigration from being a political issue to a flesh and blood human issue, my own philosophy couldn’t have been more aligned. The objective of these images was to create empathy in the reader. To give the reader a sense of place and convey what the subjects might see on a daily basis. The intent was to help put the reader in the subject’s shoes.
Jimmy noted that most immigrants who make it to Tijuana stay within a few miles of the border. With that in mind, the day shelter was close to the pedestrian crossing. It was unmarked and located in what appeared to be an abandoned strip mall.
We spent a handful of hours with some of the immigrants who were there that day. Immigrants waiting in Mexico don’t possess a lot of agency and are often exploited by cartels. For them, having a safe place where you can rest is a huge blessing. We stayed long enough to share a meal, hear their stories, and allow the good folks from World Relief to answer questions about the ever-evolving United States’ immigration policy.
Spirits were high as families from South America sat and ate with the volunteers from World Relief. Yet the mood changed when they were informed of the challenges they would face navigating the U.S. immigration system. The World Relief leader, however, embraced this and asked each person to share what they were feeling.
One by one, emotions were spoken around the room. Many expressed sentiments of frustration and exhaustion. It was tremendous hearing these people voice their pain. The group of immigrants seemed unified in their shared experience, but uncertainty about the future still hung heavy in the room. This went on until the last woman to share said she was clinging to hope. She said she wouldn’t give up. Her strength was formidable and seemed to infect everyone else in the room. I believe when we departed, everyone was fully aware of how insurmountable the challenge they faced was. Yet, at the same time, there remained the courage to face another day.
Jimmy maintains a practice of telling his subjects who he is and the reasons he is photographing them before he starts. Not only does it give them the opportunity to decline, but also bridges a connection.
After I introduced myself, these people were more than willing to be photographed. For many, having their story shared brings dignity to their struggle. In addition, there’s always the hope that somehow, in some way, if enough people hear their story then maybe it will help change their lives.
The conditions brought their own set of challenges. Firstly, they had no guarantee that there would be any immigrants present at the shelter that day. Also, it began to rain upon their arrival, making it difficult to get outdoor shots. When photographing inside, Jimmy had to navigate a crowded room lit by heavy fluorescent lighting. Yet Jimmy’s philosophy is to work with what you have and, if possible, seek alternative environments as they come. Fortunately, the shoot was a success. With hope, it will stand as one more avenue to spreading the awareness that Jimmy is so dedicated to.
My favorite moments from this project were listening to my subjects as I photographed them. It’s hard to imagine, but most immigrants cross hell and high water just for the chance to enter into the United States. And I say that in the most literal way possible: traveling from the other side of the planet by crossing deserts, wading through jungles, avoiding cartels, and spending your entire life savings on an untrustworthy coyote gives birth to some of the most hair-raising tales you’ll ever hear. If they ever get the chance, I would encourage readers to ask an immigrant to share their story. It will undoubtedly blow your mind.
See more of Jimmy’s work on his website.