Photographer Bob Rives is based in Washington, DC, but he has spent years exploring border towns along the 1,952-mile border between the U.S. and Mexico. Bob’s ongoing personal project, Borderland, is the result of his travels documenting the people, landscapes, and political climate along the region.
I have found the culture and the environment in this region fascinating. Every trip I make along the border I learn something new.
Bob had been thinking about the project for years but didn’t begin working on it until 2019. While a lot has changed in the region’s political climate since then, some things have remained the same. Whether it’s the daily commute to work, deep family ties, or a quest for a better life that brings them through the border, the lives of people living along both sides of the border are intrinsically linked to the land in many ways.
I’m trying to show others, through my photography, how interconnected the land and people are along the border.
Bob’s first trip for the project was to El Paso, TX, a border town that stands on the Rio Grande and is located just across from Ciudad Juárez, the most populous city in the Mexican state Chihuahua. While he surmised he would meet people who traveled from one country to the other regularly, he wasn’t expecting the sheer volume of daily commuters that make the trek across both sides of the border.
One of the most amazing things I learned on my first trip was the amount of daily foot traffic at the border from both directions.
While in El Paso, Bob interviewed some young boys who were American citizens and whose parents were deported back to Mexico. The boys, who lived in Ciudad Juárez with their parents, would walk across the border twice every day just to attend school in the United States.
I can’t imagine showing my passport at the border twice a day to go to school! But stories like that all along the border are commonplace — I just didn’t know until I traveled there and started talking to people. Everyone has an opinion about the wall, and the situation in general.
The entire border area covers a vast landscape spanning from California to the Gulf of Mexico, and Bob hopes to cover as much as possible of the region. As a result, he’s often traveling solo through some remote areas with his camera in tow.
I’m always on a 4-wheel drive or hiking, and I’m thinking about renting a motorcycle for some sections.
When approaching the border wall, Bob’s camera often attracts a lot of attention — especially from border patrol agents who drive up to the scene to see what’s going on. Over time, he’s become accustomed to seeing the officers rush to the scene, and he utilizes these moments as an opportunity to strike up a conversation. The officers are often happy to oblige and share a bit about their experiences.
I have already had quite a few conversations with the Border Patrol officers. In the towns, it’s easier, although my rusty Spanish sometimes makes it a challenge for me to approach people for their portrait.
However, sometimes movement at the border elicits a different kind of response from the border patrol agents. On a recent visit to downtown Nogales, Arizona, Bob witnessed a man use a rope to descend into town across several layers of barbed wire.
A border patrol officer came flying up on a mountain bike, just as the man made it down on the US side. Several people told me that happens every day there, and that many run and hide, eluding the agents. I thought that was amazingly brazen, right in the middle of town!
Borderland is an ongoing project, and Bob has started an Instagram account for people to follow while he continues to document scenes in towns along the border. Due to the vast area, he’s covering and the difficult terrain, he anticipates the project will take several more years to complete. Still, he hopes to collect enough images from various regions to eventually publish a printed photo book.
I’m trying to take 3-4 trips a year, each about a week long covering a certain region. I feel I need to get a few more trips in before I begin fundraising for the book.
The images Bob has collected thus far show us a glimpse at the daily life of people across the border and act as a historical record of the political climate and the geographic boundaries in the region. While the subject of the U.S.- Mexico border has a wide range of historical, political, and personal ramifications, Bob’s images focus on the connections between people and places along both sides of the border. Through his work, he shares a wide range of perspectives allowing the viewer to see just how complex immigration and life are in the border towns.
My favorite part has been meeting people, hearing their opinions and stories. Every trip I make I learn all kinds of things about border life and the situation that I didn’t know.
Photographer: Bob Rives