CENTER’s Project Launch Juror’s Choice Award: Petra Barth
Petra Barth received CENTER’s Project Launch Juror’s Choice Award from Dewi Lewis, Publisher Dewi Lewis Publishing. Her project, The Backpackers, follows deported migrants as well as people who tried to cross the border in an attempt to find work or reunite with families living in the US. Dewi Lewis’ statement follows. The Backpackers will be exhibited at the Biennale in Venice until November 26, 2017.
The Project Launch Juror’s Choice Award is granted to an outstanding photographer working on a fine art series or documentary project. The grant includes a cash award to help complete or disseminate the works, as well as providing a platform for exposure and professional development opportunities.This grant is awarded to complete or nearly completed projects that would benefit from the grant award package. It requires signature of a contract to participate in an exhibition during Review Santa Fe.
Dewi Lewis established his publishing house in 1994. Internationally known, its authors have included photographers such as Martin Parr, Simon Norfolk, Pentti Sammallahti, Paolo Pellegrin, Sergio Larrain, and Anders Petersen as well as many younger emerging photographers. He works in close collaboration with a number of European publishers and was a founding member of The European Publishers Award for Photography, which ran for 21 years until 2015.
The range of work submitted for the Project Launch is enormous – and the challenge to select down to reach a shortlist immense. Inevitably, when faced with so much strong work, many excellent projects fail to make the final cut.
Often, as a member of any jury you sense a zeitgeist, a particular theme or focus that is repeated across many projects. Interestingly, for me, in these submissions I wasn’t consciously aware of this at all. The range of subjects and styles has been wide. I’ve enjoyed studio portraits of sheep, felt guilty at the sad fate of the captive Polar Bear and been introduced to worlds totally new to me, many swiftly vanishing from sight.
And yet one of the projects which immediately drew my attention was one which dealt with an issue which has been prevalent over several years – that of migration across the USA / Mexico border. The work by Petra Barth, entitled ‘The Backpackers’, is extremely powerful. At one level it can appear as simple and straightforward – face on, studio style portraits in black and white – and yet these images carry an emotional intensity which is both disturbing and revealing. These are people willing to risk their lives crossing the desert as they leave Nogales in search of new opportunities in the States. Whilst the number who make the journey has reduced, it is hard to forget just how many have died over the recent years making this very same trip. To look at these portraits, to look into their eyes, has to make you empathise, to understand, at least just a little more.
Born in Germany in 1964, Petra Barth originally studied Fashion Design in Milan and worked for many years in the industry. In 2004 she moved to Washington DC fulfilling a lifetime dream to study Photography at the Corcoran College of Art and Design to become a freelance photographer. Over the last 10 years, she has worked primarily in Latin America, but as well in Asia and Europe.
Since 2005 Petra has worked on a long-term project called The Americas, covering the American States from southern Patagonia to the northern tip of Alaska. One part of the project focuses on the border region between Mexico and the US. Over the last two years, she photographed on both sides of the border, following deported migrants, as well migrants who try to cross the border to the US to either find work, or meet parts of their families who already live in the US.
The emphasis in her work lies on communities with the focus at human, social and environmental issues. Petra looking for an intuitive moment when she photographs, in order to reach deeper and create a new visual layer. Since 2008 her work is part of the David M. Rubenstein ‘Rare Book, Manuscript and Special Collections Library’ for the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University.
The Backpackers/Los Mochileros
For the past ten years, I have focused on documenting the human, social and environmental issues that face the Americas. I found myself especially drawn to the plight of immigrants in the border area that divides Mexico and the United States.
Of all the borders dividing the US with Mexico, the city of Nogales has seen the largest number of undocumented migrants during the last decade. After all, the city lies on both sides of the border, making it a truly international city. Sadly, it also has the most recovered remains of migrants who perished in the extreme conditions of the southern Arizona desert in their attempted crossing.
Due to increased border enforcement, the number of migrants from Mexico entering the US illegally has plummeted in recent years (despite a certain political figure’s infamous claims to the contrary). Many are caught; many more give up long before crossing the border. Since 2005, the US has spent billions on border security, and there is evidence that the spending has significantly deterred illegal border crossing. As a result, the Department of Homeland Security estimated in 2015 that the probability of getting caught by the border patrol is 54 percent, up from about 36 percent in 2005.
Many of the migrants deported to the Mexican side end up at the San Juan Bosco shelter in Nogales, Sonora, a quiet neighborhood just south of the border. The shelter, which is operated by Francisco and Gilda Loureiro with the help of their family and private donations since 1982, is open daily for those who were deported by border patrol and dumped back in Mexico. Despite the fact that fewer migrants try to cross into the US, the misery of those who do is shocking, and their suffering is profound.
Over the past three years, I have photographed both sides of the border in Nogales. I followed deported migrants as well as people who tried to cross the border in an attempt to find work or reunite with families living in the US. I wanted to know more about these people—often referred to as migrants or illegals—and learn why they risk their lives to cross the unforgiving desert. We are all familiar with their plight, as we have seen many photographs depicting migrants on their route. In my photographs, I put the focus on their faces. I hope to create an emotional connection between the viewer and the subject while simultaneously evoking interest in their individual stories. – Petra Barth
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