I am one of the first in my family to be born in this country. In January of 1969, my father, his parents, and his four siblings were granted asylum in the United States as refugees from Morocco. When I was a child, he gave me the booklet he studied to receive his citizenship, an heirloom. I slept under a large map of the United States nailed to the wall above my bed. I understood he had to fight to become a citizen of this country. I understood I should be proud to be an American.
I began this project, Promised Land, in December of 2020, when contractors across the border states were racing to build the border wall. In protest, I took my camera south, to the people and places that exist between the actual border and the 100-mile range of Border Patrol’s jurisdiction.
My 8x10 format camera, built in the 1930s, is as necessary to my process as is my access to extended periods of immersion. The qualities that make the camera slow to work are exactly why: it requires a collaboration between the image’s subject and myself. If I am creating a portrait, the person in front of my lens must be comfortable; I spend time with each person, engaging in conversation, hearing their stories. If I am making a landscape, I must wait in that place for the light.
The other aspect of this project that is important to me is that I am volunteering with respite centers for migrants while I am living along the border, creating this work, to further understand the realities for people who wish to seek asylum in the United States. A slow document, a record of people photographed, on their own terms, is the only way I know to create systemic opportunities for empathy during a migratory crisis that is just beginning, one that will only escalate in the era of climate change.