Photographer David Taylor documented 276 monuments erected to mark the border in 1848, in an attempt to show how theyve affected American mentality
Before the fence, there were obelisks 276 monuments marking the US-Mexico border that were erected after the Mexican-American war ended in 1848.
In 2007, David Taylor, an Arizona-based artist and professor, set out to photograph them all a task that lasted seven years and took him from the Texas, New Mexico and Chihuahua border to the Pacific Ocean, passing through cities and remote mountainous terrain.
Taylor did this during an era of ever-growing militarisation as cartel-related violence soared and the US continued to ramp up its post-9/11 spending on border security, adding to political and cultural tensions mined by Donald Trump, who continues to demand the construction of the border wall he advocated during his successful presidential campaign.
Taylors photographs capture topographic diversity across 690 miles and the forbidding infrastructure overshadowing iron and stone monuments typically spaced 2.5-3.5 miles apart.
They are a monument to conquest. We ripped off 55% of Mexicos territory. And so our perception of them and Mexicos perception of them was different for a long time. More and more of course, now, theyre seen as positively dignified compared to whats going in adjacent to them.
The frontier was surveyed over six years after the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which saw an expansion-hungry US pay Mexico $15m to assume roughly half of its pre-war territory. The 1853 Gadsden Purchase added to the USs holdings. The line was resurveyed in the 1890s after a series of disputes.
Taylor resists simplistic good-and-bad narratives about life on the border that fail to convey the nuances he saw while depicting the monuments. One memorable incident was an encounter near Nogales with young smugglers working as spotters. They agreed to be photographed.
One of the two, when I finished, they had asked where the images would be published or used, he recalled. They said no Telemundo[a US Spanish-language television station], no peridico [newspaper] and one of the kids drew his finger across his throat but it wasnt a threat. It was about their expendability, that to have the picture show up in a Nogales paper the next day would mean really bad things for them. Moments like that, where you see another human beings vulnerability and understand their circumstance in a way thats more multidimensional than oh yeah, theyre just smugglers.
On another occasion he met a young man and woman from Chiapas, a Mexican state that borders Guatemala. They were abandoned by their coyote, or smuggler, had been lost for several days and were out of food and water and desperate to reach the Arizonan cities of Tucson or Phoenix.