Daily Picture Show

The Colorful Days Of Life On The Border

Editor's note: This is another one of those stories that came to me fortuitously by email. Bruce Berman teaches photography in Las Cruces, N.M., and, like many photography instructors, he has a huge archive of his own. This is just a small selection of his color photographs documenting life in the border town of El Paso, Texas.

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    Sisters at the Border, 2007. Nuns meet at the border of Anapra, N.M. (left), and Barrio Anapra, Juarez. The nuns in Mexico cannot cross for various reasons — except on the day of a Mass for immigrants, held every November in the U.S.
    Bruce Berman
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    Hearts and Flowers, 1992. Deep in the heart of Juarez. Summer. It's hot and its alive in Juarez. In those days. Now, a city that has just lived through a war. What remains is yet to be determined.
    Bruce Berman
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    Dignified Man, 2006. This "viejo" (old one) walks on this street every evening. 6th and El Paso St. This is the first street in the U.S. after crossing from Juarez into downtown El Paso. In essence, this is the first block of America (or the last, depending on which direction you're going).
    Bruce Berman
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    Candyman in El Panteon. The Panteon of Juarez (the municipal cemetery) on the Day of the Dead, 1994. The celebration is still honored, but there have been so many funerals in Juarez during the cartel war years that people are closer to death than is comfortable.
    Bruce Berman
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    Segundo Barrio, El Paso, Texas, 2005. Many stores have come and gone in this building through the years. The residents of the Segundo Barrio community have maintained it on their own initiative, for decades, as far back as anyone can remember.
    Bruce Berman
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    Martin at his home in Lomas de Poleo (northwest Juarez). Martin is one of the last residents of a little agriculture community, which has gone from 200 families to 12.
    Bruce Berman
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    River Jump in the River with Two Names, 1989. Kids cool off in the river with two names — Rio Grande on the U.S. side, and Rio Bravo in Mexico.
    Bruce Berman
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    Santa Claus and his reindeer in the Plaza de Juarez, Christmas Eve, 2003
    Bruce Berman
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    Las Sierras de Juarez, 2006. A mother and daughter in the Plaza de Juarez in front of a photographer's backdrop.
    Bruce Berman
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    A man and his family in northeast Juarez, 2008
    Bruce Berman
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    The Virgin's Car Wash, 2005. The Virgin de Guadalupe on an unfinished car wash in El Paso.
    Bruce Berman
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    Woman in an assembly plant in Juarez (known as a maquila), 1999.
    Bruce Berman
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    Wary girl in a GMC truck, downtown El Paso, 1980
    Bruce Berman
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    Wedding Day in El Segundo Barrio, 1984. This is the oldest neighborhood of El Paso, sitting right on the border with Mexico, traditionally a first step for immigrants to the U.S. In effect, it has acted for Mexican residents as New York City's Lower East Side did for generations of migrants who had landed at Ellis Island.
    Bruce Berman

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Bruce Berman says he first went to El Paso "by accident" — when he spontaneously accepted a teaching position without giving it much thought. What he had planned to be a one-year stint turned into a 37-year love affair with the city and its sister city across the border, Juarez.

For nearly two decades starting in 1980, he photographed what he calls "The Border Project" — a vibrant document of life around the city. Over time, he started consistently covering the region for publications like Time and The New York Times.

But in 2006, he says, life in El Paso fundamentally changed — and so did his work. The effects of the Mexican drug war had become widespread and irreparable. "It came to Mexico and to the border in a flash, like a sucker punch's body blow," he writes.

"The [war] changed everything. What had been a society (Juarez) of aspiration and hope ... turned to something terrifying, sad and very very real."

Since then, Berman, who now teaches photojournalism at New Mexico State University, has been shooting in black and white — and the color photos have come to symbolize something else: "I realized that the previous work was, in the end, my mythic version of the border," he says.

You can learn more about the border and Berman's work on his blog.

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