“Beyond talk of The Wall, there is a larger, less transparent story to be told about our Borderlands to do with creolization, acculturation, surveillance, diversity and compassion.”
— Excerpt from “American Backyard” exhibition statement
The story in Elliot Ross’ solo exhibition at Filter Space: a selection of photographs from his tender and timely series “American Backyard,” is an unfolding narrative of gorgeous and softly surreal visuals of everyday life around the border between the United States and Mexico.
Ross’ exhibition shows physical remnants of the border wall imposed onto the landscape, inserted into the daily lives of those who are geologically close. The main wall of the exhibition is capped on either side by two similar photographs, both portraying a stunning view of a rolling landscape with the United States and Mexico border wall slicing the land in half, cutting its way from the top of the frame to the bottom, right down the center. The simple yet striking compositions reveal the vastness and breathtaking beauty of the land, which comes to a screeching halt as it is disrupted by the fence. These two pieces cleverly bookend the main wall of photographs, as if physically fencing in the selection of images between.
Novelist and photography critic Teju Cole once described what he looks for in a photograph as “tenderness and strangeness,” two qualities which are palpably present in this exhibition. A dreamy, pastel palette washes over the Southwest landscape, which moves through the series along with portraits of people living on either side of the border. The thread that strings together these images are rust-colored, brown-red slats that form a fence in one way or another somewhere within each composition. How strangely poetic that a structure meant for physical divide and separation is used as an aesthetic device to unify a series. This visual of “The Wall,” this looming geopolitical symbol, is not necessarily the focal point of each photograph—it is simply present. It is the backdrop of a girl in what is most likely her quinceañera dress; a ribbon of color dissecting a mountainous landscape; a structure that may at first glance be mistaken as the fence of someone’s backyard. Bits and pieces of the border wall are always present, skewing each scene, altering the tone in each gentle portrait. Geologically, most of the country does not physically see this border. However, this does not mean it is not affecting us, asking the question: what are we not seeing due to geological distance? What do we not see in our own backyard?
In a time of political and cultural divide, Ross captures a portrait of life on the U.S. and Mexico border that is both revealing and telling, yet at the same time reverent and hopeful. (Christina Nafziger)
The exhibition showcases a selection of images from Elliot Ross’ book “American Backyard,” which features essays by writer and artist Genevieve Allison.
“American Backyard,” Filter Space, 1821 West Hubbard, Suite 207, through January 4, 2020.