Tag: culture

"What the fuck is that doing here?"

Ignacio Evangelista has portrayed the reality of the border between the United States and Mexico. A conversation about Trump, fear, and the line in the sand.

You have photographed borders in Europe, as well as the one between the United States and Mexico. What makes you so interested in them?
In my photographic work, I am interested in situations and places where the natural and the artificial stand in conflict. Situations where something seems out of place. Some borders are natural, like mountains or borders. But others stand for an idea.
What does that mean?
Look at the border between the U.S. and Mexico: A part of that is natural – the Rio Grande, known as the Rio Bravo in Mexico – and the rest is artificial: There is a fence, a wall in the middle of nature, just separating two countries. I got fascinated with that a few years ago, when I discovered it online: It seemed like a modern Great Wall of China, crossing the territory. The wall is 1000km long. Built by people, just to prevent others from crossing a line in the sand. It seemed crazy, like something you wouldn’t find in the 21st century.

Ignacio Evangelista is a Spanish photographer based in Madrid. Check out his website at <a href="http://www.ignacioevangelista.com”>www.ignacioevangelista.com</a>

Ignacio Evangelista is a Spanish photographer based in Madrid. Check out his other work at www.ignacioevangelista.com

On your website you wrote: “Touching the fence felt like touching the line on the map.”
When I was a child, I was very fascinated with maps. I remember looking at the map and feeling like a god: With a child’s imagination, you can travel across it. For me, it was very interesting that some of the lines were very straight, and others weren’t. I thought “African people are much smarter than Europeans to plan their borders that way.” Of course, I had no idea about Colonialism yet. I still remember that sensation today when I look at the map between the US and Mexico, as I am doing right now. You can see that there’s a straight line in the west…
…from Tijuana, all the way to El Paso.
Exactly. And then the river begins. The line from Tijuana to El Paso is the wall. Effectively, the wall is the line – and when you touch the one, you touch the other. When I was visiting borders in Europe, I would sometimes play a game, just from one side to the other and think “Now I am in Austria. Now in the Czech Republic.” A part of taking pictures is the feeling you have. I did the same with the fence: I would touch it and think: “Now I am touching the line on the map.”

“If you put your feet on the sand, an alarm goes off somewhere”

What side did you take these photos from?
It depends: It can be difficult to approach the border. In Mexico, the most interesting motifs are often in the outskirts of the cities, poorer parts. Those are often dangerous, so I went there with locals. But on the American side, there is the  border patrol, with its cars and helicopters. I would be asked what I was doing, what the pictures were for, etc. That’s why I have fewer pictures from the American side.

"Nogales" – Copyright by Ignacio Evangelista. Shown with permission.

“Nogales” – Copyright by Ignacio Evangelista. Shown with permission.

On your picture from Nogales, the Mexican side is full of houses, people are clearly living there. On the U.S. side, however, there are just towers and lights.
In a picture from Tijuana, you can see a white car, the border patrol. There is a secure area on the American side with very open roads. I took another picture in the ocean in Tijuana, and wondered why people risk their life climbing the fence in the desert when they can just swim around this one. But my friends explained that there were always helicopters in the sky and the sand was full of sensors to detect movement and temperature. If you put your feet on the sand, an alarm goes off somewhere and within 30 seconds, the border patrol will be there.

"Tijuana" – Copyright by Ignacio Evangelista. Shown with permission.

“Tijuana” – Copyright by Ignacio Evangelista. Shown with permission.

That means the border isn’t just a wall: The line on the map has a virtual component.
I am not sure how this was twenty years ago, but I know that George W. Bush increased the investment in modern alarm systems. You know, if Donald Trump becomes president, he wants to finish the wall…
It was Trump’s first policy proposal: To complete build a wall on the border with Mexico. But he made it sound as if no wall existed…
I suppose he means completing the 2000km from El Paso to the east, but since he wants the Mexican government to pay for it, I don’t know how it would happen. Interestingly, many people living close to the wall no longer see it. For them, it is just so familiar. Like if you live in the alps and no longer notice the mountains. That’s why it surprised many people that I was taking pictures of the wall instead of the beautiful landscape or the beach: They have lived with the wall for so long, they are used to it.
The difference between you and them is that you have a Spanish passport and can cross the border without a problem.
Some people living close to the border have a special permit to pass, but only twenty kilometers into the United States. As a European, I had no problem, but the people I went with often couldn’t pass. It made it very obvious that we were coming from different worlds.
…which brings us back to the artificial nature of borders: You able to cross the wall in their backyards because you are coming from far away. That is absurd.
True. I speak the same language as the Mexicans. There is the assumption that Latin Americans and Spaniards are very similar, due to the language and history. But it’s not exactly true. In many senses, the Spanish society is more similar to French or German ones than the Mexican one. The values shared between a Spanish and a French are sometimes closer than those of a Spanish and a Mexican, although in some other aspects we are very close.

“A wall creates fear”

The language eradicates that border?
Many call Spain “la madre patria”, which gives us a strange feeling, considering how the Spanish killed and raped a lot of natives there, they were the worst people there.

"Tecate" – Copyright by Ignacio Evangelista. Shown with permission.

“Tecate” – Copyright by Ignacio Evangelista. Shown with permission.

There is an interesting relationship between borders and fear: These divisions are artificial lines, but right now, in Europe as well as the US, many people are afraid of anything beyond those lines.
Ironically, a wall creates that kind of fear. It makes everything beyond it seem dangerous. And it endangers people who want to cross it: They use the mafia, people who lead them through the desert and frequently leave them there after taking their money. Each year, many people die crossing the border.
You don’t show any people in the pictures – even though the walls influence primarily them.
I didn’t want this to be photojournalistic work, and introducing people into the image would make it that. I was more interested in how the border relates to the territory, how the artificialness of the world mixes with it.
On your website, you say that the images seem contradictory and disturbing. What makes them that?
Look at Nogales: It is a city in two parts, Nogales, Sonora and Nogales, Arizona. And the Mexican city Tijuana borders the American San Diego. Both are as as though somebody had taken a pencil, drawn a line and built a wall. That is a very strange thing! In the desert, you see a beautiful, mountainous landscape, and in the middle of the nature suddenly appears a wall. I find that disturbing. In much of my personal work, I am interested in situations and places that makes you think “What the fuck is that doing here?”

"Aqua Prieta" – Copyright by Ignacio Evangelista. Shown with permission.

“Aqua Prieta” – Copyright by Ignacio Evangelista. Shown with permission.

"Kids don’t suffer from the limitations we do"

A few years ago, Anne Kjær Riechert began asking children to draw their dreams. It has turned into a surprisingly insightful way to visualize kids’ minds and psyche.

Tell us how you came up with asking kids to draw their dreams.
In 2006, I was working in Johannesburg, South Africa, for an organization called Nkosi’s Haven. It takes care of HIV-positive mothers, their children, and orphans.
The shelter was named after a Nkosi Johnson, a child born HIV-positive who died at a young age. His dream had always been to help children with the same fate as his, which is exactly what the organization ended up doing. When I was there, it was in the process of expanding to take in more people. Of course they needed money for that, and as my final university project, I helped them come up with different strategies for fundraising.
Inspired by Nkosi’s dream, I had started to wonder how we could help the kids to express their wishes, aspirations and dreams. I eventually figured that we could just ask them. And since we were fundraising, we decided it would make sense to have them put their response into a drawing, since that would be more visual and colorful.
And the results inspired you to turn it into an even bigger project?
Looking at the dreams of these kids from South Africa, I wondered what kids in Norway – where I was raised – were dreaming of. Would they draw the same thing? Would it be different? Maybe it would be the same thing, but they would express it very differently.
The impact of two very different childhoods on their thinking and drawing?
Exactly. What difference does it make if you’re an orphan in South Africa in comparison to a wealthy Norwegian child? So I organized a workshop with about 70 kids at a Norwegian school. Then I had about hundreds of drawings and wondered what to do with them. Conveniently my mother works at a museum, so I called her up and asked whether we could do an exhibition…

Puente Piedra, Peru Girls, 10 years old I have a dream to plant trees

How can we picture the exhibition?
We wanted to give people space to make their own interpretations. At the back of every drawing we always ask the kids for their name, date of the drawing, age and location – and what the drawing shows. We put that on the front for visitors to see but it is still unlimited amount of information for a viewer to work with.
How did the kids react to seeing these images?
Before showing the images to children, we usually tell them where the pictures are from. “Do you know where Mumbai is?” And they say “Yes, India” and say whatever their parents or teachers have taught them about the country: That it is really poor and that people have nothing to eat. And then we show them the pictures, which – in the case of India – often feature dreams about a clean environment. “So you thought they would dream about food, but what they really dream about is conserving the environment. What can we learn from that?” The kids then figure that is wrong to make assumptions. These guided tours are very interesting, because it allows us to interact with he children. Kids often see the wildest things in the images, things we would not pick out as an adult. Small things, tiny details.
Kids draw some things we don’t understand and other kids see things that we overlook. Maybe it is a project not meant for adults?
I think it is suitable for adults as well. But kids just see things so differently. It makes an even bigger difference where we show it: In Japan, they will look at it differently than in Denmark. It really depends on the cultural and socioeconomic background.
Denmark, Aarhus Female - 11 years I have a dream that nobody will leave somebody out. Don't bully!

Denmark, Aarhus
Girl – 11 years
I have a dream that nobody will leave somebody out. Don’t bully!

You have shown us some pictures in which African kids have drawn themselves with white skin…
It is common to just draw outlines and to not fill in faces. So even if it is a black kid that uses a brown outline, the inside will always be the paper color. Since that is usually white, it appears to us as white. But in their minds, it might be a very black person. And keep in mind that many kids don’t like to draw themselves into the picture.
Why do you think that is?
I am not entirely sure. It is harder to do.
Does it have to do something with age? Younger kids have more trouble relating to themselves?
That is true for very young ones. But the older ones will be way more self-conscious and say that they can’t make a portrait of themselves. They feel insecure about seeing themselves on a piece of paper.
What is the scale of your project today, almost ten years later?
We have done workshops in 33 countries and with about 4000 kids in total. The actual number of workshops I don’t have, but we have about 4000 drawings.
What are you planning on doing with them?
When I started the project, I didn’t know much about databases or big data, so after a few years, when my parents started getting a bit upset about having to store so many pictures, I made a selection of the ones with the best stories and threw the others away. In retrospect, I can’t believe I did that… not just because so much work went into the drawings but also because I threw away all the data they contained. Now, I am keeping images and I am hoping to some day build a database – a database of dreams – to index them, see which ones are the most popular and to see how they change over time.
Turkey - Ankara Boy - 11 years I dream of Peace in Space

Turkey – Ankara
Boy – 11 years
I dream of Peace in Space

This has long stopped being a fundraising project and has become an exploration of what kids aspire in different contexts…
…and how that is changing over time. We can see that kids in the West – including Russia – now dream about becoming a YouTube star. That platform was still in its infancy when we started. But over the years, it has become very popular among kids. And the great thing about that is that we can tell this to kids to show them that the future is way beyond what they can imagine: There will be jobs that don’t exist yet.
You mentioned that you also want kids to see these dreams and think about their own role in the world.
I want them to be inspired by each other. During a workshop we had the other day, a kid from Palestine drew a very colorful airplane. It was remarkably similar to one from Japan that he had seen beforehand. It is symbolically nice that a kid from Palestine is inspired by something drawn two or three years ago on the other side of the world. Whether that is an accurate reflection of his dream is a bit hard to tell, but at least there is a symbolic value in that inspiration.
That inspiration also manifests itself in the composition of the images.
Kids put drawings together in another way than we would. There usually has to be something on the top or the bottom of the image, grass or water.
Everything has to stand on something…
It shows you that they think in a very modular way and stack elements together.
Funnily enough, that way of thinking doesn’t have to be logical. On one of the drawings, a soccer field is being shown from above – but the players from the side. It looks as though the players are laying on the pitch.
Perspective is one of these things that each kid has their own take on. We recently worked with a child that wants to become an architect – and she drew using two perspectives at the same time: Her images show a view from the top and from the side.
A kid who draws like this now probably won’t do it five years down the road. Which is a shame, because in a sense it means that certain elements of creativity are being killed off during the aging process. Why not show two perspectives at the same time? After all, drawing has the ability to do what a human eye can’t.
She intrigues me because I thought she was younger. The way she draws is more like that of a younger child that I have seen in other workshops. I thought she was 8. But when I realized she was 12, I was surprised, because 12 year olds usually draw much more realistic. These are two girls in the same workshops, drawing very differently. Is it based on education? Experience? Will this girl start drawing like the other?
She probably will.
But that means she will stop using this style we now find more artistic, exciting and intriguing. Something happens in their development and in how we teach kids in school or how they teach each other.
Berlin, Germany I dream of being an architect.

Berlin, Germany
Girl, 12 years old, from Albania.
I dream of being an architect.

One of the skills we are trying to teach children is to think outside of the box. In that sense, drawing a picture like this is an ability we lose as adults, since we try to make it as lifelike as possible.
When we put down the paper on the kids’ tables, it is in landscape format. This girl was the only one of the group who decided to turn it into portrait format – she was already and outlier doing just that. Her ability to think differently than other children is possibly something she should try to hold on to if she wanted to become an architect.
Isn’t it ironic that adults will try anything, from meditation to drug use, to return to this child-like state of creativity after having shed all through a combination of nurture, education and conformity.
It is – especially because it is a useful skill. For instance, companies often need a certain creativity for their brain-storming sessions. And yet so many people struggle to express themselves visually. They have lost their ability to draw. Many companies feel like as long as they have post-it notes, they are a creative company. But there is a whole methodology on to how to use them properly and in a way that people understand them. Don’t use too many words. Try using drawings and people will remember it – even a bad drawing contains so much embedded information.

Japan, Tokyo Boy I dream of being a dog-trimmer and having a Formula One racetrack around my business.

Can companies tap into children’s creativity somehow?
IXDS, an interface innovation company from Berlin has created hackathons for under 10-year olds, where they get their employees to spend their Saturdays working with kids. By bringing adults and kids together, you can tap in to that resource in order to inspire the employees. And when I was in Brazil, I spent three days with a lady that has started Moleque de Idéias, a tech start-up where the employees spend 50% of their time working with kids. They are saying: Its not just us who teach the kids. They teach us just as much as we teach them.
Kids don’t suffer from many of the limitations we do – they don’t take the impossible for granted.
That is useful, but also a fine line to walk. Younger kids are more likely to use fantasy. But the older they get, the more they try to copy society in order to do what is expected of them. Just as adults, they are influenced or maybe limited by what they have experienced. Younger ones are more likely to make these leaps, to put two cool things together – like being a pilot and having a car.
They combine them in the image?
One time, a Japanese kid drew a dog-trimming business he wanted to run – in the middle of a Formula One racetrack. It might not exactly be possible to combine a race track with a dog trimming business, but there is something to be said about combining two exciting things.
Trondheim, Norway I want to be a turtle.

Trondheim, Norway
I dream of being a turtle.

Of the many drawings we have seen, one of the most interesting ones was from a boy who wants to be a turtle – because “turtles are slow”. That is the most badass answer, because it is so nonconformist.
That one is interesting on so many levels. Because he does something very different from what we want him to do. He still feels like he should be there and draw, which he doesn’t necessarily have to. And his turtle was perfect. If he was so nonconformist, he could have drawn it in a million different ways, could have drawn a cross and claimed it was a turtle – but he didn’t. There is some conformity in the nonconformity. And he was really slow. One of these soccer players, who just wasn’t into drawing. But he didn’t dream about being a soccer player – but about being a turtle.
What happens to all this creativity children can express so vividly?
It’s not just creativity but also the willingness to do something new. Ask kids to draw their dreams and they don’t blink. Try doing the same with adults, and they would be reluctant to – not because we have run out of dreams but because it seems irrational to put them in a drawing. When we grow up, drawing becomes a skill and is no longer seen purely as an expression of creativity. It would be interesting to talk to teachers and ask them what they actively nurture: A way of drawing or a way of thinking.


The scope of human history doesn’t allow for sleep.

It’s an appropriate time to write about sleep. 6 am in San Francisco, the morning light jabbing in like lightning bolts through the blinds of the bedroom bay windows. The sound of early risers in nearby houses, opening shutters, closing doors, going to work, again, again. It’s the time of the day I experience most vividly. Out of a silent slumber, I notice every sound, every hot water pipe turning on, every parent taking their child to school and every bird with his coo. I experience the same thought each time – “You should sleep more”.  It’s a weird paradox to be so in awe with life that it leaves you detached from important sleep. To be in awe. That’s what the days are for.
Many mornings I’ve wondered if anyone else shares this version of insomnia. It doesn’t stem from anxiety or sadness, it stems from a totalitarian joy that fights closed eyelids. There’s so much to learn, so much to see. A hundred years of life couldn’t satiate every curiosity, every instance of possibility, every sunrise. I treasure those few hours of quiet on Earth, when nature plays out her symphony to introduce the world of man. He comes in with his drumbeat, his sirens and his car horn. And to scale rooftops of the Financial District and watch this whole scene unfold, that’s what the mornings are for. Remembering the size of it all and feeling excited, daunted and humbled.

Replace a night of sleep with talking

And to put on shoes and get out the house before the rest of the world wakes up. Running through imaginary slaloms and racing to distant objects. For there’s no one to see you skipping. No one to hear you singing! Your arms out wide from your chest as the cold morning air infiltrates your lungs. And then you slip and fall into mud, only to get back up again, the blood on your knees bringing back certain sentiments of childhood. You’re not a child anymore, although somehow you feel exactly the same. And in that moment you remember Time. With bloody knees you stand by old trees and pay your respects to every past moment that lead you to right here.
And what about the books? All the words ever written, every poem, every tale, every piece of humanity’s culture that lead up to the version of civilization that we are today. How to read every account? Every love letter between two individuals, every speech at every battle, to be able to understand every hieroglyphic. All the time in the world couldn’t bring you to comprehend every mathematical formula, every philosophical idea, every artistic creation, every ounce of research. To seek to feel every thought ever thought by man. To know what the Incas experienced when they lost their lands, what the Vikings felt when they crowned their Kings. Every book in the world could barely bring you close. The scope of human history doesn’t allow for sleep.
And to write. In writing experiences down we transfer them into a perpetual existence that lies outside of ourselves. I sleep much better after writing, seeing the thoughts laid out, viewing them and touching them before the nocturnal makes them a distant memory. To think that some of the best days of our lives haven’t happened yet, no matter how bad the current day has been, how bad the situation, how poor you currently are or how anguished. Another day is another opportunity for kindness. It’s another day for passion. It’s another day to carve out your reality. Whether you decide to comply to career and relationship norms that don’t exist anywhere apart from in our farcical mental constructs, or not. To meet a new person and to replace a night of sleep with talking, sharing childhood stories, music, hopes and dreams. To take risks! To make memories! To turn to your loved one and say “forget work today, let’s run away and go to the beach, eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and make sandcastles” and not care that you’re 25 or 45 or 90.
That’s what the days are for.
That’s what the days are for.