A visitor examines photographs of people taken at the U.S.-Mexico border of Tijuana during the Bronx Documentary Center exhibit opening of “Trump Revolution: Immigration.”

A visitor examines photographs of people taken at the U.S.-Mexico border of Tijuana during the Bronx Documentary Center exhibit opening of “Trump Revolution: Immigration.”

New multimedia exhibit challenges immigration narratives

Michael Kamber wants Americans to go beyond the news headlines and photos and see immigrants in a more intimate light.

That’s the aim of a new exhibit at the Bronx Documentary Center, where Kamber is the director.  “Trump Revolution: Immigration,” is a multimedia display of eight photographers’ works, focusing on life at the U.S.-Mexico border, family separation, the Muslim ban, and everyday life as an immigrant in Trump’s America.

The exhibit is the first of a yearlong “Trump Revolution” series at the Center, featuring themes that will run the gamut from foreign policy and nationalism to the climate crisis and media’s role during the Trump years. While the series is nonpartisan and non-ideological, its purpose is to raise awareness around national policy changes and the impact on everyday lives, according to Kamber.   

“I think people are becoming inured to the changes, it’s kind of becoming background noise,” said Kamber. “But immigration for this community here, it’s really an emergency. We have friends and family members and community members whose lives have really been turned upside-down, and it’s happening across America.”

The exhibit strikes a balance between big-picture and intimate moments surrounding changes in immigration policy. A historical timeline hovering above the back wall in one room lends context about key laws and events. Among these are Trump’s appointment of hard-liner immigration judges and a shake-up of Homeland Security, the government shutdown over border funding, and the transfer of detained children from a border facility.

This kind of visual gets people on the same playing field to discuss these issues across the ideological spectrum, according to Roo Shamim, an NYU engineering student and founder of social innovation tech company Future Local NYC. Shamim suggested making the timeline into a nine-tile Instagram page would help make it more accessible.

“There’s beauty in coming to look at visuals to reflect and think about it and engage in conversation with people in real life—IRL—about how you feel about the photography,” said Shamim. “But there’s also the journalistic informative point of view, which I think was well-presented in that data visualization of Trump’s anti-immigration stance.”

At the same time, most photographs and audio recordings on display are intimate portrayals of people whose documentation struggles in the Trump era are just one part of their experience.

Except for some of John Moore’s work, the selections were not news photos but rather “photos that showed people more as human beings and not just people crying and being sad,” according to Kamber. “These are real people, and we want people to understand that.”

For Ana Vallejo of Bushwick, photographers Cristina de Middel and Jim Goldberg’s reimagining of the Tijuana border events as a dramatic play puts forth a new understanding of migrants’ lives.

“How they look at the characters of the migration, the journey, and the fiction of how the photos are intertwined—I find that conceptually interesting,” said the Colombian photographer. “Just telling stories in different ways, because we have this idea of migration that’s been overrepresented.”

But for Laura Bustillos, a NYC-based documentary photographer from Ciudad Juarez, conflicting feelings about status impacted how she understood the photos.

“Part of me hopes that them capturing the images will actually cause an effect in the collective opinion.  But part of me is also a little bit mad about it,” said Bustillo, “because I don’t have that access, I’m not a U.S. citizen, so I can’t ride in a car with ICE and Border Patrol to get these photos. And I’m from there.”

It was important to Kamber and exhibition coordinator Cynthia Rivera that the work displayed was from people who understood the communities they photographed. While the featured photographers were mostly Latino/a, only three of the eight were LatinX, including Mexican documentary photographers Cinthya Santos-Briones, Griselda San Martin, and Luis Antonio Rojas. The work of Kholood Eid, a Palestinian-American Muslim woman, also came from an insider lens, featuring Muslim female activists and her own family in the wake of Trump’s Muslim ban.

The “Trump Revolution” exhibit opened February 15 and is on view for free up to March 29 at the Bronx Documentary Center at 614 Courtlandt Ave, Thurs-Fri 3-7 pm, Sat-Sun 1-5 pm. 

Until then, a slew of events aims to help visitors understand what it was like for photographers and journalists to document immigration narratives outside the usual news cycle.

The Working Theater group will host a guided exhibition tour on February 28. On Mar 14, featured photographers will share insights and ProPublica journalists will talk about their “Zero Tolerance” series on family separation at the border. The exhibition will end with a talk on March 28th by a photojournalist from Magnum Photos about “LINEA: The Border Project.”

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