Archive, Photojournalism, Portrait

Border Towns: Living with the Cartel

All images from the series Crossings: Photographs from the U.S.-Mexico Border © Alex Webb

Alex Webb has photographed the US-Mexican border life for over thirty years, his strong colours, harsh lighting and careful framing the stated inspiration for cinematographer Roger Deakins in Denis Villeneuve's dark thriller Sicario.

Deakins said last year: “They are photos taken from life, but they are incredibly complex in terms of their composition”

Photographing street life on the border towns of Tijuana and El Paso, Webb also crossed the border several times with migrants to document their experiences as they risk arrest and imprisonment to transport drugs or escape to the United States for a chance of a better life.

“It’s a world of transience,” he says. “Migrants and drugs travel north, tourists and guns travel south.”

Webb manages to approach such a difficult and politically sensitive topic with a balance of pathos and humour; despite the negative connotations with border towns, there’s a positive, almost uplifting quality to many of his more intimate shots.

For those riskier moments, Webb relies on his subjects becoming comfortable with his presence. Access isn’t bought through fixers or earned through personal ties with his subjects.

His approach is far simpler, his modus operandi primarily based on observing and photographing border life as it unfolds. “I hang out, I wait, I watch,” he says.

Although he wasn’t directly involved with the making of Sicario, Webb’s imagery was a strong influence on the aesthetic director Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakin created for the film.


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