Interview with photographer Tom Kiefer: “This work is part of the historical documentation of our country’s response to migration”
El Sueño Americano: Exhibition of migrants’ items seized and discarded by US border patrol
26 October 2018
El Sueño Americano: The American Dream—Works by Tom Kiefer, at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts, Saugatuck, Michigan, October 25–December 22, 2018
The remarkable German photographer August Sander (1876-1964) once suggested that he felt obligated “to see things as they are and not as they should or could be,” and to “speak the truth in all honesty about our age and the people of our age.”
That apparently simple program is both ambitious and difficult to execute. Most of the images currently circulating obscure or conceal the truth.
Photographer Tom Kiefer, born in Wichita, Kansas and raised primarily in the Seattle area, lived in Los Angeles for 20 years.
He moved to Ajo, Arizona—a town of 3,500 people some 45 miles north of the Mexican border—right after the September 11, 2001 attacks, seeking a lower cost of living and a place to develop his work as a fine art photographer.
In 2003 Kiefer needed to find a job to support his photography. He came across “an ad for a part-time janitor,” he told the WSWS, “that paid $10.42 an hour at a US Customs and Border Patrol facility. At that time, in June of 2003, it was a really good wage here in Ajo. I was going to be a janitor in my early 40s.” He worked at the job until August 2014.
Kiefer’s current exhibition at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts in western Michigan, El Sueño Americano, features more than 100 photographs of items—“everyday” and some deeply personal items—confiscated from undocumented men, women and…