Along the U.S./Mexico border
By Eric Thayer
I’m running through the desert outside a tiny town called Encino with a Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter flying above me. As I move through trees and bushes, the sand is soft and every step is an effort. It feels like I am running on the spot as I hold my cameras close so they don’t swing into my sides. Border Patrol agents are all around me and the only noises are the helicopter above, my own labored breathing and the sound of footsteps in the sand.
In south Texas, the Rio Grande River separates the U.S. from Mexico. It is a brown river that varies between 50 to 100 yards across. On the surface, the water looks calm as it meanders through the brush, but it hides swirling currents – just one of the many hazards faced by those who cross. The line between the two countries is imaginary here, but if you could see it as it appears on a map, it would be right in the middle of the river.
By Eric Thayer
More than three months ago, a massive tornado ripped through Joplin, Missouri, killing almost 160 people and destroying nearly 8,000 homes and businesses. For a week the story garnered national and international attention. A community of 50,000 people was thrust into the spotlight.
Images of destruction dominated newspapers and newscasts. Stories were told, lives shown fragmented, a bruised and battered community rallied, despite being in a collective state of shock. Then, slowly, as the pools of rainwater dried up, the residents dug through the deep wound cut a mile wide into the landscape, picking out pieces of their shattered lives. Slowly the attention faded, though work quietly continued.
May 1, 2011
I’m on a plane from Los Angeles to JFK. About an hour before we touch down, the word goes out that the U.S. military has found and killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. I land, make a few frames at baggage claim of people watching television while I wait for my bag. Then it’s talk my way to the front of a very long taxi line and make my way to Times Square and the site of the former World Trade Center towers, which many now refer to as Ground Zero. I notice an air of celebration.
People are cheering, waving American flags. There is quite a bit of media. I wonder what this must look like to the rest of the world, here we are celebrating the killing of a man. True, he came to represent the war against terror in the United States, but it seemed to be a celebration of death, at a place that had come to symbolize the death of many at the hands of extremists. Remembering the scenes of some burning American flags and cheering after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the outrage it caused, I make pictures of the scene. This is a historic milestone in a war that had begun nearly ten years earlier, and this is a turning point in the psyche of America.
Arriving at the scene of the Tucson shooting, I really didn’t know what to expect. There is always a nervous energy driven by adrenalin. You know you have to be there. You know it’s going to be bad, but you know you have to be there. Someone has to tell the story. Someone has to show it to the rest of the world.
The first couple of days were spent in shock. The whole community was in shock. How could this happen here? Details that will later emerge are largely hidden at this point. The why and the how – that’s for later stories. Right now, the pressing issue is to document this. Right now is the time to photograph what the community and its people are going through. No time to think, no time to react, I need to do my job and show this for what it is right now. It’s still chaos. You try to make order from the chaos. Later the images will have context. Later you can place them into a framework, but for the moment it’s all reaction. Cover that one piece, then move on. Those fragments will all make sense later on, but for now just keep moving.