Tierra Brava

Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico, 1998

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With the support of a Fulbright Fellowship in 1997 and drawing inspiration from the pulp comic of the same name, Tierra Brava traverses a personal psychological space within the color of a place mired in contradictions;  the U.S. – Mexico border. It is a place that is in a constant search for its own sense of identity, juggling the traditions of culture and history of the interior with the pleasures and promises of prosperity and a better life of its northern neighbor. It is not Mexico and not the United States, but rather something and somewhere in-between.

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Paul Turounet - Mexico FM-3 Visa

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Leaving the United States across the Rio Bravo, a man crosses a fenced walkway that leads into Mexico.  His suspicious eyes simultaneously stare off in two directions – at those in his path and straight ahead to the life he is going back to.

Once across this line of dirt and water, a series of storefronts, marketplaces, buildings and street scenes feature the contrasting elements of Mexican life: a street vendors’ grill of elotes – corn on the cob, appears in the forefront while a shadowy figure lurks in the background; smiling dentures are locked in a display case with a handmade sign proclaiming “free estimates.” In a large mercado, the picture of a bright-eyed baby is prominently displayed above jars of salsa, and who, upon closer examination, is urinating with a smile on his face.

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Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico, 1996

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Along the way, complex relationships of men, women and families reveal their day-to-day joys and struggles.  A bikini-clad woman on a billboard tempts us to buy ice-cold beer, but not with her eyes. In a bar lit green, white and red, a man gently lights a cigarette for a woman as she leans in.  It is just a matter of time before love is graffiti above a seat-less toilet in a peach-colored hotel bathroom.  Babies suckle at their mother’s breast and are held by their fathers at a christening. Little boys smile as they play with guns, mimicking a scene from a Hollywood film.  The shadow of a finger gun takes aim at a woman sitting with her child; the sadness in her eyes reveals her plight.

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Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Mexico, 1997

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While there are moments of hope on La Frontera – the glow of warm morning light coming through a bedroom window; a beautiful young girl in a pink dress – hardship, violence and death are always near: a little boy entangled by a spider-web of steel rebar sleeps on the sidewalk; a bloodied bull lies in the back of a pickup truck, slain by a man with the U.S. flag on his t-shirt; a dead coyote hangs on a barbed-wire fence marking the border – a sign warning migrants not to cross.  An anti-drug enforcement soldier in black fatigues clutches a grenade launcher, while strays dogs lay peacefully beside him.  It looks like a scene a scene from the Gulf and Iraq Wars, but rather it is Playa Baghdad, where the border dissolves into the Gulf of Mexico.

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Playa Bagdad, Tamaulipas, Mexico, 1998

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And in this place, the possibilities of another life are not far away as a statuesque man naked in his underwear, looks longingly across a filthy river. But the journey ends here.  A young man carries the dreams of many on his shoulders with “America” emblazoned on the back of his shaven head as he stares at a burning landscape: tierra brava.

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Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico, 1998

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