Beyond the Wall: The story behind the cartography

Published by Yuyang Zhou, Date: October 21, 2019
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Alejandro Meter, PhD, spoke to SRU students about his photography project, Beyond the Wall: A Photographic Cartography of Writers along the U.S.- Mexico Border on Thursday. 

Meter, Professor at University of San Diego, is an immigrant from Argentina, with a father who is a professional photographer. Since the early 2000s, he has been shooting photos casually and in 2008 he started to take classes in photography and shoot events. In 2015, he began taking pictures of writers for his university. Issues concerning immigrants have also been dear to his heart and at the beginning of 2016, he started to create this particular project—a cartography of who’s writing on both sides of the border.

Meter sees the border as a complicated place and aims to humanize it through the camera lens. He includes writers regardless of their reputation or status, from prominent writers to new-comers. His original plan was to finish the project within one year, but a few shoots in, he realized that it wasn’t going to happen. Now, three years later, he is still adding to his cartography. 

Meter then went on to talk about some of his subjects and his experiences with them. Unlike many photographers, Meter feels the need to collaborate with his subjects and in this case of shooting authors, he would read their work beforehand to get to know them better. During the shooting process, Meter would take his time and get to know the authors over a coffee or a drink.

Javier Fernández chose to be photographed playing soccer, Pilo Galindo was asked to be shot in the shower of his hotel room, and Jerome Rothenberg’s face was shown in a mirror. Arminé Arjona is a recluse writer living in Ciudad Juárez and the most difficult to get to among Meter’s subjects. She had led a remarkable life—defying curfews and writing poems in graffiti.  

Throughout shooting the project, Dr. Meter traveled across the U.S.-Mexico border quite frequently. After seeing the tough security that creates tension and makes one feel like he or she is doing something wrong, fences and barbwires, he chooses to speak up through his work.

“We can choose to live a life with our blinders on and pretend it’s not happening, or we choose to remove the blinders and start moving around,” Meter said. 

Dr. Ana Maria Caula, a Professor of Spanish at SRU is a friend of Dr. Meter’s and she invited him to SRU because she wants others to learn about the border as it truly is because of the negative coverage it comes with.

Caula quoted the famous photographer Robert Frank, “It is important to see what is invisible to others,” to describe the fruitful work of Dr. Meter with this program, encouraging students to “see through his camera, through his eye, and learn a story that is often hidden from the popular view- the cultural richness of an area that is between two cultures”. 

Dr. Meter inspired SRU students to look deep into the region of Western PA, which he described as “multi-layered”. He also encouraged students to boldly step out of their comfort zone.

“If you go to college and you don’t feel uncomfortable, the college is doing a terrible job,” Meter said. “We are supposed to begin asking the right questions in college, not focusing on landing a job or getting good grades.”

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