Thousands have died crossing the border between Mexico and the United States. Many of these victims were found in the harsh Sonoran Desert of Arizona long after they passed. Their remains are unidentifiable, and they have become anonymous causalities to brutal nationalistic policies. The United States government strategically uses this unforgiving desert terrain to kettle migrants into an unfamiliar land where they wander for days in the elements with a policy called “prevention through deterrence.” Nature is used here as an executioner by proxy. I photograph the exact locations where the bodies of unknown migrants are found in the Sonoran Desert. These people could not be identified and remain anonymous to this day. How do we mourn for those we do not know? These landscape photographs act as a space for somber remembrance and an examination of the cruel footprint of United States history. Our colonialist narrative, imperialist ambitions, and aspirations of manifest destiny permeate this land in every mountain and valley. The sites of death are representative of the horrors attached to these oppressive histories, policies, and ideologies that continue to guide the United States forward into the 21st century. I use experimental and alternative photographic processes in the darkroom in this work as a conduit to speak to the complex social and political narratives that run through these landscapes. I also consider the strategic use of hazy, impressionistic, and sometimes violent mark-making embedded in these photographic processes as a metaphor for the chaos, confusion, fear, heartbreak, pain, and collective emotions felt by each human being as they met their end in this harsh unfamiliar land. Ultimately, I do not know the exact thoughts of these individuals when they died, but I try to imagine and empathize through the language of photography. They are not forgotten, and we must not forget. This work is is both a call for remembrance and a call for action.
Marcus DeSieno is a visual artist who is interested in how the advancement of visual technology continually changes and mediates our understanding of the world. DeSieno is particularly interested in the unseen political ideologies embedded in this technology. He received his MFA in Studio Art from the University of South Florida and is the Associate Professor of Photography at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington. DeSieno’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally at the Aperture Foundation in New York, Paris Photo, The Benaki Museum in Athens, Greece, the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Photo Access in Canberra, Australia, Center for Fine Art Photography, Candela Gallery, Center for Photography at Woodstock, and various other galleries and museums. His work has also been featured in a variety of publications including The Boston Globe, FeatureShoot, GUP Magazine, Hyperallergic, Huffington Post, National Geographic’s Proof, PDN, Slate, Smithsonian Magazine, The Washington Post, and Wired. DeSieno was named a selection for Photolucida’s Critical Mass 50 and an Emerging Talent by Lensculture. His first monograph, No Man’s Land: Views From a Surveillance State, was published by Daylight Books in the summer of 2018.