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Scenes from the Border

April 6, 2011

Photo courtesy Leo S. Banks

Pedialyte, toothbrushes, backpacks, deodorant sticks, stuffed animals and goodbye letters are items that border patrol agents regularly find throughout the Arizona desert. So I decided to check it out for myself. The pictures I’d seen in the media showed hundreds of backpacks a foot deep choking dry riverbeds that run throughout the Southwest.

I made some phone calls and got in touch with a public affairs specialist for the Bureau of Land Management. She agreed to take me out to Ironwood Forest National Monument, north of the border, to photograph whatever we could find.

I had no idea how much trash was being strewn among cacti and creosote bushes and under mesquite trees. Most of the clothing was so rotted and sun-damaged that it fell apart if you picked it up. It was a “light” day according to Kirsten Lenhardt, the public affairs rep. She said they normally find much more waste. But what I found was still interesting and definitely told its own story.

Two BLM interns, Mary Beth Benton and Phil Westcott, show me Ironwood National Monument on the map

A discarded backpack that's full of holes starts to fray at the edges. Lettering on the white plastic bottle in the background has completely faded in the sun.


Holes pockmark the handle of this toothbrush, clear signs of erosion


This book was so destroyed that the cover was completely torn off and the words on the spine were too faded to read


This was one of five deodorant sticks we found lying in the wash


An elastic bandage still in its wrapping and an American pro wrestling card of Curt Hawkins


3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 9, 2011 7:05 pm

    Fascinating! I wonder how the trash situation along this stretch of the border compares to other borders around the world.

    Are there any artists who work with things that they find here? I could imagine some interesting works of art coming out of this abandoned stuff.

  2. Deirdre permalink
    April 25, 2011 10:18 pm

    Hi Lindsey. Just tonight I saw the documentary film Waste Land, about Brazilian artist Vik Munoz, now of NYC, who uses garbage to create art. This film profiles the vast garbage dump in Rio de Janiero, where 2,500 people make a living as “pickers,” removing recyclable items from the dump and reselling them. Munoz uses recyclable objects from the landfill to create enormous portraits of the pickers, which he then photographs and sells for huge sums that are returned in full to the pickers.

    I know you’ve blogged before about the use of garbage to make art, and I imagine you have seen and own even a copy of Waste Land, but it’s such a powerful film that I thought I’d add my voice to those who proclaim it a must-see film for those of us who are trying to live by the maxim: reduce, reuse, recycle.

  3. March 2, 2012 6:49 pm

    dating god
    Wonderful blog! I found it while surfing around on Bing News. Do you have any tips on how to get listed in Google News? I’ve been trying for a while however I never seem to be able to make it happen! Cheers

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