I stumbled upon this scene during my travels along of the US Mexican Border fence a few weeks ago. I was crossing a small bridge just west of Old Calexico and this structure in the water caught my eye. So I pulled off to find the best vantage point. When I photograph I tend to be pretty focused and in my own world. Especially when I work with my older film cameras. But there’s always a part of me that is conscious of where I am and what’s around me. Survival instinct, self-preservation, whatever it is, it’s always there: floating around in my sub conscious whenever I’m shooting in an unfamiliar locale. As I’m framing up this shot and trying some different angles I become aware of a low rumble from a pretty beefy engine. Not that I would notice this sound in and of itself, but I realize it’s been idling somewhere behind me for a little while now. It’s not an unusual sound given the terrain. It’s just there and I’m aware of it. So I get back to my task at hand. Eventually I’ve got something I like and I start to head back to the car. On the way I notice a super cool old rusty gear lying in the dirt. I pick it up to check it out and continue walking back to the car. Just then, I pick up on the sound of the engine again because it was now coming toward me. Instead of running back to the car like a total freak I turn to acknowledge the driver. Now if you’ve ever been to this area there’s one thing you’ll notice immediately. The US Border Patrol is omnipresent. And that’s exactly who was keeping a watchful eye on me. As he approached in his low growling SUV I wasn’t sure what to expect. Was I “allowed” to be shooting there? Was I shooting something sensitive to immigration? The officer rolled up slowly and I walked over to greet him.
“Where are you from? Are you from around here?” he asked.
“No. San Diego. I’m a photographer,” I said, waving my hand westward and stating the obvious.
“Do you know about this river?”
“No, should I?”
“They say it’s the most polluted river in the US. It flows directly north from Mexico. I wouldn’t touch anything around it,” he said, looking at the rusty gear in my hand.
It turns out this is the New River (Rio Nuevo) and it does in fact flow directly north out of Mexicali into the United States. It is referred to as the most polluted river of its size in the US. The river flows north through Baja California into the US (at this point) and another 66 miles into the Salton Sea. The New River’s flow is composed of waste from agricultural and chemical runoff from the farm industry, sewage form Mexicali, and manufacturing plants operating in Mexico.
I kept the gear anyway. I just scrubbed it, and my hands, thoroughly…