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Philip Zimmermann and León de la Rosa (2012)

OJALÁ  Philip Zimmermann and León de la Rosa (2012)

The narrative line of this book uses a combination of photo imagery and text to show the fear, fury and exasperation of life in and around Mexican border towns (but especially Ciudad Juarez) in these times of narco-terrorism. I used to live across from the border from Juarez, went there all the time, and I know it well. The images are photographs that are a combination of my photographs and Mexican police photos. The narrative text is León de la Rosa’s stream of consciousness of his life in the northern border towns of Mexico. The ‘Spanglish’ text was written by this Mexican national artist from Ciudad Juarez, León de la Rosa. Using a collaborative hybrid of both text and imagery, we sought to get the emotional tenor and frustration of this border life across to a broad audience of both English and Spanish speakers.

With the exception of the bright green end sheets, the entire interior of the book is submerged in a blood red, with the text dropped out to white. Green, red and white are the colors of the Mexican flag. The images printed in black enlarged halftone are photos that have the look and rawness of coming from tabloid or popular cheap newspapers. The exterior edges of the text block are black. This artists’ book has been gestating for about ten years, and in 2012, I finally found a sympathetic and authentic collaborating writer for the voice of the text, There are very few collaborative works like this about the current drug wars, that I know of, especially ones that combine the voices of US and Mexican artists. Years ago when I was living near El Paso, across from Ciudad Juarez, I had the idea of using the word ojalá (the Spanish expression for “I wish it were so”) in a book in a chant-like repeated way, describing the indignities of the innocents in the border towns of Northern Mexico. I had problems developing the text for this in a voice that was authentic, so I put the book on the back burner. I asked León de la Rosa, a Professor of Art at Universidad Autónima de Ciudad Juarez if he would agree to collaborate on the book about his experience living in Juarez during the narco-traffic wars, and he agreed. I have been collecting the visual images for this book for 10 years. It is a combination of my photos (60%) and Mexican police and cartel photos (40%) that I have been saving. The implementation and treatment of these images in book form are atypical but are from real experienced life, not fiction, and we feel that the book has a striking look and feel to it that extends throughout the book, from the cover to the all-red pages and black edges of the book block itself.

 Although León’s voice is of someone living on the Mexican side, specifically Ciudad Juarez, at the time the most dangerous city in Mexico, the book gives us a glimpse of the rage and frustration of those who live throughout Mexico. We on the Northern side of the border, are part of the problem, creating a huge demand for the drugs and sending back the money that has so corrupted those in power, and the guns that have done so much violence and damage. It is really important for us to feel the pain of those who have to live daily in the communities terrorized by the narcos and the various cartels. León de la Rosa, my collaborator on the text, teaches at Universidad Autónima de Juarez. His voice powerfully articulates the message of the book. 

Please note that not all page spreads are shown on the right. The video above is a better way to get a full experience of the book. The book is only available from for $24.95 plus shipping.

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