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Book Review: Destino


Book Review Destino By Michelle Frankfurter Reviewed by Karen Jenkins Since 2009, Michelle Frankfurter has traveled throughout Mexico, dovetailing a photographic quest with northern migrations to the United States. Journeys intersect and converge in rail lines and resting places, built on forward motion and no going back. Frankfurter’s own family history informs her understanding that migration is no quick dash with a clear beginning and end, but rather is an ongoing drama with a far reach.

Destino. By Michelle Frankfurter.
FotoEvidence, 2014.
 
Destino
Reviewed by Karen Jenkins

Destino
By Michelle Frankfurter
FotoEvidence, 2014. 128 pp., 80 black & white illustrations, 9¾x9¾".


Since 2009, Michelle Frankfurter has traveled throughout Mexico, dovetailing a photographic quest with northern migrations to the United States. Journeys intersect and converge in rail lines and resting places, built on forward motion and no going back. Frankfurter’s own family history informs her understanding that migration is no quick dash with a clear beginning and end, but rather is an ongoing drama with a far reach. She is the daughter of migrants; her father escaped the Holocaust in Hungary by fleeing to Israel where he met her mother; together they eventually immigrated to America. Like the multi-generational story of which she is a part, Destino is less about individual sagas ending in the Promised Land, and more about an entrenched network of exiles in those treacherous places in between known ills and uncertain alternatives, harnessing faith and bravado to propel them along a circuitous path.

Destino. By Michelle Frankfurter. FotoEvidence, 2014.
Destino. By Michelle Frankfurter. FotoEvidence, 2014.

Cargo trains are a primary conveyance of migrants from Central America and Mexico toward the United States–Mexico border, pulling their stowaways through sparse landscapes laden with threats. The sanctuary to be found in the occasional migrant shelter is a counterpoint to the pervasive predation from both sides of the law – gangs and drug cartels, police and border agents. Frankfurter joined migrants on several rail trips in southern Mexico, and sought them out in shelters along the way. She depicts these journeys not in action shots or structured narratives, but in a collective portrait of the emotional tone and texture of this type of travel — part desperate escape and tedious passage, perilous adventure and last best chance. There’s a lot of waiting involved, and this intrinsic condition provides both opportunity and content for Frankfurter’s work. The oppressive power of such anxious waiting and tenuous hope runs like a latent bomb through the photographs of Destino. Closer to the border, where a journey’s end feels at hand and threats increase materially for all concerned, Frankfurter’ imagery is more live wire; becoming harsher, shakier, and dark.

Destino. By Michelle Frankfurter. FotoEvidence, 2014.
Destino. By Michelle Frankfurter. FotoEvidence, 2014.

Destino is a beautiful, heart-wrenching series grounded in the depth and nuance of the migrant’s emotional experience. As with all leaps of faith, the journey’s end is unclear. In Spanish, “destino” means both “destiny” and “destination.” With these photographs, Frankfurter reveals how open ended each of these meanings is; formed in the shifting sands of poverty, corruption, violence and fear. To borrow the imagery of those epic tales of fact and fiction that inspire her vision, Frankfurter’s subjects run the gamut from sinners to saints, in a continuum of character that is richly delineated and even handed. If these travelers are seen as petitioners for access and acceptance, there is no judgment of their merits here. Whether punctuated by reward or retribution, along the way are so many points of identification with elements of a shared human experience, in a parent’s brave face, the steeled nerves of a couple’s embrace, and so many individual miens of autonomy and being alone in the crowd. Frankfurter brings intelligence and humanity to a most contentious, highly politicized issue, in photographs that are at once quietly persuasive and a punch in the gut.—KAREN JENKINS

Selected as one of the Best Books of 2014 by:
Anne Kelly

KAREN JENKINS earned a Master's degree in Art History, specializing in the History of Photography from the University of Arizona. She has held curatorial positions at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ and the Demuth Museum in Lancaster, PA. Most recently she helped to debut a new arts project, Art in the Open Philadelphia, that challenges contemporary artists to reimagine the tradition of creating works of art en plein air for the 21st century.


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