April 22 2014 05:51 PM

Tijuana photojournalist focuses his lens on people stuck at the border

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David Maung
Photo by Kinsee Morlan

Photojournalist David Maung walks CityBeat through a row of his large-scale photographs hanging through May 25 in the Pastillo de la Fotografia, a hallway-turned-gallery near the box office at Centro Cultural Tijuana (CECUT).

The exhibition, Faint Light: Yesterday's Gone and Tomorrow Has Yet to Arrive, focuses on homeless deportees in Tijuana and Mexicali, many of whom are part of the swelling population of destitute people carving out living quarters in the Tijuana River's concrete riverbed and the miles of storm drains leading to it.

"There's the canal right there," Maung says, pointing out the hallway's eastern doorway. "It's really close, and yet it's really far away, isn't it? See that tent? That's probably been there for not even a week... The population is growing incredibly fast."

Maung has lived in Tijuana for 18 years and makes a living as a freelance photographer for The Washington Post, VICE and other media. He first photographed people living in the Tijuana riverbed a decade ago. He says the riverbed previously served as temporary shelter used mostly by people waiting to cross to the United States. Now, it's become longer-term housing for those either hoping to return to their homes in other parts of Mexico or South America or those who end up in Tijuana or Mexicali after living in the U.S. for decades and have no family or other connections in Mexico—some barely even speak Spanish. Not all deportees end up homeless, but Maung zeroes in on the small percentage of those who do.

"This guy with his hands up like this, I spent awhile talking to him," Maung says, referring to a photo of hands set against the backdrop of a graffiti-covered canal and lit only by a candle. "He's 22 years old, and 20 of his 22 years were lived in the United States."

Most of Maung's photos are softly lit and display a sense of pride among the homeless deportees while also capturing their stark, harsh realities. He purposely edited out photos of people shooting up, among other jarring images.

"I tried not to show the really grotesque, crude side," he explains. "I think it was important to show some sort of dignity."


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