The secret lives of California border families by Dexter Eichhorst. Part 1: Obstacles

by tuftsigl
Jul 19

Going into this experience, I knew I would face many challenges in the creation of this documentary project; I had been a student in the IGL’s Program for Narrative and Documentary Practice fall class, and throughout the planning and budgeting process, I had had time to prepare mentally and hypothetically for much of the seemingly inevitable adversity that I foresaw coming my way. While I had a somewhat substantial amount of photography experience before beginning this project, which I should mention now shrinks drastically in comparison with what I now know, I was a complete rookie in the video and audio department. Furthermore, I had never edited a picture or video clip with anything besides the most basic and obsolete of software. Since then I’ve learned more about these fields than I ever thought there was to know. I’ve developed a firm understanding of professional photo and video editing programs such as Lightroom, Photoshop, and Premier Pro. I’ve mastered the “sacred triangle” of camera exposure, experimented with the full spectrum of frame rates and focal lengths, and begun the endlessly complex path towards grasping the fundamentals of proper lighting. While I certainly have advanced my technical knowledge by leaps and bounds, I think what I’ve learned most about is myself and my natural environment for nine months out of the year: Tufts University.

One of the best things about Tufts and the greater Boston area in general is the plethora of college students around at all times. On campus in particular, students are always conducting surveys, asking for signatures, promoting a particular project, or pursuing whatever other creative pursuit has captured their interest. In turn, the public has, generally speaking, adapted to this reality. People aren’t surprised or taken aback when asked to sign a paper or pose for a picture. Such occurrences are not out of the ordinary. Coming back to California for the summer, I was immediately struck by the absence of this cheerful and participatory environment. The closest four-year college is about a two or three hour drive from where I’m working. Here, when I ask somebody if I can take their picture, their immediate reaction is often one of bewilderment, reticence, or outright rejection.

A few days after arriving, I realized that due to this attitude I would need to take full advantage of every opportunity I got to interview somebody or take his or her picture going forward. For this reason, I wanted to work on some small projects to perfect the basics and acquaint myself more fully with my equipment so that I would be less likely to make any errors later on that could cost me a potentially un-reproducible bit of content down the road. I practiced portraiture with family and friends, job shadowed a couple professional photographers and videographers, and worked on video projects with local companies who were willing to participate in filming in return for later use of the finished video for their own purposes. One of these can be viewed here.

A few weeks ago, satisfied that I had brushed up on my skills to a suitable degree, I returned my full focus to trying to get subjects to participate in my project. I should mention that the people I’m hoping to deal with, immigrant and first generation families in California, have an incredibly demanding daily schedule. I’m sure the fact that these people are busy isn’t news to anybody, but I nevertheless want to reiterate it. A couple of men who I reached out to through a local soccer league work sunup to sundown six days a week doing farm work at Gospel Flats Farm in western Marin County. Needless to say, my windows of opportunity are miniscule. Furthermore, most of the families I’ve reached out to have been extremely hesitant to get anywhere near a camera due to fears of later identification and possible retribution by members of Immigration and Customs Enforcement or “ICE”.

Having said all of that, I have made definitive progress. I’m currently in touch with a family that is willing to participate, and have gone on a few shoots with the aforementioned soccer guys. Another thing I should mention is that everyone seems more comfortable with being photographed than being filmed. I suppose I have the IPhone and selfie culture of 2017 to thank for that.

Going forward, I’m going to use my previous rejections to work on being more approachable and better at facilitating participation by using my own contacts and mutual friends, and developing a better explanation of the purpose of my project, reinforcing that names and personal information will not be included. Although it hasn’t been easy so far, I’ve enjoyed every minute of this pursuit, and wake up everyday excited and full of ideas for improvements and adjustments to what I’m doing. I know that when all is said and done, I’ll be proud of what I accomplished here!