Photographing the border wall in Otay Mountain Wilderness from Mexico’s Federal Highway 2D just west of Tecate, B.C.

Jill Marie Holslin

Photographer + Writer


My artistic practice is based in the production of situated knowledge with respect to space and place, an epistemological standpoint that recognizes that knowledge is always partial and situated. Landscape photography, geographic and historical research, and the production of maps and essays are the media I use.

I live and work in places that are subjected to police and military surveillance like the spaces right in front of the border wall between Mexico and the United States. Military surveillance constructs a kind of knowledge that asserts its authority through data, statistics and “real geographical facts,” and with this knowledge, violence is legitimated. Border landscape is used as a geographical representation, an image of national space and place, as well as an aesthetic genre: therefore, we can say that landscape is an object of knowledge. My projects are formed through walks and hikes in everyday places where I return over and over again to know them better and to construct alternative knowledges.

Based in critical geography, walking as aesthetic practice, and counter surveillance with respect to the militarization of space, I develop projects in these urban and rural spaces along the border. I use interviews, government documents, maps, research into land use and settlement patterns, as well as my photographs to document my walks, creating images, maps and personal histories of these spaces. My walks constitute me as much as a city resident and citizen as an artist. I publish my studies together with my photographs on my blog At the Edges. com

In this way, I construct photographic images that carry personal history and details that show the other face of border spaces and communities. My photographs play with this tension between the strength and the vulnerability of the border wall itself. The first walls were made by taking military aircraft landing mats from the Vietnam War and mounting the heavy iron panels on posts. The iron is now rusting and crumbling with age. Drawing up close to the surface of the metal wall, I shoot close ups to capture the material texture of the rusting metal. There I find tiny scrawled messages and details that from a distance are invisible. These “traces” left by migrants as they passed over the border wall: drawings, names, emblems of their hometowns, words and messages that speak to the military violence that many migrants have left behind. They open our eyes to another reality. The wall keeps people out, but at its very presence invites people up close who use the wall as a compass to orient them in their journeys, as a place to rest, as a surface to record their thoughts.

In 2012, I began to exhibit my photographs, and I have been showing two different series:

The first project, titled Rastros, focuses on the traces left by migrants as they pass along the border wall. Through drawings, inscriptions of names and places, and other messages, we can discover another reality of the border wall, marks of an itinerary of everyday life that is very well-known, yet almost invisible.

The second project, titled Tijuana Alley Art, documents the living gallery spaces in the alleys of Tijuana’s downtown. These spaces and what remains there point in two directions: first to the past, bearing witness to once thriving, vital communities. And secondly, to the future, as those of us who wander through these spaces create new communities and find new uses for the walls and sidewalks and alleys.

I currently teach in the Rhetoric & Writing Studies Department at San Diego State University, where I teach writing courses focused on civic discourse and the role of writing and art in political advocacy.

You can reach me here: jholslin01@gmail.com