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Day 15: Faces of Tijuana: Finding the right place for a box camera

April 6, 2017
Californian Yesenia Huerta, 23, poses for a portrait in Tijuana, Mexico, Wednesday, April 5, 2017. Huerta, who says she is citizen of the universe, lives in Tijuana because it's more affordable than San Diego. She crosses to San Diego almost daily to study journalism and work part time in a sporting goods store. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

For two weeks we’ve been hauling around a massive black plastic case that fills nearly the entire trunk of our Jeep. It’s a huge space-suck and has also caught the suspicious eyes of customs officials on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border _ at least until we open it.

Rodrigo’s wooden camera is a primitive device modeled on ones he saw local photographers using to take portraits in Kabul, Afghanistan. A box with a lens and space for a developing lab inside, it was a forerunner to the Polaroid instant camera.

This whole trip we’ve been waiting for the right place for Rodrigo to spend a day using it to make striking black-and-white portraits of the people who inhabit the frontier lands. We’ve been looking for a place that offers a diversity of faces and stories, and also enough foot traffic to provide a steady supply of subjects.

On our last full day at the border, we finally set up on a sidewalk in Tijuana, Mexico, near where people enter and leave the Chaparral crossing. Most are coming or going in a hurry. But some, such as recent deportees from the United States, are just hanging around trying to figure out their next moves.

One after another they pose for the camera in front of a black backdrop and tell us about themselves.

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