Untitled, ©Grisela San Martin, from her series "The Wall"

La Frontera de Cristal: Griselda San Martin, Tom Kiefer + Elliot Ross


Griselda San Martin, Tom Kiefer, and Elliot Ross

October 11 – November 23, 2019


Opening Reception: Friday, October 11 (6 – 9 pm)

Elliot Ross will be in attendance. Free and open to the public

Writing Workshop in Collaboration with Lighthouse Writers: Thursday, October 24 (6 – 8:30 pm)

$5 /CPAC members; $10 /non-members (Register)

The Colorado Photographic Arts Center presents La Frontera de Cristal, an exhibit highlighting three contemporary photographers’ views of the border separating Mexico and the United States.

In her series The Wall, Griselda San Martin documents Friendship Park, a stretch of the border where families meet to share intimate moments through the fence that separates them.

“By calling attention to the human interactions at Friendship Park, where families visit with and speak with one another through a metal fence, I attempt to neutralize what this wall was built to create: Separation,” writes San Martin. “My goal is to transform the discourse on border security into a conversation about immigrant visibility, addressing audiences on both sides of the wall by challenging popular assumptions or by reminding them that they are seen, heard and that they matter.”

Tom Kiefer’s current project, El Sueño Americano – The American Dream (2007-present), features the personal effects and belongings of people apprehended in the desert by U.S. Border Patrol agents. These belongings include wallets, shoelaces, family photos, clothing and other items that were subsequently seized, surrendered, or forfeited as individuals were processed at a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol facility in southern Arizona.

The cruelty of stripping away such personal items from vulnerable people is dehumanizing, both to those whose belongings are taken and to those who enforce this policy,” writes Kiefer in a statement. “I hope that this work encourages people to connect with their own sense of human decency, and to advocate for the better treatment of immigrants in this country.”

Elliot Ross documents his five-month journey in 2017 with writer Genevieve Allison along the entire length of the 2,000-mile border. Through portraiture and topographical studies of infrastructure imposed on the landscape, American Backyard looks at the reality of American lives on the border.

“Beyond talk of The Wall,” writes Elliot, “there is a larger, less transparent story to be told about our Borderlands to do with acculturation, surveillance, diversity and compassion.” The ensuing book, American Backyard, was published in 2019 by Gnomic Book (purchase here).

“From Ross’s vast landscapes, to San Martin’s portraits, to Kiefer’s close-up photographs of personal items, each photographer shows us a unique aspect of life along the U.S.-Mexico border that we rarely see in mainstream media,” said Samantha Johnston, CPAC’s Executive Director and curator of La Frontera de Cristal. “This exhibit invites us to look beyond the political rhetoric of the immigration debate and consider fresh perspectives on the landscapes and people that exist in the shadow of the wall.”

The title of the exhibit is inspired by Carlos Fuentes’ 1995 novel, La Frontera de Cristal (The Crystal Frontier). Through nine stories, Fuentes explores the lives of characters on both sides of the U.S-Mexico border and the complicated relationship between the two countries.


On Thursday, October 24, please join us for a special Writing Workshop in collaboration with LightHouse Writers Workshop to discuss the exhibit, Carlos Fuentes’ novel, and its relationship to Julia Alvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies. We will discuss the intersections between politics and migration, and do some creative writing in response to the themes of the novels and the exhibit. (More info)



Griselda San Martin is a Spanish documentary photographer based in New York City. She is a graduate of the Documentary Photography and Photojournalism program at the International Center of Photography (ICP) and holds a masters in Journalism from the University of Colorado Boulder. Throughout the past six years, San Martin has documented the U.S.-Mexico border, focusing on the issues of immigration, deportation, inequality and human rights abuses through an optic of identity and belonging. Her current focus is on the growing Hispanic community in the United States and the sociopolitical implications of reactionary narratives depicting immigrants and ethnic minorities. Her photography and video projects have been exhibited internationally and featured in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The New Republic, and California Sunday Magazine as well as other publications.

Born in Wichita, Kansas, fine art photographer Tom Kiefer was raised primarily in the Seattle area and worked in Los Angeles as a graphic designer. Kiefer moved to Ajo, Arizona in December 2001 to fully develop and concentrate his efforts in studying and photographing the urban and rural landscape and the related cultural infrastructure. Kiefer’s first project Journey West Exhibit (2001-2011), was created during his process of discovering and documenting the natural and man-made landscape between towns and cities in his adopted state of Arizona. Selections from  El Sueño Americano have exhibited in numerous solo exhibitions including the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, California (October 17, 2019 – March 8, 2020), the Fuller Craft Museum, Brockton, Massachusetts (January 26 – July 28, 2019) and the Saugatuck Center for the Arts, Saugatuck, Michigan (October 26 – December 21, 2018). Print and online publications including The New York Times, the New Yorker, Huffington Post, CNN and many others have showcased Kiefer’s work. He lives and works in Ajo, Arizona, about 40 miles north of the US-Mexico border. 

Elliot Ross is an internationally exhibited photographer based in Colorado with a BFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design. His work has been widely published, with notable appearances in National Geographic, TIME, The Guardian, Vice and The Atlantic. His work focuses predominantly on human stories that explore spaces in transition, among them, the rapidly changing American arctic, and the divisive nature of geopolitical borders including the plight of refugees seeking asylum in Europe and stories from marginalized American communities of the U.S. / Mexico borderlands.

This exhibition is made possible by generous support from Linda Hanselman and Brit Probst, the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD), the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation, the Morgan Family Legacy Foundation, Colorado Creative Industries, and Denver Arts & Venues.