[dropcap]A[/dropcap]fter years working as a photojournalist where the United States meets Mexico, Patricia McInroy was surprised to stumble across the border in downtown Denver.
She’d had gone to a reading at Counterpath Press, located at the intersection of 22nd Street and Welton.
“I was just sort of mystified by Counterpath’s existence,” said McInroy, who now makes and teaches art here. “They get these really quality people to come in and do readings, they show visual art. I feel like they’re really adding a lot to Denver.”
Then she noticed the border.
“The first time I went I was like, what is going on with these busses? They were loading and leaving outside while people were presenting this really intellectual work indoors.”
Counterpath shares a building with the Los Paisanos bus station. Crowds gather on the sidewalk to board busses headed for the South West and Mexico. The site, and the distinct communities it brings together, became the footing for McInroy’s genre-bending exhibition, “Cruzando Caminos” (Crossing Paths), which wrapped last week.
Inside Counterpath McInroy exhibited her documentary photography from the U.S.-Mexico border. Many of the images had been shot for newspapers, published piecemeal at two-inch scale and never printed large-format.
“To have the opportunity to do an exhibition really changed the context, which really changes the impact,” said McInroy. “People see the daily news as something they can throw away but … immigration is an issue we still haven’t dealt with well.”
McInroy also leveraged the tools of journalism in bringing her work out of the gallery and onto the sidewalk. Video cameras in hand, McInroy and her fellow photographer Gonzalo Espinoza, who is a Spanish-speaker, did some intimate shoe-leather reporting.
“The basic idea was to help bridge the language/cultural gap while putting a more individual and human face to crowd along 22nd Street,” McInroy explained. “It’s easy to pass through a group of strangers and see them as a mass, rather than individuals. I think this gets magnified when there are language and cultural differences. Because of this reason, some of the questions we asked were things like ‘What is your biggest dream in life?’ or ‘What do you feel is the biggest misunderstanding in the US about immigrants?”
“Here in the U.S., I have done various jobs. I have been a truck driver, worked in oil fields and done various construction jobs. I also worked for Union Pacific,” a man says into the camera. “My biggest dream in life is to be a screenwriter.”
The documentary played in Counterpath’s window so people could watch while waiting for the bus. In the space of sidewalk between Counterpath and Los Paisanos, the border, McInroy projected quotes from her interviews. Presented bilingually, the lines of Spanish and English run mirrored to each other, ships passing.
“It’s not a perfect project, but it did something,” McInroy said. “It took the art outside, instead of asking people to come into a space they maybe feel weird about going into.”
In what McInroy dryly calls “a small irony,” the building Counterpath and Los Paisanos share was sold last month. The border that caught McInroy’s attention is in a state of flux as Los Paisanos, and possibly Counterpath as well, are forced to find new homes.
“This is all part of a story on ongoing development,” said McInroy. “The situation encompasses a lot: a growing art scene in Denver and a growing immigrant community. Things are happing at national level with immigration and Denver is booming in terms of development, which means change is going to happen.”
Though Cruzados has closed, Picture Me Here, an exhibition of photography by refugees from Bhutan who now live in Denver, which McInroy helped put together is on view at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center through December 20. You can catch new work from McInroy starting January 9 at Ice Cube Gallery.
[Still from time-lapse video of the Los Paisanos bus stop.]