Hope Mora
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Essay by Jason Reed 

Co-founder and director of Borderland Collective and Associate Professor of Photography at Texas State University, 2020

Pecos, Texas has for most of its life been a place in-between here and there. It is flat, hot, and dusty with little geological dimension save for the scrub brush that dots the endless horizon. The much-mythologized Pecos River cuts through the windswept plains east of town. Follow that river and the Texas/Mexico border is just a few hours south.

Yet unlike many of the rural towns that have faded away in an ever-increasing urbanized age, Pecos sits on the Permian Basin—a massive geological formation stretching across parts of West Texas and Eastern New Mexico that is exceedingly rich with oil and gas. 
Pecos, ostensibly in the middle of nowhere, is in fact part of the epicenter of the global energy market. The town and its people provide the labor and support structures for this multi-billion dollar oil industry.

In Hope Mora’s Pecos Eagles, we see the many layers of this small but complex geography, mostly through affirmative portraits of the people that live there and make up the community: a young girl dressed in an Elsa costume stands in the middle of a rodeo ring; two teens wearing Pecos Eagles t-shirts stand firm, gazing back at us, as a pink West Texas sunset drifts away on the horizon; a woman with turquoise boots stands in the late afternoon sun against her dump truck, likely used for hauling kaliche or water to the oil fields.

This is where Hope’s work is crucial in composing a more nuanced and complete understanding of rural America, which is largely depicted in both politics and contemporary photography as a white melancholic space from another time. Hope is from Pecos and much of her family is still there. She knows the rituals of life in the small town, has witnessed the economic shifts of the oil boom/bust cycle, and knows that it is the labor and resilience of the Latina/o population that forms the structural web of Pecos, as is true in many rural towns from the oil fields of West Texas to the meatpacking towns of the Midwest. Instead of tired and superficial depictions of rural life, Hope invites us to hold dialogue with a multiplicity of characters in the interludes of their daily lives. These pictures are not about struggle but about pride, joy, and celebration of family and community.

Teju Cole writes, “A photographic portrait records a human encounter. The photographer’s intent and the sitter’s agreement, and vice versa, are made visible. The portrait also contains the tacit hope that a third party, the viewer, will be able to register the traces of that previous encounter.” In Pecos Eagles, we are left not only with clues about the people and their jobs, environments, and relationships to each other, but most significantly we are left with a sense of the respect Hope has for these individuals, their place in her own life, and their importance in articulating a more complete the story of a real America.

“There’s not much to do,” is the overall attitude when I ask la gente de Pecos how they would describe our home to someone who’s never been here. “It’s dry, hot, and dusty.” They’re right. Another common denominator is, “Everyone knows each other and we come together like family when times are rough. It’s home.”

Pecos has inspired my work as an artist for as long as I can remember. Memories as a Pecos Eagle. The broken beer bottle glass covering the land of dry caliche dirt in my parent’s neighborhood. Tamales from La Norteña, bbq kick backs, menudo, and snow cones. The sounds of loud air conditioners and quiet streets. Cruising around the park, eddy and cedar street. Repeat. A place that is boring, but full of love.

I’m proud to be from Pecos, and every image I make is out of love and celebration for the place I call home. Thank you to mi familia, friends, and everyone in Pecos who welcomed me to take your picture.

Excerpt from My Love Letter to Pecos,in Pecos Enterprise Newspaper, Hope Mora, 2020

Pecos Rodeo
The Pecos rodeo is a significant cultural event for my community, and I wanted to photograph some of the women and events during my regular visits to Texas. I photographed some of the young girls from West Texas Dandies, a small group of horse riders that kick off performances in dazzling costumes, carrying sponsor flags. Citi Serrano stands with her hand on one hip looking into the sun in her bedazzled vest, silver chaps, and cowgirl hat. A photograph can never capture how shiny and bright the Dandies’ costumes sparkled in the sun.

I have kept in touch with Sylvia Muela, a lead member of the West Texas Escaramuza Flor del Desierto Riders, since we met at the 2019 Pecos Rodeo Parade. She invited me to take posed photos of her family and other members of her escaramuza team at her home ranch and private rodeo grounds where she keeps her horses, chickens, and cats. The Flor del Desierto Riders, like many escaramuza riders, wear beautiful, colorful traditional dresses. At her ranch, we waited for her team of young girls to arrive with their parents, friends, and brothers. I took pictures of Vane Baeza, a three/four year old little girl dressed in an Elsa costume with a blonde wig, while the members changed into their dresses and prepped their horses.