Essay by Jason Reed Co-founder and director of Borderland Collective
and Associate Professor of Photography at Texas State University.
Founded in the 1880s as a waystation along strenuous cattle drives that shuttled steer from South Texas to northern markets, 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. The town itself is composed mostly of working class people of color, most of whom have either direct or ancestral roots in Mexico (before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 this region was part of Mexico).
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. The basin consistently churns out 4.2 million barrels of oil per day mostly through fracking. 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, complete with the long blonde wig, 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 story of a real America.