The set is simple: a little fabric, a chair, maybe some flowers. Its inhabitants are more complex: an American mother who takes her children to visit their Mexican father every weekend. A recent deportee trying to rebuild his life. They pause what they’re doing, sit for a portrait, and leave with a printed copy. Behind the camera is Alexia Webster, a South African photographer who sets up street studios around the world. At Studio Transfronterizo, her project in Tijuana, Mexico, passing characters offer a glimpse of life on the world’s busiest land border.
Every day nearly 100,000 people—commuters, students, visitors—legally cross from Tijuana to San Diego, California, at the San Ysidro border. Webster built her first studio in Tijuana near a café where new arrivals often stop for legal advice and a free lunch. She set up a half dozen more in the city: at a migrant shelter, on the beach where the border fence ends, in the Undocumented Café near the binational Friendship Park.
Passersby who asked what she was doing often sat for a portrait. Lourdes Santiago González posed with her daughter, Brenda. She’d arrived decades earlier with her family to cross the border but after multiple failed attempts had stayed in Tijuana. At each set, lines of people waited: a former gang member deported from California. A celebrity impersonator performing on the nightclub circuit. Migrants from Honduras and El Salvador en route to the United States.