LUKE SWENSON – Portland, Oregon

Atascosa Borderlands
In 2017, documentary photographer Luke Swenson and ecologist Jack Dash began studying a remote section of the Coronado National Forest in southern Arizona known as the Atascosa Highlands. What began as a botanical survey, developed into a long-term visual storytelling project documenting this rarely seen stretch of the US-Mexico border. Atascosa Borderlands brings together over 250 original film photographs, historical images, and floral specimens, along with found artifacts, maps, interviews, and essays. Our ongoing project explores the complex cultural history, and ecological significance of this notoriously rugged landscape, uncovering its use as a migratory and smuggling route, documenting recent border wall construction, and investigating the historical context for border enforcement infrastructure in the Atascosas and how human activity threatens to reshape this biological paradise forever. By zooming in on a very small corner of the borderlands, we hope to proliferate a more nuanced understanding of this community and effect positive change across the US-Mexico borderlands.

With the support of this project development grant through CENTER, we will complete a series of oral history interviews and long-term photo essays with key community members in the Atascosas and complete the first-ever annotated flora of the Tumacacori Ecosystem Management area of the Coronado National Forest. Crucial ecological work that will help our project foster a better understanding of the incredible flora and fauna that call this unique sky islands ecosystem home.

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