DPP Home Profiles Don Bartletti: Movements of Sand

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Don Bartletti: Movements of Sand

As an L.A. Times photojournalist and a longtime resident of Southern California, Don Bartletti immerses himself in the lives and the stories of the U.S.-Mexico border

This Article Features Photo Zoom

A Mexican Army soldier and officers from the Ciudad Juárez police cover the body of Daniel Chavez, one of six victims of a violent crime in this border city south of El Paso, Texas. Chavez was reportedly with the Aztecas drug gang and was gunned down in a drive-by assault.
As a photojournalist, Bartletti understands how writers felt when the printing press came onto the scene. “I love it,” he exclaims, “because instead of two or three photos accompanying the story in the paper, we can run a page or slideshow with dozens of photos.” You can see how this plays out in the Times multimedia features on www.latimes.com. Not only has he snapped some of the most engaging photos of immigration, border communities and the drug war, but Bartletti has turned them into compelling narratives that can be posted online and linked to the paper’s ongoing news coverage.

“The Fire Within,” a multimedia project produced by Bartletti, tells the story of 12 migrants who died in a desert fire that overcame them as they tried to cross the border alone or with their families. The feature is one of the single biggest projects he has worked on, following the families of the victims for more than a year. He attended funerals, met with survivors as they struggled with rehabilitation covered in scars and bandages, and joined the family of Areli Peralta in the dusty hills near the border to place three white crosses into the dry, unforgiving and stubborn soil.

Bartletti’s collection of photographs is rich and diverse after a long career behind the camera, but only one photo from “Enrique’s Journey” hangs in his home: the boy and girl racing the train in Chiapas. “The train was rocking so violently; the migrants call it ‘the iron worm.’ Suddenly, out from a grove of coffee and bananas came this horse, and it started galloping alongside us and then it was clear it was racing us. It shows one of the few moments of true joy on the journey, as the migrants cheered on the horse.”

Bartletti chose a slow shutter speed because the horse with children mounted on its back kept even with the train. The effect is a ghostly image of a boy, a girl, a horse and a blur of green. Subdued now from the excitement of having just shared the story behind the shot, he reflects, “Photography is an amazing way to preserve life, and the fleeting moment of this picture is so rich with importance and beauty. It’s the best way to record life.

“Photographs are the only true ghosts,” he adds.

Bartletti is a man who has placed himself in the middle of the world’s most complicated, most heated, most dangerous and most exciting situations. How does this story end?

“With an exposé on the movements of sand,” Bartletti replies, “exploring how they shape and change the finest resort beaches of the world.”

Clearly, there won’t be that dwindling end to the story of a man who has been so entwined with his work. A man who lives the story behind the camera never stops observing and always will have a story to tell in colors and shadows. Don Bartletti dreams of telling us of the movement, but his pictures have laid out that story for decades already.

Don Bartletti is a photojournalist and staff photographer with the Los Angeles Times. He joined the Times in 1983 after a six-year run with the San Diego Union-Tribune. In 2003, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for “Enrique’s Journey: The Boy Left Behind,” a profile of a young Honduran boy and his quest to join his mother in the United States. Bartletti collaborated with Times staff writer Sonia Nazario for the project.


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