Steep, arid river banks in Big Bend; vast, open spaces with trains running through them; lines of containers waiting to move here or there — the large-format photographs of Victoria Sambunaris (American, b. 1964) depict the harsh climate and evidence of trade along the U.S.-Mexico border.
For more than a decade, Sambunaris has spent three to seven months a year traveling the United States with her five-by-seven wooden field camera and sheets of color negative film. Her most recent trek has taken her from Brownsville, Texas, to San Diego, Calif., and back, crossing the border at particular points along the way. Sambunaris’ focus is on the intersection of geology, politics, and culture; she looks intently at the landscape, collecting maps, geology books, and reference material along with mineral specimens, journals, and road logs throughout her journey.
The photos capture buildings and landscapes as she finds them. Sambunaris is inspired by vast open spaces documented by 19th-century photographer William Henry Jackson, and her photos capture a powerful stillness reminiscent of Jackson’s work. Architecture has been an important thread throughout her work. “It was my architecture friends in graduate school who told me to go to Texas,” said Sambunaris. “It has been a big subject matter for me. It is the state where I have traveled the most.”
The Río Grande River plays a prominent role in the photographs of the state, as do trade, industry, and transportation. From 2009 to 2010, Sambunaris’ photographs explored the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on the international border; her work in 2011 focused on wildfires in West Texas. She is currently developing a series on the presence of the energy industry along the Texas Gulf Coast.
Sambunaris is a professor of architectural photography at the Yale School of Architecture and is represented by the Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York. Her photos of Pollen Architecture and Design’s studio in East Austin will be featured in the March/April issue of Texas Architect magazine.
This article is expanded content for Texas Architect January/February 2014.