Click here for a short video interview with the photographer.
I BEGAN THIS SERIES TEN YEARS AGO in rural Kenya. When I started photographing, I thought I was working on a localized story about how HIV was destroying African society. Over the years, as I broadened my travels to China and Mexico, I began to see similarities in the composition of villages wherever I went. Only later did I fully realize that the quiet moments I documented in the African bush, Mexican plains, and majestic Chinese mountains represented small pieces of a great shift.
According to the United Nations, Asia’s urban population will increase by more than a billion people in the next twenty years. Africa’s urban centers will grow by more than 300 million. And Latin America and the Caribbean will see 200 million leave their ancestral lands for new urban homes.
In Kenya, the villages where I lived were eroding day by day. With so many people falling to HIV, houses and huts were falling, too. I stood on the dry, red, Kenyan earth, beside the graves of some of the last people who would have an unbroken link to the land where they sang, loved, fought — lived. I felt that something elemental, an inherent poetry of our collective existence, was disappearing. I wanted to capture as much of this as I could before it, too, vanished.
Across the Atlantic, just outside of Mexico City in a rundown industrial zone called Lechería, I spent an afternoon with a group of Central American teens who had left their villages and families and were riding the rails north to the United States. At heart they did not want to leave all that they had known since birth, but they all told me they would rather risk their lives riding the trains than stay where they were, with no outlet for their ambitions and desires. They hungered for a freedom that transcended everything.
The trains moved slowly through Lechería. In the distance their lights were dim like far-off, faded planets. As a train approached, it gathered speed, the light became steadier, the rumble of the engines deeper, more intense. The migrants call the train The Beast. As The Beast drew closer, it was as if it sent a wave of energy down the tracks and directly into the young migrants’ veins. In an instant, a spark ignited, and their brooding, fear, and grief disappeared. All that mattered was to get on the train and keep moving.