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Zoe Leonard, supervising the supervisors


With Al rio / To the River presented at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, the photographer invites us to take a close look at the political question of migration to the United States and human constructions in relation to nature. A very strong visual and narrative advocacy that gives all its letters of nobility to photography.

Zoe Leonard spent about three weeks hanging this exhibition, which takes up residence in the west of Paris, at the Museum of Modern Art. Proof of the care she has taken in this work, Al rio / To the River, begun in 2016 and takes on the aspect of a long journey along the river, the Rio Bravo, the one that separates the United States and Mexico.

The photographer criss-crosses the shores and tracks down American police presence. Here and there, on a myriad of black and white images, we discover the vehicles of the “border patrol” in as many white dots which dominate the photographed space. On others, it is the related constructions that appear clearly: barbed wire, steel walls and watchtowers. “The changing nature of the river – which periodically overflows, changes course and digs new channels – is at odds with the political function it should accomplish,” notes Zoe Leonard in the introductory text, the only textual element to read in the exhibition.

Cactus flowers

Thus we stroll in front of populated or depopulated landscapes, with constructions or voids of human presence, like a long tracking shot of cinema which leads us all along this vast river and brings out its central elements, including the animals which live there. In silence, in an almost religious observation, we discover the effects of human colonization on the territory, also those of American migration policies and the ecological problems that all this entails. “It’s an exhibition made for patient visitors,” says Zoe Leonard. In fact, you have to hunt down the details yourself and if you make the effort to really look into it, you become like the supervisor of supervisors, spotting the car of the “border patrol”nestled in the landscape or such and such a construction aimed at preventing Mexican migrants from coming into the United States.

By superimposing almost identical views taken within a few seconds, Zoe Leonard also raises the question of the photographic medium: how the latter is a tool allowing us to identify the inconsistencies of our world and how it can be deployed in multiple ways, what is on and off camera range, how can one image can hide another…? At two moments, as if to breathe life into this hanging, the photographer placed color photographs, cactus flowers and whirlpools in the river, which also show the beauty of this territory despite the sometimes very sad human developments. This is why this project is a complete success which embraces all the impressions received in front of this river and which makes the viewer intelligent, forcing him to look to the details or question the photographer’s frame – what can we see and what escapes us?

Jean-Baptiste Gauvin


Zoe Leonard : Al rio / To the River
October 15, 2022 – January 29, 2023
Musée d’art modern de Paris
11 Avenue du Président Wilson
75116 Paris, France

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