Customs: Collected and Dumped


This brilliant exhibit flows from photographer Thomas Kiefer’s decade as a part-time janitor at a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Facility in Arizona. Disturbed by the volume of discarded food, clothing and belongings of migrants and smugglers – some after seizure by immigration and customs, the rest simply left behind – he began cataloging the items in this series of powerful still lifes.


Kiefer says that “for many of those years, I was allowed to collect and take the food transported by migrants, that was discarded during the first stages of processing, to our community food bank, an estimated sixty tons by the person who managed it.”


“The personal effects and belongings were another matter: Why would someone throw away a rosary or bible? Why would someone throw away a wallet? Why would a pair of shoes, for all intents and purpose “brand new” be tossed in the trash?”


Kiefer says that “how we treat others is a reflection of who we are. When belts, shoelaces, toothbrushes, socks, shoes, underwear, pants, shirts, jackets, watches, bibles, wallets, coins, cell phones, keys, jewellery, calling-cards, water, food, soap, deodorant, gloves, medicine, birth control pills, blankets and rosaries are considered non-essential personal property and discarded, regardless of the amount and origin, something becomes less than human.”



The exhibition El Sueno Americano – The American Dream runs April 18 to June 19 in Gilbert, Arizona.

See Thomas Kiefer’s full portfolio here.

1 reply »

  1. This utterly fascinates me. Some of the photos remind me of what I saw touring Auschwitz in 2014, which is a whole other level of horror compared with this. At least these people lived … I hope.


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