But no amount of paint can disguise what the barrier represents. San Martin’s subjects, many of whom show up every weekend, have called the meetings with their loved ones “bittersweet.” Up close, they can see—but not touch—their family members. From farther away, San Martin’s photographs show only the shadows of those on the U.S. side, creating unsettling images.
When San Martin first visited Friendship Park, she was shocked by it. She took the first photo of the series then, too—of a man between a thatch of palm fronds, speaking to family members through the painted wall. Since then, she has witnessed family reunions, Mother’s Day visits, quinceañeras, and weddings in Friendship Park. Her images are for her subjects, as well, such as a pastor and his wife who asked her to take their wedding photos in front of the wall; they had been deported, and their families—including their children—remained in the U.S.
Recently, visiting the American side has become harder, with less space and more regulation, according to San Martin. But even without the stricter rules, the wall itself is an insurmountable divider. “The separation is so physical, you can touch it,” she said.