David Pace | Part 2: The Road of Return

May 26, 2016 11:40PM

The red dirt road that runs just outside of the village of Bereba in Burkina Faso bears the marks of the many tires, feet, and hooves that transverse the path daily on their way to and from work in the nearby fields. The immediate landscape is eclipsed by the shrubs that line the thoroughfare, creating the illusion that the sky and road converge into a liminal universe where everyone is in a constant state of coming and going.

Since 2007, David Pace has himself been in a constant state of coming and going. Even while he is at his home in Los Altos, a clean modern structure that speaks to his penchant for simplicity and order, he is thinking about Burkina Faso. He spends most of his time in California editing the thousands of photos he takes each visit, and preparing for his return trip. He restructured his life so that he can spend at least one to two months each year back in Bereba, a village of around 5,000 people which he has come to think of as a second home. He is a man split between two very different worlds that only seem to come together within the space of his own life.

The road in question goes by the front of the house Pace stays at during his months in Africa. The road photographs, a series which Pace calls Sur La Route, came about from evenings of standing in his own doorway—a stoop per se—as his neighbors passed by. At first he was the one who initiated the portraits, but over time people would actively seek him out, even dressing up for the occasion, knowing Pace would be waiting to photograph them. 

Sur La Route 9486, 2013
Wirtz Art

In some of the images, such as that of a man with his hat cocked in a manner that could only be characterized as "jaunty," the familiarity between Pace and the person is clear—or maybe its just the man's relaxed nature. In another photograph, a young girl looks confidently into the camera, her face focused and powerful. She appears larger-than-life, an impression that is maximized by the electric sky behind her. 

Sur La Route 8322, 2012
Wirtz Art
Sur La Route 8275, 2013
Wirtz Art

For the first time in his career, Pace incorporated a flash into his practice, given that he was taking most of the photos at or just before dusk. The effect is almost otherwordly as the bright colors worn by many of the villagers are intensified, complementing the naturally neon light of the sky at sunset. When all is said and done, the portraits appear more like photos of rock stars, set against a unreal background, than of people in a place that has no electricity or running water. 

The road that the villagers go to and from may be much smaller than the international road—which includes planes, car rides, and mass transportation and runs between Burkina Faso and Los Altos—but the two roads mirror one another. Both Pace and the Villagers depend on either road to reach their lives' work, be it subsistence farming, or photography. It is a cyclical road, a road with no end to be reached, a road of departures and a road of return.  

—Harper Brokaw-Falbo