Born in Wichita, Kansas, fine art photographer Tom Kiefer was raised primarily in the Seattle area and worked in Los Angeles as a graphic designer. Kiefer moved to Ajo, Arizona in December 2001 to fully develop and concentrate his efforts in studying and photographing the urban and rural landscape and the cultural infrastructure of the United States.
Beginning in July 2003, he started working part-time as a janitor at a nearby U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facilty. A few years later when given permission to collect the food migrants and asylum seekers carried with them when crossing the desert he also found personal belongings seized and discarded by officials. Kiefer resigned in August 2014 to work on photographing and documenting these items full time.
The migrants’ belongings, necessary for hygiene, comfort, and survival, were deemed “non-essential” or “potentially lethal.” Kiefer commemorates the untold stories these objects embody in photographs akin to portraits, preserving traces of human journeys cut short.