FALFURRIAS, TX - MAY 22: An anthropology student digs to reach the remains of suspected undocumented immigrants while exhuming bodies from a gravesite on May 22, 2013 in Falfurrias, Brooks County, Texas. In Brooks County alone, at least 129 immigrants perished in 2012, most of dehydration while making the long crossing from Mexico. Teams from Baylor University and the University of Indianapolis are exhuming the bodies of more than 50 immigrants who died, mostly from heat exhaustion, while crossing illegally from Mexico into the United States. The bodies will be examined and cross checked with DNA sent from Mexico and Central American countries, with the goal of reuniting the remains with families. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Memorial Day, memes and immigration: Catching up with John Moore

May 28, 2013 | By Maria Dias | Behind The Lens

In 2007, Getty Images photographer John Moore took a photo of Mary McHugh, who lay beside her fiancé’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery. Since then, the award winning photo and the story behind it have become our most-viewed post on the Getty Images blog, with more than 50,000 views and many thoughtful comments.

John was on his way to the airport in Texas when we caught up by phone; this is what he had to say about the photo and what he’s up to these days.


What are you working on now?


With immigration reform such a top story, I’ve spent much of this year following immigration and border security issues in the U.S. and Mexico. I am doing this project in both still photos and video, which I believe helps me tell the story in a more thorough way, and which I hope will benefit our clients as well, who are using so much multimedia online.


I’ve come to the Texas-Mexico border (two trips) and spent several weeks in Arizona, both with the U.S. Border Patrol and with undocumented immigrants imprisoned and, in some cases, deported. In Colorado, I spent time with immigrants working in construction and followed a health organization that brings medical care to immigrants who have no health insurance. In New York I spent time photographing new Americans who are just now going through the naturalization process, and those photos are very joyous.


Now, back in Texas, I have been photographing a team of forensic anthropologists from Baylor University, who are exhuming the remains of immigrants who died in Brooks County, Texas, while making the crossing from Mexico. They are using the DNA from the remains to try to reconnect families with their deceased relatives.


What have you learned?

You can see that people are still willing to take incredible risks to live and work in the USA. And oftentimes, especially here in Texas, people have made the ultimate sacrifice in trying to benefit their families. In 2012, 129 deaths were recorded (in one Texas county alone – Brooks County), immigrants who died making their way across the Rio Grande, through Texas. It’s as extraordinary as it is heartbreaking.


Hopefully these pictures help people to know what is happening there.

They are powerful photographs. Let’s talk a little about another thought-provoking image you shot, in 2007 when you were visiting Arlington National Cemetery. This past weekend, the blog post you wrote about taking that photo received thousands of views, and the image itself was even made into a much-talked-about internet meme.  What have you heard from people since taking that photo?

Many people have been interested in the image and what it represents. And exactly what that photo represents is different to different people with different perspectives.

For some people it represents love, for other people it’s an anti-war photo, to others it’s a patriotic image.


What does it represent to you?

My thoughts were a sad yet deeply touching, beautiful homage to love and loss in a time of war. This is an age old theme, represented in art for thousands of years. While I wouldn’t refer to this particular image as art, the themes present are common to both photography and the art world.

When photojournalists are doing our job well, we try to make poignant photographs and often at the most difficult times of our subjects’ lives. And our very presence is always going to be an intrusion on some level. The fact that I was able to go speak with Mary McHugh in the moments before I took this picture and talk with her, that helped me feel like this was less of an intrusion for her.

There are times when we have to photograph first and ask questions later, or the moments will slip away. But in this instance, it was not the case.

I try to have a connection to the people I photograph and I think that was the case here.


Editor’s note: John Moore is an award-winning Getty Images photographer based in New York. See more of his work at gettyimages.com.

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