In the leadup to ArtPrize Nine, we're catching up with artists who've won grants to bring their work to the event this fall through the series, "5 Questions with...".

Today we're hearing from Tom Kiefer, an Arizona-based artist who won an Artist Seed Grant to bring "El Sueño Americano (The American Dream)" to ArtPrize Nine. Read on to learn more about this project, what inspires him, and more.

1. Describe the project you’re making for ArtPrize. What will visitors see?

After having lived most of my adult life in Los Angeles, in 2001 I moved to  Ajo, Arizona -- a small, former copper mining town near the Mexico border -- to fully throw myself into fine art photography and to learn and understand the creative process. Needing income, I took a part-time job as a janitor at a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol facility. I worked there for 11 years. Around my fourth year, I asked for and was given permission to collect the food the migrants carried with them in their backpacks as they crossed the desert. It was when I started collecting the food from the trash that I saw for the first time what was also being thrown away. What visitors will see is what I retrieved from the trash: the deeply personal effects and belongings migrants chose to carry with them to start or continue their life in the United States. During the time I was allowed to collect the food, I brought in over 60 tons to our local community food bank.

2. How does this piece fit into your past work? Is this an extension of an existing body of work, or something new?

My photographic work was semi-documentary, traveling whenever I could with my medium format Pentax film camera, Gitzo tripod and black and white film. Walker Evans and Wright Morris I held in high regard. It was also loosely akin to Robert Franks “The Americans” but with rarely a person in the frame. I would consider “El Sueño Americano (The American Dream)” an extension of my earlier work, albeit radically different in its presentation with bold colors and taking place inside the studio.

3. What’s your favorite artwork (by someone else) and why?

The one piece that continues to find a place on a shelf, wall or leaning up against, is easy to move and has turned out to be very personal. It is "untitled" by Robert Cavolina, a small slab of half-inch thick concrete with a cyanotype style image of a human body printed on it.

4. What inspires and informs your practice besides other art? What do you pay attention to? What do you research?

Music is a great influence. is a rich and informative site for stunning and wonderfully diverse photography from all around the world.

5. What is your dream project?

I’m not sure. I might be working on it right now.

By Kevin Buist on