Photographer: Alejandro Cartagena (born Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic & resides Monterrey, Mexico)
The Velvet Cell: Berlin (Germany) copyright 2017
Essays by Ximena Peredo
Pair of books; hard cover, embossed exposed boards, sewn and taped binding, and a stiff cover, saddle stitch, both four-color lithography, Edition of 450, signed and numbered, printed in Taiwan
Photobook designers: Alejandro Cartagena, Fernando Gallegos & Eanna de Freine.
Notes: I was fortunate to meet up with Alejandro Cartagena while he was visiting in Los Angeles for his exhibition opening shortly after the release of this book. Part of his artistic practice is to document what interests him and allow that body of work to accumulate over time to speak to him.
He has been watching the urban sprawl that transforms open country side into suburbia which eventually is assimilated by every the expanding cities. Mexico, as in the In the United States, when freeways, railways and other public works have been determined to be necessary by the city planners, this construction takes precedent over individual land ownership and rights, the eminent domain rules are evoked.
Thus a nice home or thriving business may find itself beset with an emerging and unplanned esthetic, if not economic, crisis. Regretfully this is not a new cultural issue and photographically this type of social-economic urban transformation was documented by Atget in Paris as early as the late 1800’s.
Once a back yard that was open to the neighbors, now has a view transpired to that of the freeway wall or into a highway underpass. With the proximity of a new roadway is the accompanying noise, traffic, litter and related personal safety concerns of a high traffic location. All for the greater good or as stated by Cartagena, “Their view is a permanent view of “progress””.
The publication is divided into five chapters, four of these in the larger book, the fifth in the smaller accompanying book; The Road you Take, The Dispossessed, Where to Cross, Structural Corruption and Epilogue. The viewer is taken on an irregular journey of the landscape of change, the social impact of the resulting changes, ugly personal overpasses meant to help resolve the social changes and the closed walls of the city planners the implied blindness to the changes that are either contemplating or implementing. The Epilogue has gruesome images of people who have been hung from the overpasses, which are difficult images to look at, images that have more tolerance in being displayed in the Mexican media, but perhaps no more terrible than the new man-made urban landscape that is subtly attacking the social fabric.
In conclusion from an interview of Cartagena with Eanna de Freine; “The new infrastructure needs to be built and nothing will stand in its way. No house, business or group of people. It cuts through the landscape and urbanscape to impose its progress. There is a power in infrastructure. Power imposes things on those without power… I was also interested in showing how the new eats up what was there before, i.e. the buildings, advertisements, roads and parking lots. The new infrastructure doesn’t care for anyone but itself.”
Other books reviewed include: Rivers of Power, Before the War, and Carpoolers
Cheers, Douglas Stockdale