I first saw Cartagena’s work in 2013 at the Kopeikin Gallery booth at a San Francisco art fair. They are particularly powerful when arranged in a grid form. – Erika
ALEJANDRO CARTAGENA’S “CAR POOLERS”
To start, I am a big fan of Alejandro Cartagena’s photographs. In his recent series Car Poolers, he documents and captures construction workers carpooling to and from work. Compositionally, they are compelling and even painterly. Often displayed in a grid at the Kopeikin Gallery, each photograph feels just as powerful when together as when they are apart.
Cartagena takes photographs in Monterrey, Mexico, documenting parts of everyday life there that he sees as depicting “a global issue from a local perspective.” In a town that has a relatively new, booming construction market, Cartagena decided to document a side of the day laborers’ lives that might not often be seen: the commute to and from work at various construction sites.
With a bird’s eye view over the trucks commuting to and from work, Cartagena captures images of laborers carpooling in the back of pickup trucks – in a variety of different forms and positions: hidden and outright, sleeping and awake, looking directly at the camera and looking away, and so forth.
The view from above offers Cartagena’s photographs something unique – partially we as viewers are posed and posited as voyeurs. When Cartagena captures images of people who are trying to hide from being seen, we are then in a strange position – one that is both intriguing and embarrassing. It also serves almost as an x-ray might in a medical office, opening up our eyes to a world of possibilities as one thinks of all of the trucks and vehicles that pass by us everyday, with unknown precious cargo hidden within the walls and confines of the truck bed.
Cartagena looks to these carpoolers as a testament to the workers, who in his own words, “are staying honest and legit.” Regardless, I find Cartagena’s photographs to be compositionally beautiful and conceptually relevant.
He has another ongoing photography series and project called “Landscape as Bureaucracy” wherein he examines the dream of owning a house and its perils in contemporary Mexico. These series speak to one another in many ways, as Monterrey is said to have seen 360,000 plus new homes arise in and around the city in just the six years he has been documenting the phenomenon. And there is something deeply personal and profound in Cartagena’s photographs, whether they are landscapes or portraits. – Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, editor, and writer.