critics choice de circuit gallery/ lo que no se ve en la fotografía de alejandro cartagena por salvador alanis/ march 3rd, 2010

una preocupación común en la expresión contemporánea es reflejar con un lenguaje directo lo que no se puede ver de forma inmediata. ante la evidencia y obscenidad de los medios, al artista se le presenta la alternativa de jugar con los mismos valores de una articulación formal que pretende mostrarlo todo para referirse a lo que subyace en la imagen. dentro de lo aparentemente cotidiano, el artista presenta un subtexto que trasciende la formalidad. alejandro cartagena (república dominicana, 1977), juega con los valores formales de la fotografía documental para subvertir el discurso y señalar la discontinuidad en lo que vemos retratado. para cartagena, el llamado fotodocumento es una herramienta valiosa para la expresión personal, o como lo dijera el crítico de fotografía mexicano josé antonio rodríguez, significa el trabajo de “la circunstancia externa como pulsión individual” (28).
 
en principio, cartagena, quien reside en méxico, participa de la tradición fotográfica mexicana que toma el paisaje como objetivo principal para estructurar su discurso. dicha tradición se ha actualizado a lo largo de las diferentes generaciones, integrando las preocupaciones correspondientes a la época. en el caso del trabajo de cartagena, el punto de partida evidente es el reflejo de las diversas transformaciones del paisaje, las marcas que dejan los diferentes estadios de las ciudades, las cicatrices del crecimiento y actividad humanas. por eso, en primera instancia la lectura del trabajo de cartagena es sin lugar a dudas relacionado con la responsabilidad ambiental, el desgaste del entorno, la multiplicación casi absurda de la mancha urbana sobre terrenos naturales mancillados.
 
cartagena muestra en sus series fotográficas sobre la suburbia mexicana diferentes manifestaciones del desarrollo de las grandes metrópolis, basándose en el crecimiento de monterrey, la tercera ciudad más grande de méxico. cartagena toma la inserción de la ciudad a partir de viviendas en serie en la periferia inhabitada; dibuja el paso de las vías rápidas sobre espacios parafuncionales; da fe de la desaparición de los ríos al abastecer de agua las ciudades. la serie que cartagena expone en circuit gallery, lost rivers, sigue la premisa documental que denuncia el daño ecológico que la ciudad infringe a las redes fluviales; muestra de arroyos y ríos secos de una forma visualmente muy afortunada. sin embargo, más allá de esta preocupación evidente acerca del fenómeno, el documento pone de manifiesto instancias adicionales que pueden escaparse si solamente nos atenemos a lo eminentemente anecdótico del trabajo. las fotografías de alejandro cartagena se centran en el registro de la discontinuidad, a partir de poner en evidencia espacios perdidos o mecanismos de sobreposición. lo que importa en el trabajo a la vez paisajístico y documental de cartagena es lo que no está, el elemento faltante. la falta se da como un encuentro formal, pero también como expresiones de la violencia. la discontinuidad genera un subtexto hacia lo antifuncional, aquello de lo que solamente queda el rasgo y que al mismo tiempo nos hace ver lo que realmente está en el paisaje. el crecimiento de la ciudad pone en evidencia lo faltante, el espacio inhabitable, lo perdido.
 
en otra serie del artista, llamada urban holes, cartagena registra lotes sin construcción, los cuales de una forma o de otra escapan al continuo de las calles. en symbolic layering, el artista muestra capas y huecos en pasos a desnivel. es lo que que no está lo que importa; lo que vemos es simulación, artificialidad, forma delirante que olvida espacios significativamente más importantes. la eficacia visual del trabajo de cartagena logra poner en el mismo plano lo que no está en la fotografía de una manera que si bien, desde una perspectiva documental podría apuntar a una cierta nostalgia, en un nivel más profundo no es la nostalgia lo que opera, sino la presencia manifiesta de lo que no se ve, con todo su poder y misterio.
 
rodríguez, josé antonio. “los procesos de la fotografía contemporánea mexicana”, huesca imagen. huesca: huesca imagen, 2004. 12-29.

alejandro cartagena’s new dystopia/ from design arts daily by peggy roalf/ tuesday march 9, 2010

photographer alejandro cartagena has taken the theme of suburban sprawl to a new level of visualization and power in a body of work entitled suburbia mexicana: cause and effect. shot over period of three years in his hometown of monterrey, mexico, the series focuses on disruption to the landscape, both physical and social, that has occurred as a result of overbuilding.
 
since 2001, the city has been transformed due to contradicting policies that have allowed developers to build more than 300,000 new houses in the metropolitan region. cartagena has recorded these monumental changes, with a vision that both heroic and poignant.
 
cartagena explains that, in the last twenty years, many local rivers and streams were “rerouted to dams to supply water for the nine cities of the metropolitan area of monterrey, or have dried out as suburbia’s new houses move closer, destroying vegetation that sheltered and preserved the riverbeds’ running water.”
 
in a race to put up cheap housing fast, the landscape has been urbanized before plans for efficient roadways, recreational parks and public transportation can be realized. as well as capturing the relentless march of uniform structures across an arid landscape, cartagena has also explored the hardships faced by the new inhabitants of what can truly be described as the new dystopia.
 
a finalist in aperture’s 2008 portfolio prize, the project was compared to “the monumental images of minor white and ansel adams, while simultaneously reaching further back to the landscape paintings of the hudson river school….cartagena’s deliberate play on these visual tropes renders the desecration of these landscapes aesthetically as well as ethically repugnant. this tension between romanticism and realism charges cartagena’s work with both the artist’s love for the landscape and his sadness at its destruction, rendering the photographs simultaneously paean and admonishing elegy.”

lost rivers, aperture portfolio prize finalist

the photographs in lost rivers by alejandro cartagena (b. 1977), which are part of a larger body of work entitled suburbia mexicana: cause and effect, interrogate the interdependence of humans and landscape in the face of urban expansion. although artists and activists alike have placed intense focus on the negative impact of urban sprawl since the 1960s, cartagena’s work is unique in its preoccupation with the subtler effects of suburban expansion, largely overlooked but indicative of significant, irrevocable change within a local ecosystem.
 
the city of monterrey, at the heart of the mexican state of nuevo león, is the third largest city in mexico, with a population of 3.8 million in the metropolitan region. as monterrey’s population expands outward from the city center, increased demand for water has necessitated the reallocation of the region’s limited resources. cartagena explains that, in the last twenty years, many local rivers and streams were “rerouted to dams to supply water for the nine cities of the metropolitan area of monterrey, or have dried out as suburbia’s approximately 300,000 new houses move closer, destroying vegetation that sheltered and preserved the riverbeds’ running water.” the images in lost rivers provide explicit evidence of botched urban development and inadequate economic policy, even as they reveal the beauty to be found within the spoiled landscapes.
 
formally, cartagena’s photographs recall the monumental images of minor white and ansel adams, while simultaneously reaching further back to the landscape paintings of the hudson river school. the photographs are steeped in the romantic tradition: sublime landscapes charged with glowing color and rich texture. cartagena’s sensitive handling of color is evident in his saturated palette, which blends bright green, sienna, and sky blue with the deeper grey and purple notes of tires, spray paint, and bags of litter. the sharply detailed images reveal the lush texture of a bank of swamp greens, as well as the oily surface of a rivulet in the morning light. in many romantic works, a central human presence unites the composition, serving as an emotional or inspirational keystone to the painting’s moral message. unlike these scenes, however, cartagena’s photographs are characterized by their focus on the traces of human presence—trash, graffiti marking a bridge, an empty riverbed—leaving the referent a vacuum.
 
cartagena’s deliberate play on these visual tropes renders the desecration of these landscapes aesthetically as well as ethically repugnant. this tension between romanticism and realism charges cartagena’s work with both the artist’s love for the landscape and his sadness at its destruction, rendering the photographs simultaneously paean and admonishing elegy. jb

suburbia mexicana; cause and effect by alfonso iracheta

the expansion of mexico’s cities seems to have no boundaries; virtually all of the almost 370 cities that make up the national urban system grow with very similar patterns. not to mention the 56 metropolitan areas that stand out among them, for their magnitude and because they grow not only within their territories, but they have united, merged, conurbated, with the populations of other municipalities.
 
it would seem that the “model of urban growth”, if what we are doing in mexico can be called that, is not only clearly unsustainable, but governments, businessmen and citizens replicate it day after day with no remorse at all, without feeling any shame for what they produce, without the risk -yet- of any complaint.
 
it would seem today that the mexican city evolved and “modernized” to turn into chaos. the reason is that it lacks an idea, a project, a commitment. it’s the result of the decisions of millions of citizens, organizations and companies without orchestration; without a conductor or a score.
 
the freedom of market and trade solemnly assumed at the washington consensus has had in mexico´s urban growth one of it’s most worthy representatives.
 
where is the government? who leads this unlimited and disorganized expansion? every day is more clear that mexico’s cities, most particularly in their suburban spaces, have fallen into misgovernment; the real estate markets -legal or illegal- are what drive the process, establish the rules and take us every day closer to what could be a failed urbanization. it’s necessary to state this clearly: the mexican government has failed in organizing the cities and making them grow with dignity.
 
a dilligent and intelligent observer such as alejandro cartagena lets us see the forms that this pattern of occupation of the outlying territory of mexico’s cities is producing and allows us to recognize it’s deep contradictions and consequences:
 
lost rivers: close to 90% of mexico’s hydraulic basins present various levels of pollution; standing out, predictably, those close to large human concentrations. but that’s not all; every river that crosses a city in mexico, with notable exceptions, has been polluted to the point of dissapearing it by hiding it -technically, engineers and politicians call it vaulting- with which we don’t solve the problem, we only take it out of public view, with the added advantage for politicians and investors that a road is built over it so more cars can circulate.
 
what has water done to mexicans? it seems like an extermination war. it began and had its most bloody battle in the valley of mexico, center and driving force of mexicanity and the entire nation. a cluster of beautiful interconnected lakes that covered 100,613.5 acres on the year 1824, had been reduced to 7,801 acres by the year 20001. basins like the one of the lerma-santiago river, which goes through a big part of mexico’s center, are immersed in a deep crisis, due not only to the limitless extraction of water, but also because of the growing pollution, to the point that in large metropolis like toluca, this river is clinically dead. the war for the water in mexico has begun and will have in the thirst of the cities the most violent legions that will do anything to have the vital liquid.
 
so? what’s the point of investigating, analyzing, denouncing, if the governments, the businessmen and the citizens don’t assume a responsible role; if we see that, year after year, the politicians fill their speeches with praises for nature, while at the same time they take away resources from the programs and the impunity in environmental crimes grows.
 
urban holes: what happens when real estate profit turns into a reason for the state to orient the growth of the cities?
 
what happens is that the “civitas” as a space for civility, for society, turns into merchandise; the private interest of the commerce of land and buildings predominates, and the community interest that shows in the spaces that are for everyone, the street, the boulevard, the plaza, the park or the buildings used for culture, entertainment, sports and all those services that, being public, should be guaranteed by the state to actually be public spaces, is pushed into the background.
 
what happens is that the vacant land within the perimeter of the cities has turned into a space for real estate speculation: as the urbanization moves forward and consolidates with everybody’s money -through public works, mainly-, my land’s price will magically “go up”, even though i did nothing to gain that benefit.
 
a consequence is the increase of urban holes, places surrounded by the necessary infrastructure: roads, water networks, systems of drainage and energy, that have cost a lot of effort to the society and are not effectively used, because the owners-speculators are, and will continue, waiting for the social subsidy for their land to reach the highest return possible.
 
what a terrible injustice; however, neither the city plans, nor the norms of the legislators, nor the acts of the rulers and the officials, much less the conscience of landowners and developers, have given any sign that this will be reversed in mexico’s cities. have the citizens and authorities realized that many mexican cities are already at risk of never getting to be consolidated, compact, walkable cities?
 
the city of chihuahua has over 12,350 empty acres within its urban area, and its authorities continue to approve more developments in the far outskirts; leon has on the order of 4,000 and so on; because of that, virtually every urban area has been filled with holes.
 
topographies of a fragmented city: housing policy in mexico has been, in the last decade, the most succesful of the public policies, according to it’s promoters and beneficiaries, that is, the government and housing and construction businessmen.
 
the pattern of mexico’s housing urbanization follows two trends:
 
the first one, promoted and designed by housing busienessmen and the government. dozens of of housing complexes on the cities’ surroundings, with no coordination; in the conurbated boroughs of the state of mexico with mexico city alone, more than 60 housing developments were built, totaling over 300,000 homes, on the six-year presidential period that ended in 2006.
 
however, mexico’s city has been seriously fragmented, fractured, divided. it’s painful to say it, but many are past the point of no return; the damage is done, and it is clear that once the city is built, it’s not possible to rebuild it.
 
all the housing complexes in all the cities have been set up where the real estate business will be profitable, not where the socio-environmental needs demand it. the result is a shapeless puzzle without the possibility of being put together; fractures that are not only territorial, but social and environmental. children and young people of low-income families that go out on the street and see houses left and right, houses and more houses; without the public spaces required by their age and condition; far away -in miles as well as costs- from the central city. what is their hope of a healthy life, personally and socially?
 
the second, promoted and carried out by the poorest people in the city, in front of the blind eye of politicians and officials.
 
the result is human settlements – no, hundreds of them can’t be called that, because they’re unworthy; they suffer the lack of dignity of poverty and the worst distribution of wealth in a society that squanders, and with a governemt that invests where the investments already are, leaving the destitute with no hope of improvement.
 
where are they? where they can; on dry riverbeds, on the infrastructures’ right of way, on lands that are steep or risky in any way, either because they flood, they have rock slides, they are geologically fractured or present any other dangers.
 
they make up another fractured pattern; another shapeless puzzle with no possibility of ever being put together. however, here’s not even the hand of the benefactor state or the investor and the developer. and it’s not here, because the land where they are is of no interest to any market but the illegal one; the one of the informal or the irregular, although in many mexican cities they represent more than half the population… who is the irregular then?

mexican suburbia; alejandro cartagena’s images: the depravation of the ordinary by gerardo montiel klint

i utopia
to alejandro cartagena (dominican republic, 1977), mexican suburbia encompasses four photographic series that are integrally connected, not necessarily in a sequential or narrative manner, although each one affects and detonates the others. topographies of a fragmented city, lost rivers, the other distance and urban holes are the specific titles of each portfolio with which cartagena attempts to define his particular mexican suburbia. the term suburbia = outlying residential neighborhoods refers us to the residential subdivision of ciudad satélite that was founded in 1957 northwest of mexico city’s metropolitan area, which master plan of projection and tracing was done in the planning workshop of the famous architect mario pani. based on the theory of organic urbanization, a fragmentation with economic autonomy was projected, with roads similar to the organic structure of a tree, and with avenues that would never interrupt their circulation with crossroads or traffic lights, but that in turn were connected with the metropolis by means of large highways, echoing the suburbs of the united states that used this concept of a peripheral city where it is not necessary to go downtown for anything except to work. due to a political block in 1962 the project didn’t become a reality with the original conception. pani himself considered it a failure due to the fragmenters’ eagerness to profit, and here ended the mexican utopia of keeping large woodlands respected and preserved, and huge agricultural and industrial areas and adjacent bodies of water that would give geographic and economic autonomy to the inhabitants of such a unique and futuristic habitable space.
topographies of a fragmented city is not just images of housing developments and projects, located several kilometers from the city of monterrey, nuevo león. cartagena’s images may evoke in a very distant manner the typological photographic studies of industrial architecture made by bernd and hilla becher (b. 1931; b. 1934, germany) starting in 1959. here, however, we identify in the same way the obsessive rigor of documenting. in cartagena’s case, the pulsion opposes the feat and fascination of the bechers. the predatory construction industry that hideously invades the mountain ranges, the irresponsible search for profits, the destruction of the environment, the aspirational dream of a house of one’s own, the political speeches of volatile welfare, the vertiginous demographic growth, the existential sentence of a mortgage loan, are cartagena’s leitmotif. overcrowdings with identical and monotonous housing projects seem made in a serialized production line, without caring if they have certain differences in design or colors that make them different, seem like a virus that has no cure and that will continue spreading over the basic need that nature used to represent and the respectable conditions of a roof of one’s own.
 
ii natura
 
landscape photography in mexico has been a history of praise, experimentation, contributions, renewals, reiterations, immobilities and declines. unquestionably, authors as chronologically distant as hugo brehme, charles b. waite, librado garcía, armando salas portugal, mariana yampolsky, david maawad or javier hinojosa, among others, are considered an obligatory reference in the presence of the humanist, direct, orthodox and classic but masterly look when dealing with mexico’s photographic landscape. the intervention/action in lourdes grobet’s landscapes in the eighties were more than unique and enriching. in the nineties, alfredo destefano and laura barrón approximated it and contrbuted to it in a mei utopia
 
to alejandro cartagena (dominican republic, 1977), mexican suburbia encompasses four photographic series that are integrally connected, not necessarily in a sequential or narrative manner, although each one affects and detonates the others. topographies of a fragmented city, lost rivers, the other distance and urban holes are the specific titles of each portfolio with which cartagena attempts to define his particular mexican suburbia. the term suburbia = outlying residential neighborhoods refers us to the residential subdivision of ciudad satélite that was founded in 1957 northwest of mexico city’s metropolitan area, which master plan of projection and tracing was done in the planning workshop of the famous architect mario pani. based on the theory of organic urbanization, a fragmentation with economic autonomy was projected, with roads similar to the organic structure of a tree, and with avenues that would never interrupt their circulation with crossroads or traffic lights, but that in turn were connected with the metropolis by means of large highways, echoing the suburbs of the united states that used this concept of a peripheral city where it is not necessary to go downtown for anything except to work. due to a political block in 1962 the project didn’t become a reality with the original conception. pani himself considered it a failure due to the fragmenters’ eagerness to profit, and here ended the mexican utopia of keeping large woodlands respected and preserved, and huge agricultural and industrial areas and adjacent bodies of water that would give geographic and economic autonomy to the inhabitants of such a unique and futuristic habitable space.
topographies of a fragmented city is not just images of housing developments and projects, located several kilometers from the city of monterrey, nuevo león. cartagena’s images may evoke in a very distant manner the typological photographic studies of industrial architecture made by bernd and hilla becher (b. 1931; b. 1934, germany) starting in 1959. here, however, we identify in the same way the obsessive rigor of documenting. in cartagena’s case, the pulsion opposes the feat and fascination of the bechers. the predatory construction industry that hideously invades the mountain ranges, the irresponsible search for profits, the destruction of the environment, the aspirational dream of a house of one’s own, the political speeches of volatile welfare, the vertiginous demographic growth, the existential sentence of a mortgage loan, are cartagena’s leitmotif. overcrowdings with identical and monotonous housing projects seem made in a serialized production line, without caring if they have certain differences in design or colors that make them different, seem like a virus that has no cure and that will continue spreading over the basic need that nature used to represent and the respectable conditions of a roof of one’s own.
 
iii legacy
 
one of the cornerstones of landscape photography was the appearance in 1987 of joel sternfeld’s american prospects. sternfeld would not only redefine an american photographic tradition by contributing new ways of depicting and conceiving the landscape, something heroical if we take into account the fact that it is taken over by carlton watkins, walker evans, minor white, william eggleston, robert frank or ansel adams, among others. sternfeld’s complex urban landscapes were a deep questioning of north america’s cultural and historical foundation, where a large part of his photographic body of work was done: north america’s suburbs. many of these images have served as inspiration for the creation of emblematic stories and movies by filmmakers such as sofia coppola, david lynch, sam mendes or wim wenders. understanding that sternfield opened the way for a new kind of photography with narrative-psychological implications, paving the way for people like jeff wall, andreas gursky, gregory crewdson or thomas struth, is no small thing. that’s why it shouldn’t be a surprise that in cartagena’s work there exists a clear influence by sternfield. however, cartagena has understood well that a photographic monster such as sternfield should not be flattered and imitated; he’s to be studied, admired and reinterpreted. alejandro cartagena is well aware of the fact that he’s not working under unique premises. in a globalized world the contact points between one author and another can be simply coincidences, as is the case of his production and the production of xavier ribas (barcelona, 1960). the important thing to understand here is that the aesthetic, philosophic, political or photographical concerns are not exclusive of an individual, but they are generational, regardless of latitudes, ideologies and education. the analysis and understanding of the fine weaving that each author evokes are his singularity. great bodies of work are the backbone that sustains an author’s production. to make an analogy, it is like a philosopher that proposes “his” system, presents it in a personal manner, chooses a starting point and the pace of the appearance of his published reflections to structure his work, a whole with his own particular mark, the search for his true self.
 
the other distance and urban holes are not only the repercussions of cartagena’s above mentioned portfolios, but they also are the consequence and the scar of the urban growth that the city of monterrey faces, just like any other city in mexico. the empty lots in urban holes document these singular spaces abandoned right in the middle of the city because they became excessively expensive, which is why it is cheaper to deforest pristine landscapes and fragment lands kilometers away from the metropolis (topographies of a fragmented city), than to build apartment buildings on these spaces that eventually become filled with garbage. or in the other distance, which is the sorting and tracing of an exclusive part of the city of monterrey, where it is clear that the financial, commercial and transnational centers evoke the north american way of life, because we still think of that as a synonym for success. the identity is the first thing that’s lost in these pasteurized places. what we do identify is that alejandro cartagena is an author that, beyond the photographic, imposes on his view his own political and ideological stance. maybe it’s up to him and his images to practice a contemplative activity that, by being extremely clear, guides us and transforms a transitory aesthetic experience from urban problematics that should alter our patterns of passivity in the face of the turmoil of the concepts of consumption and alienation, to which we are depravedly getting used to.

from robbie mcclaran’s blog

alejandro cartagena has over a period of years chronicled the affects of sprawling new suburbs in mexican cities. he seduces the viewer by utilizing a combination of traditional landscape, abstract formalism and documentary motifs to achieve a complex simplicity that is at once both informative and beautiful.

from photolucida’s blog/by shawn records

alejandro cartagena’s lost rivers project is intended as a “social comment on contemporary mexican unplanned urban development and its unintended consequences.” evoking the traditions established by the new topographics photographers in the 70′s and 80′s, cartagena has followed the trail of urban development and set his sights downstream. rather than photographing the development itself, cartagena’s attention is drawn to the changes in the landscape that are maybe a little less obvious, but just as important- not what’s there, but what’s missing: water.

from mrs deane blog

another ‘water work’ photographer found (via mel, thx!): alejandro cartagena’s lost rivers project covers just the kind of ground we were looking for:
 
lost rivers is a representation of nature’s non-beneficiaries of our actual urban well-being. in the northeastern mexican state of nuevo leon, some rivers and streams have dried out or in the process of drying after monterrey’s metropolitan area erupted its urban growth and its demand for water. these dried up streams and rivers are one of many unintended consequences of wrongly implemented economical strategies that triggered an uncontrollable urban growth.
 
global warming causes the opposite problem for the dutch; too much water will be flowing downstream from the melting alps or the torrential spring storms and what are the urban water planners to do with all that water threatening large parts of riverside towns like arnhem, provided they are so lucky as not to be entirely swallowed up by the rising sea? one optimistic person said the problems would only be temporary, as all the gletchers will have melted away come 2100, so the rivers will eventually dry out, leaving us with landscapes akin to the mexican ones cartagena portrayed. there are more parallels that i had not expected to see in his work. for instance, fragmented cities struck a familiar note with its grids of similar and same houses – did we dutch start exporting this urban planned horror or is it something that affects us all equally?
 
n.b. next to making some impressive work, alejandro also keeps a blog worth visiting, it has just been added to the blogroll!

from 2manyphotos blog

alejandro cartagena es un fotógrafo mexicano cuyo trabajo está enmarcado dentro del género documental. en “ciudad”, alejandro despoja sus imágenes de elementos banales para quedarse con una estética idealizada de la ciudad, generando un escenario ficticio pero nunca completamente extraño. otras de sus series, como “lost rivers” o “fragmented city”, documentan muy al estilo ” new topographics” los cambios ocasionados por el crecimiento urbano descontrolado de las ciudades mexicanas. además, escribe un blog muy recomandable en el que habla sobre su trabajo y también sobre el de otros fotógrafos.
 
alejandro cartagena is a mexican photographer whose work can be classified into the documentary genre. in “city”, alejandro divests his images from trivial elements in order to achive an idealized aestethics of the city, generating fictitious but never completely odd scenarios. other series, like “lost rivers” or “fragmented city”, document in a “new topographics” style the changes caused by the uncontrolled growing of mexican cities.
he also runs a very interesting blog where he writes about his work and other photographers.

from hippolyte bayard blog/mexican topography

probabilmente molti ancora non conoscono lo scrigno di immagini interessanti che è il lavoro di alejandro cartagena, quindi ho pensato fosse tempo di mostrarne qualcuna anche qui. da leggere anche il suo blog, ricco di moltissime segnalazioni.
 
i’m pretty sure there are still people who ignore the ever growing treasure box that is alejandro cartagena’s work, so i felt it was time to show some of his images here, too. he also runs a blog, full of interesting photographers.

donde quedo el entorno natural? por gustavo mendoza lemus para el periodico milenio monterrey

¿se puede conocer a la gente por el lugar donde vive?, ¿quién modifica a quién, el hombre al paisaje o el paisaje al hombre?, ¿es tal la globalización que hasta las propias viviendas perderán su grado de heterogeneidad?, son preguntas que por ahora no tienen respuesta pero es el lente de una cámara fotográfica la que pretende contestarlas.
 
desde hace dos años que alejandro cartagena, fotógrafo, se dedica a recorrer los terrenos que servirán como los nuevos complejos habitacionales de monterrey. algunos, los de una escasa imaginación arquitectónica se encuentran mucho muy alejados del área metropolitana ofreciéndose a precios bajos, mientras las casas “más bonitas” se ofrecen a precios elevados dentro de la zona conurbana de monterrey, así de distante es la diferencia entre sociedades.
 
la nueva topografía de nuevo león nació, según dice su creador, de la necesidad de replantear temas fotográficos tan tratados como es el paisaje, pero que reflejara, de una manera contemporánea, la intervención del hombre.
 
“una de las cosas que me interesa más del proyecto es que son zonas urbanas donde no hay nadie todavía, es un proceso a mediano plazo que terminará dentro de seis años porque ahorita estoy fotografiando los espacios sin habitar, son como grandes maquetas a escala y como que nomás falta que lleguen los habitantes”, expresó cartagena, quien para este proyecto recibió el apoyo del fondo nacional para la cultura y las artes.
 
durante casi dos años cartagena se ha dedicado a retratar los nuevos complejos habitacionales en los municipios de garcía, escobedo, ciudad juárez, guadalupe, apodaca, san nicolás, zuazua, monterrey y santa catarina.
 
muchos de ellos se encuentran en lo que serán los nuevos anillos metropolitanos, carentes de servicios como escuelas cercanas, hospitales, transporte urbano, grandes avenidas de acceso y áreas de esparcimiento.
 
uno de los retos del proyecto es poder capturar en imágenes las modificaciones que el hombre efectúe primero a su paisaje, después a su domicilio y después al estilo de vida que desarrollará al vivir en una casa de cuatro por ocho metros.
 
“me interesa retratar que existe una necesidad del ser humano de ser único, lo cual lo va a llevar a que una colonia que era perfectamente homogénea -hablando de la arquitectura y del diseño-, se convierta en una jungla, tal y como pasa actualmente con la ciudad misma, llena de colorido y de distintos diseños en las viviendas aunque todas partieron de una igualdad”, dijo cartagena.
 
las fotografías las ha tomado con intervalos de dos a tres meses en cada una de las construcciones, revelando la rapidez y practicidad con la que se han construido los nuevos fraccionamientos.
 
hay una serie donde retrata primero un paisaje verde, lleno de vegetación en un terreno de apodaca, meses después lo verde se ha borrado y solamente quedan huellas de maquinaria pesada sobre un espacio polvoroso y seco. podría ser una imagen triste de degradación ecológica, pero también podría significar una nueva vida.
 
“no creo que fuera vida y muerte de una zona natural, porque a fin de cuentas allí habrá vida dentro de unos cuantos meses; creo que más bien es la transformación del paisaje bajo la intervención de la mano del hombre”, sostuvo el fotógrafo.
 
alejandro cartagena señaló que será para 2008 cuando la exposición tome forma y pueda ser exhibida. actualmente está trabajando en visitar las regiones más alejadas de monterrey que, dentro de algunos 10 años, serán parte del área metropolitana de la ciudad.

casa escorza reconstruye la ciudad por edgar velasco barajas para el periodico milenio guadalajara

alejandro cartagena es de república dominicana, pero habla de monterrey como si toda su vida hubiera crecido bajo la sombra del cerro de la silla. es precisamente la capital neoleonesa la protagonista del trabajo fotográfico del artista, que llega a guadalajara para inaugurar, en casa escorza, la exposición ciudad reconstruida, en la que, explica, presenta 19 fotografías intervenidas digitalmente para ofrecer paisajes de lo que pudiera ser la ciudad ideal o, al menos, una urbe de maqueta: sin basura, sin graffiti, sin mensajes en los anuncios espectaculares o en la señalización urbana.
 
según el fotógrafo, en su propuesta visual siempre hay “mucho interés por los entornos, como parte de una búsqueda de identificar mi espacio. por eso me inclino por el paisaje urbano, para llenar mi identidad como regiomontano”. y es que, asegura, su cambio de residencia hace casi 20 años dejó una marca “que a cada rato está reflejada en el trabajo: es como una permanente búsqueda de certezas”.

suburbia e nuvole/ d la repubblica delle donne magazine

urbanistica pop nella città di monterrey, in messico, la popolazione aumenta a ritmi vorticosi. l’unica soluzione è colonizzare i paesi vicini, magari con deliziose casette a schiera. ma sarà un vero sogno?

di michele calzavara

foto di alejandro cartagena
non è allegro il messico. ma è meglio che allegro: è pieno di una furia profonda. il ritmo della folla sembra quello d’una qualunque metropoli, formicolante. file d’automobili, ingorghi di circolazione. e a un tratto si apre il varco di un’ondata di invasori: altissimi taluni, altri nani, traversi, scartellati…”. ecco la descrizione di un viaggio quasi iniziatico in terra messicana, quello compiuto negli anni trenta dallo scrittore emilio cecchi, allora docente all’università di berkeley. oggi, la stessa impressione di brulichio ci viene da un altro punto di vista: “chiunque atterri a città del messico durante la notte avrà l’impressione di una galassia disordinata”. è juan villoro, scrittore e giornalista messicano, a evocare questa visione dall’alto. poi c’è un’altra angolazione possibile: il lavoro fotografico di alejandro cartagena per il progetto la nueva topografia de nuevo león, documentazione di un nuovo agglomerato suburbano messicano, di assembramenti orizzontali che invadono con forme e colori lo spazio periferico di monterrey. affidiamoci a questo punto di vista, più basso, poiché se guardiamo il mondo di notte dal cielo, l’impressionante spettacolo elettrico offerto dai vari addensamenti di luminosità può anche disegnare una mappa distorta. per esempio, alla rarefazione di luce delle regioni centrali e costiere dell’africa corrispondono in realtà agglomerati urbani imponenti. in messico, al brulichio della vita corrisponde semplicemente uno scarso sviluppo delle reti elettriche. è il grande problema che le città del mondo dovranno affrontare nei prossimi anni: a una pressione demografica crescente (entro il 2050, stimano gli esperti, almeno i tre quarti della popolazione mondiale vivranno in megalopoli di svariati milioni di abitanti) dovrà corrispondere un’adeguata offerta infrastrutturale. anche a partire dalle piccole cose, fa notare il teorico urbanista richard burdett: “in fin dei conti, la forma che attribuiamo alla società influenza la vita quotidiana di chi vive e lavora nelle città di tutto il mondo. la creazione di una piccola palestra, di un centro culturale o di uno spazio verde all’aperto nel cuore di una bidonville dà dignità a comunità spodestate, e può trasformare in modo radicale la vita della popolazione”. sono passati un paio d’anni da quando burdett, curatore dell’ultima biennale di architettura a venezia, affrontava il tema delle megalopoli nella mostra città. architettura e società. è lui a ricordarci che l’america latina, negli ultimi vent’anni, ha visto alcuni dei più innovativi interventi di trasformazione urbana egualitaria. è il caso di bogotá. ma anche di são paulo, 16 milioni di abitanti, che ha investito molto in programmi destinati a migliorare la vita nei quartieri più poveri. con lo stesso spirito di integrazione sociale e spaziale, caracas sta affrontando i problemi del più esteso insediamento irregolare del venezuela, petare, dove centinaia di migliaia di persone vivono spesso senza acqua corrente né fognature. oltre alle oggettive difficoltà di vita dei cittadini meno protetti, la crescita incontrollata degli agglomerati urbani ha un’altra conseguenza: l’identità dei luoghi e il senso di appartenenza vengono messi a dura prova. così juan villoro ci racconta città del messico: “il passare del tempo vede una riproduzione straordinaria e inesorabile della specie umana. quando sono nato, nel 1956, la città contava quattro milioni di abitanti; ora ne conta tra i 18 e i 20 milioni. e anche se questa stima è imprecisa, un fatto è certo: qui siamo troppi. ci troviamo di fronte a un bizzarro fenomeno: ci siamo trasferiti in una città diversa senza esserci mai spostati, viviamo in una metropoli nomade. per convenzione continuiamo a parlare di città del messico, ma il paesaggio si sta trasfigurando”. negli ultimi due anni, lo stesso fenomeno sta prendendo piede più a nord: a monterrey, la sultana del norte, capoluogo dello stato del nuevo león e terza città del messico per popolazione, con i suoi 1,2 milioni di abitanti (quattro e mezzo con l’area metropolitana, al censimento del 2005). certo, neppure qui i numeri sono certi. “quando, nei primi anni ottanta, günter grass visitò il messico”, ricorda juan villoro, “con germanica precisione domandò: “quante persone vivono nella capitale?”. la risposta ritenuta più appropriata, “tra i 12 e i 16 milioni”, a lui risultò sbalorditiva: il margine d’errore era pari alla popolazione di berlino ovest”. chissà con quale margine d’errore è stato pianificato lo sviluppo dell’area metropolitana di monterrey, che in due anni ha subito una crescita demografica del 615 per cento. qui, nel nordest, stanno nascendo zone-cuscinetto per assorbire la pressione della città. solo nel 2006 sono state costruite 30mila nuove case nei comuni limitrofi di apodaca, juarez, cadereyta, san pedro, santa catarina, guadalupe, escobedo, zuazua e san nicolas. ora in totale quelle case sono quasi 90mila. la differenza rispetto a una favela spontanea è che questi insediamenti non sono, appunto, spontanei, ma opera di imprese immobiliari. per il resto, data la velocità di esecuzione e la classica sfasatura dei tempi della politica rispetto a quelli dell’economia, le nuove lottizzazioni hanno poco da invidiare a una favela, in termini di carenza di servizi e infrastrutture. a questi insiemi di piccole, colorate casette, che nella loro ripetizione formano affascinanti pattern figurativi sullo sfondo dello straordinario paesaggio montano del norte, si accompagnano i classici problemi degli sviluppi suburbani frettolosi: sicurezza, raccolta della spazzatura, carenza d’illuminazione, di trasporti pubblici, di scuole, di centri medici, di supermercati eccetera. è il prezzo che i nuovi coloni devono pagare: oltre a quello ventennale dei mutui, ovviamente. perché i prezzi fanno sorridere gli italiani, ma non i messicani: un appartamento di 120 metri quadrati ad apodaca costa l’equivalente di 30mila euro; 90mila una villetta su due piani con giardino a san nicolas. non che non ce ne fosse necessità, di case. intorno al 2000 le prospettive in messico erano di un fabbisogno di 30 milioni di abitazioni entro il 2010, a fronte di un parco abitativo di 22 milioni. il prezzo ambientale e sociale pagato dai residenti originari è stato grande. il comune di zuazua è passato in due anni da settemila a 50mila abitanti. a salinas victoria, gli occhi della settantaduenne juanita gonzález treviño, che per decenni hanno visto le nuove generazioni migrare verso monterrey o al di là del rio bravo, non cessano di meravigliarsi di fronte a quest’ondata di umanità che si riversa in paese. viceversa, in passato erano pochi gli abitanti che decidevano di rimanere, per percorrere ogni giorno le vie semideserte del paese e i terreni coltivati e assolati che lo costeggiavano, per bagnarsi nel torrente mentre le donne lavavano la biancheria mettendola ad asciugare sulle pietre. la vita rurale di queste comunità, dalla calma interminabile, sta per consegnarsi all’oblio, e a costumi molto diversi. “non ti dicono nemmeno buongiorno!”, si lamenta juanita. “si muovono in macchina per andare ovunque, mentre a noi, qui, piace andare a piedi”. aggiunge indignata raquel villarreal de garcía, commerciante di carne secca e dolci regionali: “prima si poteva fare la siesta con la porta aperta, ora i nuovi arrivati rubano tutto quello che possono!”. note sventure del rurale che si trasforma, di colpo, in suburbia. neppure i nuovi se la passano bene: alcuni non hanno ancora la luce, e vivono in attesa di quel “sogno messicano” che li ha spinti qui, in una piccola casa di proprietà a 35 chilometri dalla suburbia vera di monterrey. e mentre lo stato, i comuni che rivendicano autonomia e gli immobiliaristi – il cui unico desiderio è continuare ad ampliare gli investimenti – fanno fatica a trovare un accordo, il sindaco di cadereyta lamenta: “il lottizzatore: è facile per lui. fa tremila case, ci lascia 12mila persone e se ne va. e i milioni di pesos per farle vivere degnamente?”. è curioso notare come, in tutto questo, nel 2007 monterrey abbia ospitato il forum delle culture. il modello è stato però molto diverso da quello di barcellona, che si è riprogettata nel solco di un processo urbanistico avviato dal 1991 e mai concluso, anche grazie all’azione ventennale di tre sindaci consecutivi. monterrey, più che sulle trasformazioni tangibili, ha puntato sui contenuti culturali, con pochi effetti sull’economia e sulla qualità urbana: ha colto l’attimo senza preoccuparsi della prospettiva. quella prospettiva, in scala ridotta, per ora assomiglia alle distese di ecatepec o di valle de chalco, infinita ripetizione che le foto di armin linke o scott peterman hanno restituito sotto la luce del sole sfrontato di città del messico, sempre un po’ offuscato dalla patina di smog. “alla fine della giornata, le turbe tornano nei loro quartieri”, raccontava lo scrittore emilio cecchi. e anche ora, aspettando quel sogno che, speriamo, verrà.