Archival pigment prints
11 X 14 in
Limited edition of 10 +2AP
Book available here
“The pictures, which also include images from other Santa Barbaras, in Mexico, Venezuela and Chile, focus on nothing so much as a stultifying cultural ennui. Dark streets, people staring at cell phone screens, empty front porches, tax preparation joints, creaky staircases, and looming lights. (A little bit of a Hitchcock vibe, if you ask me.) Step back, read the themes, and we have cheerleaders, guns, palm trees, and cute little bungalow cottages. There are religious icons, gas stations, and two-car garages. Police cars, white picket fences, liquor stores, football fields, and a good ol’ American flag. It sounds like America to me, but there is an ominous tone that’s hard to shake, like pit bull jaws wrapped around your calf muscle. We like to pretend that everything’s OK, in the 21st Century, but really, we know better. We’re reminded of the mass shooting in 2014, which you might have forgotten, amidst all the other killings that have come since. It’s easy for us to look down on Mexico for the Drug War, far harder to admit our own addiction to runaway violence. Tragedy can rip through a beachfront paradise like a dust storm, and then people are left to sweep up the mess. I like that Alejandro Cartagena makes pictures that we can easily understand, like his Carpoolers project, or the photographs of mini-concrete houses, in his hometown of Monterrey, disappearing towards the horizon. But he also has a tendency to bring images together in ways that defy simple description. Many of the photographs in this book are not “about” anything per se, but their tone, seen together, leaves little mystery. Alejandro’s “America,” seen through the lens of “Santa Barbara,” is a place hanging on by a thread. There are several images in the book, peering down on the street, taken from high up in a building somewhere. In other, happier times, I might enjoy their dynamic perspective. “Wow, those are cool,” I might think. But in the context of 2016, I couldn’t help but imagine the photographer a lonely, bitter shooter, eyeing up his next victim through a rifle-scope, anxious to squeeze the trigger, and move the drama along to its natural conclusion”. — Jonathan Blaustein
The surface of a city can lure us into its immediate beauty. It is through walking and getting lost that the surface seems to peel away and present new impressions. During a residency in Santa Barbara California, Alejandro took to the streets and to the World Wide Web to explore the idea of what this place could be. He was interested in how it had been previously constructed in the mind of the outsider; was it a college town? The home of Opera Winfrey and other Hollywood stars? The Soap Opera of the 90´s? The site of school shootings? Though on the exterior this small tourist town seemed the picture-perfect American-Mediterranean escape, just under the façade seemed to lay something uneasy. Santa Barbara is Cartagena’s explorations of a narrative of that that can only be felt from the outside. It is a book about perceptions of a place. It suggests that nothing is immovable and no one is safe.