2018 #23

Presence

by Alejandro Cartagena

"These representations also connote larger issues in a Latin American context, where people have become “invisible” in the midst of social and political crises. In the end, it seems anyone can disappear, and no one will ever provide answers."


ARTISTIC ORIGINS

Growing up in the Dominican Republic, my dad had a farm where we’d pick fruit each weekend. Working from a young age gave me the sense of independence you need as an artist. If you rely only on inspiration and lack self-motivation it’s hard to make things happen. I spent all the money I made on comic books, which I collected obsessively. Funnily enough, when we moved to Mexico, my dad left them behind and I never saw them again. You often work so hard for something but ultimately have to let it go. With my practice I’m doing the same thing; seeking out stories, taking and finding images, failing, succeeding sometimes – and then repeating the process.

ARCHIVES & AUTHORSHIP

I spent five years at a public archive where I saw so much material that fascinated me. Questions of whom, how and why these amazing images were taken were left open. This was my starting point in photography, but the following years were about creating my own images and stories. I was initially reluctant to use other people’s work, but I’m now convinced that new meanings emerge from editing and sequencing. The person who rearranges the work can therefore be its author too. I’ve never stopped collecting found images. I would initially buy anything, but gradually I’ve established various thematic groups, which come in handy with the work I’m producing now.

PHOTOGRAPHIC STRUCTURES

For my new work, I’ve been collecting images from dumpsters and markets across Mexico City, and I’m stripping physical figures from these images to create unique cut-out silver gelatine prints. The result is a photographic structure that speaks to how we build what we see in most photographs. These new representations also connote larger issues in a Latin American context, where people have become “invisible” in the midst of social and political crises. In the end, it seems anyone can disappear, and no one will ever provide answers.

THE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE

I forget who said that “the idea is to get people to see what you think of certain issues”, but I try to work with that principle in mind. It’s not about truth per se. For me, a successful project always requires deep artistic research, which in turn hopefully leads to an honest take on the chosen theme. I’m not trying to change the world with my work, but I’m always honest about how the current socio-political climate affects me – and it’s a bit crap at this moment, so the crap is what will be addressed!

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Alejandro Cartagena

Monterrey, MX

Picture Alejandro Cartagena

Alejandro Cartagena

Monterrey, MX

Alejandro Cartagena’s (b. 1977, Dominican Republic) projects employ landscape and portraiture as a means to examine social, urban and environmental issues. Rooted in the formalistic style of documentary photography, Cartagena critically examines Mexico’s drive towards economic development whilst contrasting yearning for a fairer world in which to live. His 2014 series Car Poolers - which featured a birds-eye-view of workers commuting in the beds of pickup trucks - received widespread critical acclaim and was featured in The New York Times, amongst other international publications. Archival and found pictures form the basis for his latest body of work which explores ‘invisible’, vulnerable people who are displaced in the midst of current political vitriol.

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