Alejandro Cartagena, Carpoolers – Isa Tousignant, From the Northern to the Southern Suburbs

[Winter 2016]
Alejandro Cartagena, 
Carpoolers, 2011-2012. Courtesy of Circuit Gallery, Toronto

Alejandro Cartagena, 
Carpoolers, 2011-2012. Courtesy of Circuit Gallery, Toronto

In the storybook that is Alejandro Cartagena’s oeuvre, Carpoolers is the chapter that comes between Suburbia Mexicana and What We Fight For. The artist, who works and lives in Monterrey, Mexico, but is originally from the Dominican Republic, has been researching and imaging urban sprawl and its impact for the last decade in photographs that mix a luscious kind of composed beauty with deep human interest. Carpoolers captures part of the everyday that is hidden from most people – the to and fro of a mass of workers from the blue-collar suburb that they live in to the moneyed suburb that they work in. Shot on the fly from atop an overpass as traffic zoomed by beneath him, Carpoolers was the first project in a long time for which Cartagena used a digital camera, as he usually chooses to work with large-format cameras for landscapes and portraiture. This project required a different kind of strategy.

Isa Tousignant: Can you start by describing the physical process of taking the Carpoolers photographs?

Alejandro Cartagena: The pictures were taken from a pedestrian overpass over- looking Highway 85, just above a spot where cars come out of an underground tunnel. My thinking was that when I spotted them, if the cab of the truck was filled with guys, chances were that there would be more in the back. I was set up over the middle lane of three, so that gave me just enough time to leap into position and try to catch them.

IT: So you would look on one side of the overpass to spot the vehicles from the front and then run and point your camera downward from the other side to shoot?
AC: Yes, and then just wait for the truck to come into frame. I played a game with myself: I wanted to be the one doing the actual work rather than the camera, so instead of using the automated shutter function that professional cameras have, where you just press the button and it shoots five or six shots per second, I did it manually and shot only one or two. If I got it I got it, and if not, too bad. And of course my success rate was only 30 percent, because the trucks are going anywhere from sixty to a hundred kilometres an hour. I do most of my projects with a large-format camera, a plate camera on a tripod that produces a single image, which I look at for ages under a black cloth, examining the light, focusing, framing – it’s a really slow process. So here I wanted that feeling of really making a decision…

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