Photographer discusses project on Mexican homeownership

Aimée Santillán

Mexican photographer Alejandro Cartagena spoke Tuesday at the Harry Ransom Center about his photographic documentary chronicling the growth of suburbs in Monterrey, Mexico,  titled “Small Guide to

Cartagena said he focused his project on the growth of Monterrey’s suburban area, starting with the construction of residential houses. According to Cartagena, the starting point of his project was based on the excitement people experience when buying new homes.

“I was aware that there was going to be a big change in the landscape of the city,” Cartagena said. “So I was trying to record the visible process that makes the landscape change because, otherwise, it would disappear from history.”

Cartagena said he decided to take the construction photos in black and white because there was no emotion involved.

After the residential houses were completed, Cartagena said he moved to photographing the houses. These pictures, now in color, showed a bigger landscape.

“This landscape had a sense of dreaminess to [it],” Cartagena said. “It showed the new homes of people that possibly did not have a home before.”

As people started moving into houses, Cartagena said his photography shifted to pictures of the surrounding rivers and dams, which those people contaminated. 

“I tried to show the way people can change a natural landscape with pollution,” Cartagena said. “The landscape becomes a tragedy. You are able to see it is something beautiful but something’s wrong.”

According to Cartagena, he also portrayed the way people humanized the residential houses as they started living in them. In his photos, he showed families, people talking on public phones, gardens and birthday parties.

“In these pictures, I tried to show that these people were building a new life,” Cartagena said. “When they start to live there, the whole landscape changes.”

With the mixture of landscape and human interest in his project, Cartagena said he was trying to mix the different layers that come with building new residential houses.

“I saw in Cartagena’s photography how photography reflects public space,” said Ana Fernandez, Mexican American studies graduate student. “He shows a reality without criticizing it or promoting it.”

Cartagena also said his work showed how people can adapt to become successful at creating a new life.

“He created a visual essay,” Asian studies sophomore Alina Tonu said. “With this project, he was a person from the outside looking in, but he was also interacting with the city and making himself part of it.”