Alejandro Cartagena – Interview

On the eve of the release of his new book A Small Guide to Homeownership, we speak with artist Alejandro Cartagena on what the projects means to him, how it came to be and where he sees it going. 

1. What is behind your idea to create a book looking at all your projects concerning the suburbanisation of Mexico in one place? 

I wanted to share the experience of these 13 years of photographing a single subject matter. Contemporary photography asks that both creator and spectator broaden their views on what is being addressed in the themes and views of the subject and this book is an example of trying to do just that. Homeownership is an 20th century ideal that has had many repercussions on city and suburban life and I felt it had been oversimplified. With this “Guide” I am looking to complicate and transculturalize the narrative. It is a big experiment that has taken 15 years to complete.

2. What first interested and maintained your interest in the changing Mexican cityspace over these 13 years? 

It was a very organic process. I never really set out to work so long on this project. It really came out from a combination of empirical learning and mixing in ideas of theories and histories of urbanism and development of cities. I would be photographing one thing with many ideas I had read bubbling up in the back of my mind, and by being out in the streets and the suburbs I could see these theories playing out in real life. One thing led to another and I just went along with it. It was a big free association exercise that interconnected ideas that sometimes felt contradictory and at times feel completely natural. Giving into that makes the work vulnerable and that for me makes my case that this project is not absolute, but just a point of view on a subject matter that affects us all.

3. What have been some of the biggest surprises along your journey?

I think I´ve been surprised with how through photography I´ve been able to learn about my city and its people. The speed of life sometimes doesn’t let you question and further understand the culture you are immersed in. It is a path of pain and fulfillment. All that, looking back, that is what surprised me most.

4. What’s going on in Monterrey, how much of it really do you feel is taken from the American model and why do you describe this as culturally inappropriate?

Monterrey has an infatuation with American life. Not the bad parts, but the idealized parts you get to experience when traveling to the US; shopping malls, many restaurants, the sense of order and security in the city, and basically the other lifestyle that is not what we have here and when seen from the surface looks much better than what we have here. We are so close to the US physically and economically that that attraction seems almost inevitable. What does that do to our city? I think many good things and many bad things. This book is a sort of mashing both cultures and realities together and asking to face the facts of the disparity and contrasts that will never permit a smooth symbiotic adaptation of booth cultures. There will always be sparks and jerks and people will suffer for them and some will thrive. 

5. Is the project finished at this point? 

Yes and no. I don’t think of it that way. There is no urgency to finish.