Alejandro Cartagena shot his "Car Poolers" series by waiting for pickup trucks to drive under a highway overpass in Mexico. The resultant photographs, which we saw last week at Kopeikin Gallery's booth at Miami Project, show fleeting but surprisingly intimate glimpses of laborers in the beds of the trucks, heading to or from the massive, low-quality housing complexes being built close to the country's border with the U.S.
"He had been photographing a series called 'Suburbia Mexicana,'" gallery owner Paul Kopeikin tells Cultist. "Those were about all these photographs in northern Mexico, where all of these hastily built suburbs are popping up. These guys in the trucks were building the suburbs."
In Kopeikin Gallery's booth, the photographs are arranged in a grid, as though a wide highway's lanes were clogged with the trucks. The effect is as though a moveable, invisible city were converging on a single location. But, Kopeikin says, the photographs work as individual images, as well.
"Each one tells a different story. They work differently. They work visually. That's number one," he tells us. When we asked him if any of the images held more sway over him than the others, he replied, "I like when they're sleeping. I like the idea that they're sort of casual, that they're so used to it. They're like commuters. You could put these next to photographs of white-collar workers sleeping on the train from Connecticut to New York."
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It's difficult to peer into these lives and not wonder what they say about the anonymity not only of those who build our cities but who travel beside us on byways. Cartagena's earlier "Suburbia Mexicana" series raises questions about the intentions and meaning of suburban expansion, questions with a global resonance going far beyond the subejcts' local implications.
"I tend not to use the word 'political,'" Kopeikin says of the current series. "They're more sociological in a way. There's a phenomenon about these people. We can presume what we want to about them; they look like migrant workers but anything we think we know about them is purely an assumption."