Toronto specializing in contemporary photography




Offering a different take on ‘carpooling’ Alejandro Cartagena continues his pointed investigation of the multiple and complex issues relating to unhampered suburban expansion. These images show how carpooling is practiced by workers in México.

They are an acute observation to overgrowth issues in Mexico, where suburbs are being built in far away lands with no proper public transportation to the urban centers causing greater commutes and consumption of gas. Even though these workers are not conscious of the ecological impact they have by traveling this way as they are doing it to save time and money, they are a silent contributor to the preservation of our city and planet.

This project, like his earlier Suburbia Mexicana comes from a deeply committed practice and desire to tell the story of the dramatic changes (environmental, demographic, economic) he is witnessing play out in his home city of Monterrey.

Here is an excerpt from Jessica S. McDonald‘s essay from carpoolers book:

Resisting sentimentality, Cartagena’s series operates as a typology, emphasizing the ubiquity of these carpoolers rather than telling any one of their stories. Divested of their individuality through Cartagena’s clinical approach, as well as their conflation with so many other implements of labor, the men confined to these shallow boxes become almost interchangeable.

Looking down at the scenes in this book as Cartagena did from the bridge, readers absorb one image after the next on page after page, ultimately lulled into a rhythm that evokes the haze of an extended road trip; after a while the scenery becomes an indistinct blur. This tactic is knowingly employed by Cartagena, pointing to the invisibility of the working class in a society that increasingly values material wealth, governed by leaders who continue to turn over land to development without a clear path forward. Cartagena challenges us to look closely. In an especially potent pairing, a photograph on the left of one spread reveals three men traveling together in the bed of a white truck; two of these men reappear in the photograph on the right, yet a ladder now occupies the third man’s place. In a photograph different from the others, one young man heads to a job site early in the morning, driving his own car with the convertible top down. But Cartagena shows us that the vehicle is old and dented, only a tentative symbol of progress after all.

Inside Cartagena’s tightly framed photographs, only thin clouds, visible as reflections, hint at the complex environment in which this scenario plays out day after day for the carpoolers. To get a sense of their perspective as this project neared completion, Cartagena climbed into the bed of a pickup truck with his camera one Sunday morning. With their disorienting, diagonal lines and indistinct, partial glimpses, the images he made contrast starkly with the controlled uniformity characteristic of the principal series. Looking skyward, the hidden passengers see a continuous stretch of blue, broken by road signs, billboards, and towering light posts. As they get closer to San Pedro, the sky is punctuated with symbols of unattainable prosperity, like the luxury automobile logos and the private helicopters that just clear the power lines running parallel to the highway. Power lines serve as significant emblems here; Cartagena asks us to consider the political and economic structures that move energy, labor, and wealth throughout Mexico. Conceptualized as one layer of a lifelong project, Cartagena’s carpoolers series makes visible one more space between major points on the urban power grid.

—Jessica S. McDonald is the chief curator of photography at The Harry Ransom Center (University of Texas at Austin). Previously she was a curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

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Contact Photography Festival, Carpoolers, Toronto, Canada, 2015
Photoeye Project Space, Carpoolers, Santa Fe, NM, USA, 2014
Art Museum of the Americas, Small Guide to Homeownership, Washington DC, USA, 2014
Museo de Arte Moderno, Small Guide to Homeownership, Santo Domingo, DR, 2014
Spagnuolo Art Gallery, Carpoolers, Georgetown University, Washington DC, USA, 2014
Kopeikin Gallery, Carpoolers, Los Angeles, USA, 2013
Espacio Cultural Metropolitano de Tampico, Los Car Poolers, Mexico, MX, 2013
breda photofestival, Carpoolers, Holland, 2012
centro de la imagen, Carpoolers, Featured exhibition at Photoimagen Festival, DR, 2012
La fototeca, Carpoolers, Featured exhibition at Guatephoto, Guatemala, 2012


carpoolers, Self-published / Fonca – Conaculta, 2014
with a text Jessica McDonald
Hardcover, English, 112 pages
ISBN: 9780692226605