Toronto specializing in contemporary photography

Suburbia Mexicana

Suburbia Mexicana, 2006-2009


Suburbia Mexicana is a documentary project deeply rooted in the local and the particular, in the artist’s own experience living and working in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey. It is an ambitious and committed project that seeks to tell, in multiple chapters, the complex story of the region’s rapid suburban expansion: from urban gentrification and inner-city ‘ghettoization,’ to the seemingly unplanned and unhampered suburban sprawl emanating from many of its fast growing cities, including the environmental consequences.

Cartagena’s project both nods towards and distinguishes itself from the tradition of the New Topographers in interesting and significant ways. His subjects—tract housing, inner-city vacant lots, desiccated or polluted rivers, the residents of these new developments—figure prominently, yet beyond simple documentation Cartagena is interested in symbolically foregrounding the larger picture. As he states: “The Mexican suburbs are symbolic; they represent corruption, a lack of standards in planning, and personal obsessions.”

And it is through a sustained and wholistic visual study that Cartagena is able to convey something of the deeper mechanisms—the ideological, political, economic, social ground—at work, in his “man-altered landscapes.”

Cartagena’s work equally diverges from earlier New Topographic approaches in that it does not simply reject beauty or seek to coolly “aestheticize the banal.” His images are aesthetically alluring and offer multiple points of resonance, reaching beyond the specific place represented and attesting to something more pervasive and palpable on a global level—greed, corruption, ecological fragility and loss—as shared issues under advanced capitalism. —Claire Sykes

Here is an excerpt from Karen Irvine‘s Introduction to the book Suburbia Mexicana:

Cartagena captures both the destruction that rapid urbanization has imposed on the landscape and the phenomenon of densely packed housing. He takes pictures of dried-up river beds that attest to the water mis-allocation and depletion brought about by the construction, and he depicts perpetual rows of tiny houses slicing directly into the foothills of the picturesque mountains that surround Monterrey. The homes are small, generally under 100 square meters (or less than 328 square feet), and usually occupied by four to six people. Only the landscape appears capable of limiting their proliferation, the mountains and rivers the only forces able to contain their sprawl.

Cartagena’s photographs of the housing developments extend a long tradition of photographers addressing the suburbs, but they take a unique approach. Beyond simply documenting the destruction that these subdivisions reap on the natural environment, Cartagena explores less obvious parts of the story to tell a more complicated tale of change. He photographs the empty lots left undeveloped in the city center and makes portraits of the people who live in the suburbs. He reveals the innovative ways in which they personalize their homes and sometimes start businesses in them in an effort to improve their lives. The suburbanites are not depicted as vulnerable, nor are their portraits seeped in irony. Cartagena’s critical eye is not focused on his subjects’ lifestyle choice, but rather on the political and commercial mechanisms that lured them to make it.

Ultimately Cartagena documents the chaos and destruction that result from scant or misguided urban planning. He lives in downtown Monterrey, and he cares deeply about its land, its people, and its future. Understanding that over-development is not just a local problem, he works hard as an artist to share his photographs as one clear plea for responsible, sustainable development in a rapidly changing world.

—Karen Irvine, is Curator and Associate Director, at The Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP), Columbia College, Chicago.

Lost Rivers

Fragmented Cities

People of Suburbia

The Other Distance + Urban Holes


Availability & Pricing

Prices start at $1,550 USD for the 24″ x 20″ and $3,500 USD for the 40″ x 33.5″, increasing as the edition sells.
Please contact the gallery for more information, including current availability and pricing.

Request Info


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
Kopeikin Gallery, Suburbia Mexicana, Los Angeles, USA, 2012
Circuit Gallery, Suburbia Mexicana, Featured Exhibition, CONTACT Photography Festival, Toronto, Canada, 2011
Flanders Gallery, Suburbia Mexicana, Raleigh, NC, USA, 2011
Museo de Arte Sonora Musas, Suburbia Mexicana, Sonora, Mexico, 2011
Bluesky Gallery, Suburbia Mexicana, Portland, OR, 2010
Circuit Gallery, Lost Rivers, Toronto, Canada , 2010
Michigan State University, Suburbia Mexicana, Michigan, 2010
Monterrey International Airport, Suburbia Mexicana, Monterrey, MX, 2010
Lishui Foto Festival, Suburbia Mexicana (curated by Daylight Magazine), Lishui, China, 2009
Galeria De La Ciudad, Suburbia Mexicana, La Depravacion De Lo Habitual, Aguascalientes, MX, 2009
Centro Arte Paiz, Foto 30 Photo Festival. Suburbia Mexicana. Guatemala, 2009


Suburbia Mexicana, Daylight Books / Photolucida, 2012
with texts by Gerardo Montiel Klint, Karen Irvine, and Lisa Uddin
Hardcover, English, 108 pages
ISBN-10: 0983231605