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photo-eye Book Reviews: Suburbia Mexicana

Suburbia Mexicana, Photographs by Alejandro Cartagena.
Published by Photolucida/Daylight, 2011.
Suburbia Mexicana
Reviewed by Jonathan Blaustein
Alejandro Cartagena Suburbia Mexicana
Photographs by Alejandro Cartagena
Photolucida/Daylight, 2011. Hardbound. 108 pp., 36 color illustrations.

Ostensibly, Alejandro Cartagena's exquisitely crafted photographs taken around the Mexican city of Monterrey are meant to examine a localized tale of environmental degradation amidst rampant development. And they do. This monograph, which represents several of Mr. Cartagena's interconnected mini-series, definitely brings together the narrative of a place in time. The photographs are supremely well composed, and deal with color and light with equal measure. The project, published here in a joint effort between Photolucida and Daylight, was immensely well received over the last few years, and the book makes it easy to see why.

Suburbia Mexicana, by Alejandro Cartagena. Published by Photolucida/Daylight, 2011.
 I actually think the strength of the project lies in its ability to humanize and symbolize the impact of Globalization in the 21st Century. Images of high-end global brands like Porsche and Louis Vuitton open the narrative, which then glides smoothly into a depiction of the mushrooming mini-concrete housing developments that sit at the base of majestic mountains. Like our global economy, the two are hopelessly interconnected. While it's easy to giggle at the potentially ironic depictions of the tiny houses, which disappear into the vanishing point, Cartagena doesn't really push it in that direction. And as all his portraits are humanistic, he keeps the story grounded in reality.

Suburbia Mexicana, by Alejandro Cartagena. Published by Photolucida/Daylight, 2011.
 I've spent a good deal of time in Mexico over the last 10 years, and have seen such housing developments in the Yucatan peninsula as well. They've sprouted up all over the country, as campesinos flock from dirt poor country villages to newly booming cities. They trade ramshackle huts with dirt floors for those tiny concrete homes with indoor plumbing. It's the Mexican equivalent of the American Dream, really now the Middle Class dream for societies around the planet. Across the world, and particularly in the rapidly developing BRIC countries, (Brazil, Russia, India & China), people are escaping poverty daily with the goal of owning their own home with a bathroom, television, and washing machine. Once that's achieved, then the aspirations tend towards more conspicuous consumption in glamour palaces like the aforementioned Louis Vuitton. Of course, the rise in living standards often, if not always, comes at the expense of the environment. Messy stuff.

Suburbia Mexicana, by Alejandro Cartagena. Published by Photolucida/Daylight, 2011.
 Suburbia Mexicana captures the essence of this story. And it does so with respect and grace. I believe it's a monograph that will be a future reference point for global society in the beginning of the 21st Century.—Jonathan Blaustein

 Jonathan Blaustein is a photographer and writer based in Taos, NM. His work resides in several major museum collections and has been exhibited widely in the United States. For more information, please visit