Life in Mexico’s Fast Lane

Photographer Alejandro Cartagena captures Monterrey commuters from a unique perspective.

Alejandro Cartagena


While working on an assignment to capture how people made use of the streets in Monterrey, Mexico, photographer Alejandro Cartagena discovered an unusual perspective on commuting. Two or three mornings a week for a year, Cartagena would stake out pedestrian bridges overlooking a southbound highway to snap shots of workers riding in the back of pickup trucks.

The trick, he says, was to “try to predict which trucks would be carrying people on the back,” then run across the overpass and prepare to quickly photograph the moving vehicle’s passengers. Many of the men were ducking down to avoid attention, though some were likely just protecting themselves from the cold.

The “Car Poolers” photos, now on display at the Kopeikin Gallery in Los Angeles, show workers preparing for the mundane—another day of construction in one of Monterrey’s many suburbs. Taken together, they serve as an unusual portrait of survival and adaptation amid sprawl and uncertainty.

 

 

A sense of risk pervades the images. Monterrey is Mexico’s wealthiest city, and one of its largest. But while it has a history as a hub of business and culture, the sensational violence of the drug war has cast a shadow on the once-booming metropolis. In what was once ranked as Latin America’s safest city, citizens must now contend with decapitations, balaceras (shootings), kidnappings, and security checkpoints and curfews imposed by both the government and the gangs.

“Thousands of local businesses have closed their doors because they refuse to pay the drug gangs for uso de piso (protection),” Cartagena says. As the Los Angeles Times reported last year, the violence has lead to “what some dub an exodus from Monterrey, a brain drain that includes businessmen, artists, and young professionals.” Wealthier inhabitants who have remained are buying up downtown real estate while the drug cartels have moved their operations to the suburbs, says Cartagena, where even construction firms must pay them for protection.

 

 

“Call me paranoid, but the stories are closer and closer and it’s had a great impact on my perception of safety,” Cartagena tells me. Even taking pictures of everyday commuters is cause for vigilance: He worked on this project with an assistant because he didn’t feel safe in the streets alone with a camera. Street vendors, taxi drivers, and transit police are all potentially working as informants for the cartels and might perceive a photographer as a threat.

“I do not want to portray an uninhabitable city. We go out, we are happy, we just had our first baby,” he adds. Photographing daily routines was in a sense an act of rebellion against the proliferation of bad news. “We need other stories apart from guns and blood.” But even as “we continue to live as ‘normal,'” Cartagena says, “we know things are not.”

LET’S TALK ABOUT OPTIMISM FOR A CHANGE

Democracy and journalism are in crisis mode—and have been for a while. So how about doing something different?

Mother Jones did. We just merged with the Center for Investigative Reporting, bringing the radio show Reveal, the documentary film team CIR Studios, and Mother Jones together as one bigger, bolder investigative journalism nonprofit.

And this is the first time we’re asking you to support the new organization we’re building. In “Less Dreading, More Doing,” we lay it all out for you: why we merged, how we’re stronger together, why we’re optimistic about the work ahead, and why we need to raise the First $500,000 in online donations by June 22.

It won’t be easy. There are many exciting new things to share with you, but spoiler: Wiggle room in our budget is not among them. We can’t afford missing these goals. We need this to be a big one. Falling flat would be utterly devastating right now.

A First $500,000 donation of $500, $50, or $5 would mean the world to us—a signal that you believe in the power of independent investigative reporting like we do. And whether you can pitch in or not, we have a free Strengthen Journalism sticker for you so you can help us spread the word and make the most of this huge moment.

payment methods

LET’S TALK ABOUT OPTIMISM FOR A CHANGE

Democracy and journalism are in crisis mode—and have been for a while. So how about doing something different?

Mother Jones did. We just merged with the Center for Investigative Reporting, bringing the radio show Reveal, the documentary film team CIR Studios, and Mother Jones together as one bigger, bolder investigative journalism nonprofit.

And this is the first time we’re asking you to support the new organization we’re building. In “Less Dreading, More Doing,” we lay it all out for you: why we merged, how we’re stronger together, why we’re optimistic about the work ahead, and why we need to raise the First $500,000 in online donations by June 22.

It won’t be easy. There are many exciting new things to share with you, but spoiler: Wiggle room in our budget is not among them. We can’t afford missing these goals. We need this to be a big one. Falling flat would be utterly devastating right now.

A First $500,000 donation of $500, $50, or $5 would mean the world to us—a signal that you believe in the power of independent investigative reporting like we do. And whether you can pitch in or not, we have a free Strengthen Journalism sticker for you so you can help us spread the word and make the most of this huge moment.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate