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Suburban Bus, by Alejandro Cartagena. Photo: The Velvet Cell
'Suburban Bus,' by Alejandro Cartagena. Photo: The Velvet Cell

'Suburban Bus': a closer look at daily life in Monterrey, Mexico

Mexican photographer Alejandro Cartagena’s new photobook uses the bus as a vantage point to take a closer look at people and their everyday struggles

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This week, The New Yorker devoted a review to Suburban Bus, the latest photobook by prolific Dominican-born Mexican photographer, Alejandro Cartagena. 

Published in 2021, Suburban Bus is a collection of photographs that Cartagena took from the bus while commuting by bus to his family’s restaurant in Juarez every day between 1993 and 2004.

The bus becomes a vantage point to take a closer look at people and their everyday struggles, and at social change and division. Cartagena watched the city’s rapid, devastating growth from 66,000 inhabitants to 144,000 in the span of only five years and is intimately familiar with the observations and insight that are unique to the perspective of the frequent bus passenger.

"The precarious situation of public transportation, and mobility in general, remains ultra-underrepresented in public debate, and is an issue doomed to languish on many public "to-do" lists. This makes Cartagena's work take on a specific political importance by visualizing the costs of this inaction on the quality of life of the inhabitants of the Monterrey Metropolitan Area," writes Ximena Peredo, head of the Secretariat of Citizen Participation of the State of Nuevo León (where Monterrey is located), in an essay at the beginning of the book. 

The photographs, taken from inside the bus, show us workers waiting next to the road, amid the dust and darkness of the early morning. They also show passengers huddled inside, some trying to rest, others reading or looking out the window at the pink sky.

In a mixture of poetic gaze and social critique, the photos denounce the state of public transportation in Mexico — insufficient and precarious — and unequal housing market that forces workers to travel two hours by bus to get from their homes in the suburbs to the city cente. It also touches on the danger of sexual harassment, a sad reality for women traveling on public transportation.

In the essay that accompanies the book, Peredo points out that 91.6% of women passengers have suffered sexual violence on public transportation in the Monterrey metropolitan area.

Despite the discomfort of the trip, passengers have time to read, listen to music, put on makeup, hug their loved ones. Life goes on.

About the author

antonio cartagena

Born in the Dominican Republic in 1977, Cartagena earned a Master's degree in Visual Arts from the UANL and has lived and worked in Monterrey, Mexico since 1990. His work focuses on the exploration of landscape and portraiture as tools for observing the cultural, social and political constructions that shape Latin American societies. He has published in magazines such as Wallpaper, Monocle, The Financial Times, The New Yorker, PDN, The New York Times and his works are in public and private collections such as the San Francisco MOMA, The J. Paul Getty Museum, The MFAH in Houston, the MOCP in Chicago, and the MAM in Rio de Janeiro.

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