Through a process of construction, destruction, and re-construction, Alejandro Cartagena explores the formal and theoretical structures that shape the meaning of photographs. For his latest work, he mines landfills for discarded photographs and creates his own archive. His found vernacular photographs recall those preserved in institutional archival collections—portraits, snapshots, tourist views, and the like. With a sharpened blade, Cartagena excises figures, faces, or other details from the photographs and reconfigures the original composition by moving the cut fragments or removing them entirely. His arrangements reveal that seemingly crucial aspects of a photograph are both central and incidental to our ability to read and understand the works. They remain strangely whole and strikingly familiar, compelling the viewer to consider what gives a photograph meaning. Is it the ubiquity of photographs? The general compositional uniformity of them? The individuals or sites pictured? The context in which we encounter the photograph? The circumstances of its creation? In his final act as archivist, Cartagena provides context for the altered pictures, transferring them to a sphere as authoritative as that of the institutional archive: the museum.
Cartagena is producing works of art specifically for this exhibition, giving visitors to the Eastman Museum the first opportunity to see the newest photographs in his most recent body of work.
Alejandro Cartagena (Mexican, b. Dominican Republic, b. 1977). Gone #1, 2018. Unique gelatin silver cutout print. Courtesy of the artist. © Alejandro Cartagena