Have truck, will travel: Photo show snaps Mexican carpoolers

Have truck, will travel: Photo show snaps Mexican carpoolers
Photo by Alejandro Cartagena

This photography show will make you think twice before complaining about New York rush hour.

“The Car Poolers,” currently on display at United Photo Industries in Dumbo, features photos of commuters headed to work while lying on hard wooden planks in open-air trucks. Dominican-born photographer Alejandro Cartagena spent a year capturing the images on the southbound Highway 85 in Monterrey, Mexico, where he now resides.

Taken from a high-angle, the photos give viewers the unique sensation of hovering above vehicles speeding down a highway. And in a way, they are — the audacious artist achieved this effect by dangling from an overhead bridge.

“I found a pedestrian bridge crossing the busiest highways in the metro area and stuck half of my body out to be able to shoot straight down,” he said.

Most of the photographs capture the commuters taking catnaps, but in a few rare shots, they break the fourth wall by smiling back at the camera.

“They are mostly construction workers commuting from the northern suburbs of Escobedo, Apodaca, and San Nicolas to San Pedro Garza Garcia, one of the richest cities in Latin America,” Cartagena said. “I have never personally met them apart from a wave after taking their picture on the highway. They go by fast and it’s more of an acknowledgement that they saw me.”

Cartagena was invited to present the solo exhibition at United Photo Industries after winning the jury award in the gallery’s annual photography contest. But if his photos already look familiar to you, it may be because “The Car Poolers” received a significant amount of media attention when it opened at a Los Angeles gallery in early 2013, garnering write-ups from the likes of the New York Times, ABC News, and the Guardian, among many others.

Although the photos are from Mexico, the striking images address an issue that should resonate with many Americans — urban sprawl. In Monterrey, Cartagena explained, suburbs are being built at great distances from urban centers, causing longer commutes and higher fuel consumption.

“It is a very local issue but something we inherited from the American dream of suburban home ownership,” he said. “The cities and country didn’t pay attention to the problems that suburbanization would introduce and now everybody is paying for it. Monterrey’s metropolitan area is one of the most polluted and has one of the highest car crash rates in Mexico.”

If carpooling were not an option, Cartagena said his subjects would have to rely on public transportation — a far less attractive option in the area.

“It would take two to three hours (double the time) to get to their destination and cost more,” he said. “There aren’t many subway lines or bus routes that directly connect the north and the south yet. The suburbs grew too fast.”

“The Car Poolers” at United Photo Industries HQ [111 Front St. Suite 204 between Washington and Adams streets in dumbo, (718) 215–9075, www.unitedphotoindustries.com] On view through Jan 31.