Rivers of Power by Alejandro Cartagena. Edition of 490. Published by Newwer
In Rivers of Power we see the tragic relationship between two bodies: a critical narration of the long and failed relationship between a society and a river. Although today it is a long and winding sarcophagus, in the past the city depended on the abundance of its stream. Centuries later, with Monterrey transformed into a regional industrial enclave, the Santa Catarina River served as border between social classes: the employers on the north side, the laborers on the south. The first hydraulic engineering works were carried out at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1909, wells and dikes were routed through pipes. That same year the river overflowed and caused the catastrophic flood that took over 5 thousand lives. Entire families disappeared. Since then, the river has been serving a sentence, receiving the treatment of a beast, with its future in peril. This fear, built based on ignorant speeches, created in American universities and reproduced with strict fidelity in Monterrey, was capitalized by governments eager to make their power known. The domination of the uncontrollable body of nature is a necessary rite of passage in any industrial society. In this way, the political apparatus decided to display its strength against the Santa Catarina River, whose clamor still resonated in the city’s memory, with the inauguration of the works that channeled it to protect Monterrey and utilize the water as raw material. The prolonged engineering works were nothing short of a marvel of modernity. After the ribbon was cut, in the mid-20th century, a subconscious link was broken and a period of aridity began, not only in the landscape, but also in morality. It broke the scale. The river was a line drawn on a technical plan. In 1988, Hurricane Gilberto hit the city of Monterrey. The city once again trembled before the torrential power of its currents, which tore up houses, markets, Ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds. Leaving over 300 people dead, the destruction served as a reminder to the following generation: this is not a dead river, but a captive one. The tragedy had no end point until the year 2004 when another large-scale work of civil engineering was inaugurated, known as the Rompepicos dam or grout curtain, whose purpose was to curb the water level from its source, in the Sierra Madre Oriental. But in the year 2010 it again broke through with all its might: stoked by Hurricane Alex, the body of water managed to burst the pipes to escape, fugitive and enraged, bellowing across the entire length of the city. Those of us who heard it cannot forget that enthralling and harrowing cry of freedom. Its spirit took shape, returned to it. Faced with human pain, we hid our joy as we acknowledged its resurrection. Standing on the devastated riverbanks, we contemplated the water, enraptured by a sensual revolution. The frenzied cry of fertility of a body faced with its captor. Then we watched the same entrepreneurs build business opportunities out of the destruction. We stood witness to the engineering works that managed to bury the river once again. We were not able to stop them, or resist, because the speed of the expressways rushing along the riverside hampers any considered thought. They plundered the stone and sand of its sepulcher to use as construction materials. Today we stand thirsty as the withered body of the river is scattered throughout the city.
“It’s a great book in which you’re immersed in a full range of different images from different sources. There’s also the sense that the books Cartagena makes, as well as being works in themselves, are also punctuation marks in a larger body of work that he’s already semi-visualising in his photobooks, that the books, though great, are just a stepping stone to some huge installation that will one day take up a couple of floors of one of the world’s major museums. There’s a feeling that the book isn’t everything, that the book is just the beginning”. Colin Pantall
“His story reveals an empty and seductive river bed that seems to beckon entrepreneurs to take advantage of the unobstructed wide open spaces. A story about how mankind soon forgets that the usually trickle of river water can be deceiving evil in the face of the next horrific hurricane advancing in from the Caribbean.
Cartagena mixes historical photographs of the early riverbed construction to control this waterway to set the context for his story, then introduces his investigation using a documentary style of color photographs. The brilliant design of his book is a wonderful metaphor for his subject; the flexible interior book, like the river water, is encased in a hard shell, much like the conducts and pipes to control the water, which almost collapses when the interior book is removed. The stiffcover naked-binding allows the book to lay flat and in conjunction with the photographs printed full bleed across the two page spread, creates an enjoyable reading experience. Recommended”. Douglas Stockdale for the PhotoBook
“Rivers of Power its mix of archive images, blurred film/tv news stills and outstanding photography is beautiful to look at even though the subject matter is – as always in Alejandro’s work – quite disturbing”. Elsewhere A journal of Place
Annoying cover. Most reviewers preferred Santa Barbara, another Skinnerboox publication but we preferred this dark tale. Rudi Thoemmes picked the book as one of the top books of 2016 for Photobookstore
YALE Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library, New Haven, Connecticut
***First 100 copies come with a signed 6×8 c-print