Alejandro Cartagena: A Small Guide to Homeownership

A Small Guide to Homeownership is an amalgamation of 15 years of work, starting with Fragmented Cities series made between 2005 and 2009 in which Alejandro Cartagena documented the suburbanization of the Monterrey metro area in northern Mexico. This project began an exploration that led the photographer to document the changes that this development brought to the city; from transportation, urban planning, infrastructure development, private and public bureaucracy, the challenges in people’s daily life to the ecological consequences of this unplanned growth.

A Small Guide To Homeownership takes the form of a photo-collaged proto-Dummies manual that blithely, and blindly, gives tips on financing residential real estate and managing thirty-year, fixed-rate mortgages. It tucks images from Suburbia Mexicana and Carpoolers into found text from home-buying guidebooks. In a particularly lacerating chapter, Cartagena layers the pictures of the little boxes over the real estate–industrial complex’s conventional rah-rah fantasies, which counsel that if your family has “two who cook, you need . . . a big kitchen,” and if you have “small children, you need . . . lots of bedrooms,” conveying how unrealistic the own-your-own-home cult can be.

Cartagena observes that his photographs fill in the gaps left by government and development propaganda that pushes the idea of homeownership as an unqualified good. “If you connect a picture of a house in the suburbs with a picture of carpoolers, with a picture of a desiccated river—those images weren’t meant to be together,” he says. “But if you connect those dots, the story becomes more complex, and the questions open up to ‘What are we really doing?’” (via

The book concept is by Alejandro Cartagena, design by Ricardo Nunes, Éanna de Fréine, Fernando Gallegos and Alejandro Cartagena. Edited by Fernando Gallegos and Alejandro Cartagena, texts by Fernando Gallegos and Alejandro Cartagena,published by The Velvet Cell.

About the Author

Alejandro Cartagena, Mexican (b. 1977, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic) lives and works in Monterrey, Mexico. His projects employ landscape and portraiture as a means to examine social, urban, and environmental issues.

A portrait of Alejandro Cartagena

Cartagena’s work has been exhibited internationally in more than 50 group and individual exhibitions in spaces including the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris and the CCCB in Barcelona, and his work is in the collections of several museums including the San Francisco MOMA, the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, the Portland Museum of Art, The West Collection, the Coppel collection, the FEMSA Collection, Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the George Eastman House and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and among others.

Alejandro is a self-publisher and co-editor and has created several award-winning titles including Santa Barbara Shame on US, Skinnerboox, 2017, A Guide to Infrastructure and Corruption, The Velvet Cell, 2017, Rivers of Power, Newwer, 2016, Santa Barbara return Jobs to US, Skinnerboox, 2016, Headshots, Self-published, 2015, Before the War, Self-published, 2015, Carpoolers, Self-published with support of FONCA Grant, 2014, Suburbia Mexicana, Daylight/ Photolucida 2010. Some of his books are in the Yale University Library, the Tate Britain, and the 10×10 Photobooks/MFH Houston book collections among others.

Cartagena has received several awards including the international Photolucida Critical Mass Book Award, the Street Photography Award in London Photo Festival, the Lente Latino Award in Chile, the Premio IILA-FotoGrafia Award in Rome, and the Salon de la Fotografia of Fototeca de Nuevo Leon in Mexico among others. He has been named an International Discoveries of the FotoFest festival, a FOAM magazine TALENT, and an Emerging photographer of PDN magazine.

He has also been a finalist for the Aperture Portfolio Award and has been nominated for the Santa Fe Photography Prize, the Prix Pictet Prize, the Photoespaña Descubrimientos Award, and the FOAM Paul Huff Award. His work has been published internationally in magazines and newspapers such as Newsweek, Nowness, Domus, the Financial Times, The New York Times, Le Monde, Stern, PDN, The New Yorker, and Wallpaper among others.

Hardcover: 360 pages
Edition: 600 copies
Publisher: Velvet cell (2020)
Language: English
Size: 5.98 x 9.01 inches

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