New Work: Riverbank | Barranca

I’ve posted a new series on my website. It’s called Riverbank or Barranca, in Spanish.

Buenos Aires is situated along the Rio de la Plata. A small river embankment is the only topographical feature in an otherwise very flat city. I started photographing there because I wanted to make photos with vistas and elevation changes and there was no where else to go. Ironically, you can’t actually see the river from any point on the riverbank. Too much land has been reclaimed.

The photos in the work are ordered geographically, proceeding from north to south, essentially giving a tour of the city. As I started photographing the project, often at dawn or dusk, I began to notice traces of the Argentina’s history present in the cityscape. At a certain point I realized that the work is as much about politics [and economics] as it is about landscape.

Avenida General Paz

In the first photo, for instance, police randomly search cars as they cross the city limits. The city and suburbs are two different administrative entities, with different police forces. In an inversion of the typical North American urban model, in South America, poverty and crime are often concentrated on the periphery of the city. The checkpoints are a theatrical effort to calm the the city’s relatively wealthier residents.

National Library

Argentina’s national library is constructed on the grounds of a former 19th century mansion that was used as the residence of Juan Perón and which was then demolished following his ouster by the military in 1955. Designed in 1961 in a brutalist style by one of the country’s most prominent architects, it wasn’t completed until 1992, due to drastic changes in government and shortages in funding, particularly during the 1980s debt crisis.

Shell station below Autopista Arturo Illia

Argentina hosted the World Cup in 1978. It was accompanied by a massive public works effort by the then-military government that saw the construction of elevated highways across the city. Such works were often funded with loans from the World Bank as well as New York financial institutions flush with petro-dollars.

Malvinas/Falklands war monument

Plaza San Martin is the site of a monument honoring Argentine soldiers killed in the 1982 conflict over the Falkland [Malvinas] Islands. The war killed about 650 Argentine soldiers and about 250 British. Argentina was unsuccessful in asserting its territorial claim over the islands.

Economy Ministry with bullet holes

In 1955, Argentina’s air force dropped bombs on the Plaza de Mayo, the country’s principal square and home to the seat of government, in an effort to unseat the elected president, Juan Perón. About 300 people were killed and the façade of the Economy ministry still bears the scars from the bombardment.

Paseo Colon & Alsina

The graffiti which reads “Nestor Vive” refers to the deceased ex-president, Nestor Kirchner, who was president from 2003 to 2007, a time in which Argentina was recovering from a severe economic crisis in 2001. His wife, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, is the current president, having been recently reelected to a second term.

The other graffiti, “Macri = Facho” refers to Mauricio Macri, who is the mayor of Buenos Aires and a member of the opposition. ‘Facho’ is a local slang word meaning ‘fascist.’

Club Atlético

The military junta that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983 murdered about 30,000 of its own citizens. Various buildings were used as interrogation and torture centers prior to shooting the victims or tossing them out of airplanes. This area, at the intersection of Avenida San Juan and Paseo Colón, was one such center. It was known as Club Atlético although it was subsequently demolished to make way for one of the aforementioned elevated highways.

At first, it wasn’t my intention to take photos with so much politics and history in them. The thing is, these traces are present in an area that has had so much history pass through it, or happen upon it.

Granted, I’m cherry-picking the photos from the series with heavier subtexts. At this point I’m still wondering how to incorporate all this context into the work itself. I’m not a huge fan of long captions but I think that this background information is important to understanding the photos.