Camilo José Vergara
March 3, 2009 6:46 AM   Subscribe

Invincible Cities "Hundreds of color photographs of Richmond, California, Camden, New Jersey, and Harlem, New York, intended by the artist to be part of a 'Visual Encyclopedia of the American Ghetto.' The photos depict the built environment of these cities as they change over time (1980s-2005). Website features a detailed introduction and databases of photos from each city with interactive maps." [via]

Camilo José Vergara has not been featured on Metafilter before except for comments regarding his work in 2002 and 2003.

Out of Gas and Long, Low, Wide and Sinking are slideshows featuring his work.
posted by mlis (10 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I wanted to like these more than I did. His pictures don't have the compositional fascination of Freidlander or other great street photographers. Vergara clearly has a good spirit in his choice of subjects, but too many of the individual images just felt like snapshots. Thanks very much for posting, though - interesting to see.
posted by twsf at 7:14 AM on March 3, 2009

Vergara did a really stunning book of pictures of churches in East LA, Harlem, and Morningside Heights.
posted by parmanparman at 7:15 AM on March 3, 2009

Thanks! As to the issue with aesthetics, twsf, I don't really think that's the point here. The sheer mass of of documentation is the creative project, not the individual photographs themselves. It's interesting to watch, for example, the quirky storefronts of 65 125th street in Harlem, with their idiosyncrasies (even if some of those idiosyncrasies include shattered glass) eventually be replaced with an utterly soulless Sleepys Mattress shop.
posted by stagewhisper at 8:11 AM on March 3, 2009

Those pictures of Richmond CA explain a very odd encounter I once had in the parking lot of the Outback Steakhouse there, years ago. I didn't realize it was the hood.
posted by rusty at 9:14 AM on March 3, 2009

I like the presentation, but I'm really not getting a sense of how things have changed much over time. I looked at Richmond first, since I'm familiar with it, but he's only been working there for two years. So then I looked along Broadway in Camden, and no matter what decade, it's pretty much all photos of blighted property. If the point of the website is to show how ghettos change over time, I think that's been lost in the sheer number of photographs in Camden. In spite of the various and nifty ways of navigation, if you don't hit on the right combination of geography and time period it just looks like Camden has always been consistently lousy (which of course might be the case, but doesn't reflect the statement of intent). Also: 20 pages of "about"- tl;dr. I would really like to see this website tweaked to more accurately reflect his mission, and a little editing of writing would be a good thing. As it is, it looks like a website caught up in the tech but losing out on the purpose. It could be awesome though.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:09 AM on March 3, 2009

I examined the photos of Richmond, CA, where I have lived most of my life.

I'm surprised to learn that, according to Vergara, I live and work in a ghetto.

Many of Vergara's photos confuse working-class neighborhoods in Richmond with a ghetto. He failed to take his camera very far into Richmond's real ghetto, the Iron Triangle. It's a long stretch to consider the Richmond neighborhoods he photographed "invisible".

Vergara considers Richmond "invisible" because he finds it unfamiliar. The fact that he missed the truly invisible neighborhood in Richmond, the Iron Triangle, suggests to me that Vergara wasn't really seeing when he photographed the city.

Vergara pushes his "Invisible Cities" concept further with a Flash interface straight out of Cops. The street map navigation's design resembles an online crime map. The police-style interface lends a stark authority to the maps so that few visitors will question the maps' accuracy. The interface shines from its high-tech gloss, but also tells a lie that changes the photos from photojournalism to voyeurism at the expense of the "invisible city" the project is intended to reveal.

And the photography? Somebody please buy Vergara a real camera.
posted by Chinese Jet Pilot at 11:35 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I saw his Camden pictures in an exhibition (I don't really remember where) a few years ago. The shots had much more impact when seeing them blown up huge. I think the small details really matter for this type of documentary photography and you just can't see them in these tiny images.
posted by zsazsa at 12:12 PM on March 3, 2009

It's a long stretch to consider the Richmond neighborhoods he photographed "invisible".

Especially since that word up there is actually "invincible."
posted by mudpuppie at 1:50 PM on March 3, 2009

Based on the Richmond photos, I agree that they're lacking in artistry or emotional impact. I appreciate the project though.
posted by serazin at 3:08 PM on March 3, 2009

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