The Remnants of Human Incursions into the Mexican Landscape

With a harsh light emphasising the desert aspect of the landscape, Alfredo Esparza Cárdenas records the immoderate use of the land in spaces that were once conquered by humans and are now uninhabited due to over-exploitation of their resources.

© Alfredo Esparza Cárdenas, Fallen-Elevated-Water-Tank, 2017

A huge red sphere in the middle of a monochromatic landscape, a bumper hanging on a frail, a leafless tree, animal skeletons carefully assembled on a barbed-wire fence. The pictures by Mexican photographer Alfredo Esparza Cárdenas look, at first gaze, like documentation of land art pieces. But while they are recording man-made interventions on the environment, it’s rather the damage that mankind inflicted onto it that Cárdenas focuses on.

Working with his father trimming pecan trees on a vast territory by the United States-Mexico border, Cardenas started to notice abandoned ranches and villages. Asking his father about the reason for these Mad Max-style scenes, he figured that it was the result of economic pressure and environmental disinterest. “Back then, Mexico was trying to reach certain productivity standards compared to Western countries, no matter what. In the 1970s-80s, farmers would over-exploit a piece of land for five or six years and move on to the next field. There is a very different social and cultural approach between our generation and my father’s. Back in these days they were not interested in using the land in a gentle, respectful way, and that was the starting point of the project”, Cardenas explains.

© Alfredo Esparza Cárdenas, Bumper,2019

With more wandering and research, Cardenas expanded the temporal frame of his project. From the impact of farming techniques in the 1970s, he opened up to other ways in which the economy has inflicted radical changes on the landscape. When shooting a cow’s bone hooked to a football goal, he doesn’t only convey the idea of livestock struggling to survive because of the increase of drought, he also refers to the introduction of domestic animals 500 years ago, as well as the subsequent disappearance of native flora. “The fact that the most common piece of bone that I find in this altered territory belongs to domestic animals speak about the impact of human activity”, Cardenas comments.

And when he doesn’t discover an animal’s skull but a human’s, he includes it to approach the new paradigms caused by an abandoned environment. “From 2006-2015, Mexico has had big drug wars and cartels took over these places. This made me think about economic systems that permeate the way we live; the way we treat the environment and the others. After being rude to the environment, the next step is to be rude to human beings.” Combining these elements spanning different periods of time, Cardenas offers a very flexible, yet strong, narrative served by a strong visual vocabulary.

© Alfredo Esparza Cárdenas, The Death

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Alfredo Esparza Cárdenas is a Mexican photographer using his camera to capture the indelible impact mankind is making on the natural environment. Follow him on Instagram.

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.

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Getting Closer presents photographic works, mainly in a documentary vein, that speak about the causes and consequences of environmental degradation.

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