Camilo JosÃ© Vergara, is, at present, considered one of the most important documentary photographers in the United States. In 1977, he started documenting the ghettos of the United States. Vergara has spent over fourteen years photographing certain neighbourhoods, and has documented parts of the South Bronx, Harlem, Central Brooklyn, Newark, Camden, Chicago, Gary, Detroit, and Los Angeles South Central. His photographs, which he grouped together under the title The New American Ghetto Archive, provide an analytical reading of a number of aspects of life in the ghettos, of their physical recognition and their relationship with their urban setting. These pictures, which have a great emotional impact, are vehicles of information which document the change in the urban layout and become a photographic record of American urban decay.
The exhibition shows us the dark side of the "American dream" with a selection from over 9,000 photographs taken by Vergara over the last twenty years. The exhibition is laid out in some sections which look at the core themes of his work. The New American Ghetto introduces and illustrates the characteristics and peculiarities of the present-day ghettos, and identifies the main typologies. Not in my backyard tells us about the methadone distribution centres, day centres and all the "spontaneous typologies" of the social-services buildings. Fortifications illustrates, with bitter irony, the protective devices the ghetto builds in order to protect itself from itself. Interiors is a composition of images which show us home life in the ghetto and investigates the difficult relationship between inside and outside. Expressions brings together images which resist decay in this environment. American ruins is a desolate panorama of abandoned, ruined buildings in heavily built-up city centres, which are alarmingly empty, thus underlining the acceleration of decay in relatively new buildings. Finally, Documenting urban mutations shows the time-lapse sequences with which Vergara records the changes in one place over a certain period of time, revealing the radical changes in certain urban landscapes or the progressive and inexorable deterioration of others.
Camilo JosÃ© Vergara (Chile, 1944). Bachelor of Arts, University of Notre Dame, and Master of Arts, Columbia University. He started his photographic career in 1977. He has won many prizes and works from his archive are part of the collections of the Avery Library at Columbia University, New York (www.columbia.edu), the Getty Center, Los Angeles and the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York. His articles have been published in The New York Times, The Nation, Metropolis, The Village Voice, The Atlantic, Columbia Journalism Review and Architectural Record.
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