Tracking Time by Camilo Jose Vergara or the destroying of social structures in cities

„For the last 40 years, photographer Camilo José Vergara has been documenting the tensions in deprived neighborhoods in major U.S. American cities. He has examined the divergence of American society and accounted for the symptoms of social conflicts. A reader of visual tracks, a photographic sociologist, ethnographer and urban researcher, Vergara has created a vast, impressive archive of American urban history, which spells out the changes and the dissolution of district communities.

Investigating processes of ghettoization and gentrification in Harlem, the Bronx and Brooklyn, as well as observing the decay of entire cities like Detroit, Vergara’s photographs elucidate on the impact of unemployment, racial discrimination and social prospects. Conceived as long-term studies, in which the photographer returns to the same places to document their changes, his photographs point out the changing features of municipal places.

Vergara’s unique methodology, merging photography and sociology, thereby finds expression in his understanding of photography and is underscored by his reading of the cities’ architectural surfaces: “I prowl the entire city in search of local forms of the elements that define the new ghetto: caretaking institutions, NIMBYs, ruins, graphic expressions, fortification, and enclaves.” (Vergara: American Ghetto, 1995) Creating a historic collective memory, his photographs visualize the cities’ codes and rites and reveal patterns, designations, and social limitations that have occurred since the last four decades.

Thus, as no other contemporary photographer before him, Vergara has succeeded in making processes of urban transformation visible. In July 2013, he was awarded the National Humanity Medal by President Obama, which makes him the first photographer to ever receive this award. In fall 2014, the Library of Congress acquired a greater selection of his work to preserve for the national memory.

The exhibition “Tracking Time – Documenting America’s Post-Industrial Cities”, taking place at Museum for Photography Brunswick in October 2014, presents Vergara’s exceptional work in his first solo exhibition in Germany. With 180 prints, the exhibition will provide insights into his intriguing study of American urban history.

Camilo José Vergara was born in Chile in 1944, moved to the U.S. in the 1970s and has been living in New York City ever since.

An exhibition catalogue will be published by Kerber with texts from Gisela Parak (Museum für Photographie Braunschweig), Camilo José Vergara and Helena Zinkham (Library of Congress, Washington D.C.).“

These words from the photomuseum website show the work of Vergara.

I found this book when I was looking for a similar project like my

Comparing my work with Mr Vergara I see differences:

  • I made photos in one region in a 3 years run, he made photos in different regions from time to time.
  • He shows the same place, I show delelopments in parts of my region.
  • We – both – photograph in public places and want to show social change.
  • We have the same „Idol“ – Henri Cartier-Bresson
  • We show local social landscapes and this is a new form of art – a visual mirror of dynamic social change

Today I can say Remscheid, Solingen and Wuppertal are in the USA. That means the social change and the destruction of social security/social structures run in the same way like in the US.

In Germany the future is chanceless for normal people. Everybody has basic social security but the government wants to know everything and most of the people have no possibility to get good jobs.

About 50 you get nothing, before you get bad jobs.

This big hole of hopelessness grows and grows and the publis space shows a lot of this:

  • Before we had public meeting points with trees and benches, today more and more are closed.
  • New meeting points are private and commercial.
  • We had big public places, now we have more and more enclosed property.
  • The towns become poor and the participation programs are closed.

In the last years this face of the new social landscape can be recognised more and more.

And now?

Photography can show it because it is a question of politics and civil participation.

And for me it is interesting to see that I am not alone in the world with such an approach.