In his series Urban Archeology, Ernesto RamÃrez sheds light upon everything that Mexico city produces, abandons, and rejects. The crushed cans, the broken corners, and the chipped murals form part of a nostalgic scenery thatâthanks to the intimate gaze of the photographerâtransforms its detritus into revealing pieces of information. Sandra Licona, a respected journalist and the wife of RamÃrez, brings us a profile of this artist who, accompanied by his toy camera, rescues objects and places from obscurity.
By Sandra Licona
Translated by Kate McFarlane
Every day a piece of Mexico City is converted into junk. But the photographer Ernesto RamÃrez refers to these discards in a kinder manner; he speaks of urban archeology. Before the eyes of Ernesto the discarded buildings, cars, possessions, and streets of the Districto Federal cease to be mere âremainsâ and are transformed into survivors and witnesses of an immediate past that is becoming history.
With the intention of giving voice to this city, which manifests itself through the waste that it generates, five years ago Ernesto began to work on Urban Archeology, an essay that recovers a geography of the old. In order to create this intimate yet retro map Ernesto committed himself to tirelessly traversing the city and to opening himself to surprising discoveries (like a 1960s Volkswagen van or an old watch in CoyoacÃ¡n, one of the oldest and most picturesque neighborhoods of the city). And he did it all with a plastic Holga, a camera that allows light to leak onto the edges of the film. With its highly precarious technology the Holga itself presents a creative challenge.
The gaze also filters into the Holga. Thanks to this device and its peculiar way of seeing things Ernesto has been able to rescue the melancholy, less-publicized face of the city. He is able to find lifeâand languageâin a ruined street corner, a printed can in the street, an off-the-hook telephone, and a Christmas tree wrapped in plastic.
However, this search did not start in the street. It began, in one respect, when Ernesto saw a brief article about the removal of garbage from the legendary Lake Chapultepec. He recognized that those bottles, cans, and other pieces of trashâsome of which dated back to the 1940s and 1950sâhad historic value. (In fact, the garbage was later used in an exhibition.) The second experience that influenced this project was Ernestoâs discovery of a can embedded in the asphalt. Thanks to the passing of automobiles and time the can had acquired a resemblance to a metallic dragonfly. Ernesto never managed to photograph that last image; when he returned to do so, the asphalt had been repaved, and the âinsect,â metaphorically, had flown. With that âno photo,â he realized that the city was a living and elusive organism, a monster that he wanted to capture.
Work and life For Ernesto, 42 years old, photography has always been more than just a way of earning a living; it is a way of expressing himself. Urban Archeology is not his only long-running endeavor. Ernesto is also the author of Close to Heaven, an exploration of environment created by the flat rooftops of Mexico City. Close to Heaven has several connections to Urban Archeology. First of all, both projects began five years ago and developed almost side by side. For Ernesto the flat roofs represent extensions of the homes below them. These are the houses where we nostalgically store our garbage: the relics of our past selves that we are not yet ready to abandon. Even though Close to Heaven is a strong project in conception and production it is not yet completed; there is still ground to explore.
Throughout the decades, while he gave form and depth to his most ambitious works, Ernesto always worked in media, principally in journals and magazines that cover current affairs and politics. After starting as a steady photographer for La Jornada in 1994âthe year of the armed uprising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation and the accompanying craze for informationâand spending five years in Chiapas. Ernesto worked for numerous publications, including Milenio Semanal, El Independiente, La Revista (edited for two years by El Universal), El Centro, and El PeriÃ³dico. He has also collaborated on several projects with Mondaphoto, whose work is also presented in Nuestra Mirada.
And in addition to passing through countless editorial offices Ernesto insists that his entire life pass through the lens of his camera. This includes his love for his daughters, Camila y Emilia, who accompany him and cheer on his mad journey to document this city. The girls contribute ideas, suggest images, and collaborate with him as spontaneous and anonymous models.
For these reasons and many others each photograph of Urban Archeology is steeped in personal meaning. âÃltima Partidaâ describes âthe absurd violence in the city; through what other manner can it be explained how someone was capable of destroying a concrete table in a public space.âÂ âFauna urbanaâ speaks of how in an immense capital, an inhabitant is brought into the present through sight of a deer head high in a tree.
All the photos, in turn, permit us to glimpse the remarkable presence of Ernesto. He has ventured into street photography with a particular style of working. For this project, Ernesto creates his own imaginary urban area: a frame that reinvents the faÃ§ade of an old building on the brink of a redesign, a mirror that returns and multiplies reflections, graffiti carved with pocketknivesâ¦ It would seem that Ernesto restores the found by converting it into image, in âaction and intention,â as curator Gustavo Prado wrote for the catalog made for this series.
In summary Ernesto travels the city with pleasure, with nostalgia, and with the hope of finding urban phantoms and little ruins. As our friend HÃ©ctor de MauleÃ³n said so beautifully when speaking of Urban Archeology, Ernesto photographs the âthings that the swell brings up, invested with new meaning and announcing the end that has not yet arrived.â