Camilo José Vergara

“I think of my images as bricks that, when placed in context with each other, reveal shapes and meanings within these often neglected urban communities. Through photography, I have become a builder of virtual cities.” — Camilo José Vergara, quoted directly from Time/LightBox Magazine:

Camilo José Vergara is a 2002 MacArthur fellow, sociologist, writer, documentarian and  photographer who has dedicated his last 40 years to document across the US, many places, not actively sought by others: Camden and Newark, New Jersey; Chicago, Illinois; Detroit, Michigan; Gary, Indiana; Maine; New York; Oakland and Los Angeles. Originally born in the Santiago, Chile of 1944, he has, since the mid 1960’s, made his life in the US. The J.Paul Getty Museum has a good biography of his life’s beginnings and life’s work.

Among his latest honors, he is the first photographer to receive the National Humanities Award in the US.  Since 1997, this award is given up to 12 recipients each year in a ceremony at the White House. Camilo José Vergara recieved his from President Obama on July 10, 2013. Defined on National Humanities Award’s webpage as an award given to : “Honor individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the humanities, broadened our citizens’ engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand Americans’ access to important resources in the humanities.” In  Camilo José Vergara’s words in Spanish: “Yo soy un fotÃgrafo distinto a los otros, a mi me dan la medalla por la especialidad de humanidades, porque mi responsabilidad es fotografiar la historia de los barrios arruinados, que se estÃn cayendo a pedazos, donde la inversi³n es cero y cuyos habitantes los estÃn abandonando”.

His life’s work has been documenting the underside of the changing urban landscape through a time lapsed photography by visiting and revisiting sites and places within a city: Where he documents how these places “progress” forward or in most cases, decay forward because some do revitalize or maintain their state of abandonment.  Since Rephotography of “pretty”(popular) streets has been done, but Camilo José Vergara’s subjects are not of this vein or vanity. His revisited subjects (places) are along the lines of the forgotten, the marginalized and disenfranchised. His Rephotography is from a historical perspective as oppose to a simple esthetic viewing.

One of the pioneers and a good contrasting reference of the style of Rephotography, is Ed Ruscha. Fundi2 considers him a pioneer because his “Every Building on the Sunset Strip” is dated to 1966. Below is his Rephotography of the popular Hollywood Boulevard (chosen as a contrast reference here because) this is currently on display at the Getty’s Exhibit – “In Focus: Ed Ruscha“, which will be closing September 29, 2013. and is part of Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architect in LA.  As can be seen, Ed Ruscha’s work is more on the “pretty” subject, the progress of a street documented, not the documentation of it’s decline. Vastly different in his style of Rephotography, Camilo José Vergara’s work archives the passing of the time of the less popular, less visited subjects. There is an excellent slideshow presentation of Vergara’s Rephotography of places at the following link, TIME magazine.

One last glimpse of Camilo José Vergara’writings and his documentarist vantage point: “The ghetto poses urgent questions I feel compelled to respond to, not with solutions but with explanations and tangible records. I am driven to publicize and preserve the memory of these environments.” You can read Camilo José Vergara’s current writings at two online magazines: Slate and  Time/LightBox Magazine. His list of publication include: Silent Cities: The Evolution of the American Cemetery (1989), The New American Ghetto (1995), American Ruins (1999), Unexpected Chicagoland (2001), and How the Other Half Worships (2005).

Exhibit Details:

Camilo José Vergara – By Night in LA

Exhibition on display from August 17- September 14, 2013

Artist Reception:

Saturday, September 7, 2013

from 6-8pm


Bergamot Station Art Center
2525 Michigan Avenue G-5
Santa Monica, California 90404

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