Photographer Ingrid Hernández’s stunning, in-depth record of Tijuana’s developing neighborhoods, settlements, and organic compounds documents the personal lives of a community behind closed doors. Through a convergence of indoor and outdoor portraiture, her works reflect on the soul and intimacy of the city’s uncontrolled environments and dreams. Hernández’s almost sociological photographic journeys guide viewers through beginnings and migration, into a modern-day sense of belonging(s), as pilgrimages and reincarnations take invested leaps of faith towards manifest destiny. Hernández’s photos depict a refuge in eternity and limbo on the border, a testament to the legacy of trying one’s luck, sharing meals and borrowing electricity in a semi-industrialized way of life. Her images testify to the birth of a new life and neighborhood simultaneously, capturing its rituals, hardships and pensiveness in the still life of her framework and conscientious expositions.
Hernández is a self-made artist herself, a sociologist whose interest and passion for photography fueled her desire to venture into Tijuana’s unauthorized urban landscapes. “All of my life I thought I would be an academic, I have a master’s in sociology, which provided me with several tools of investigation," Hernández says. "But upon graduating, I grabbed the camera and commenced these lengthy journeys into the city’s self-constructed settlements, or rather, the new neighborhoods emerging in Tijuana, those which were not residential areas with pre-designed housing, but rather plots of land where people built with whatever materials were at their reach." After several months of work based on photographs and interviews, she stopped to examine what she had. "[I asked] myself what I had produced, trying to reflect upon what I was searching for in photography. I found images of self-constructed homes, of repurposed materials, and also discovered that I was not interested in traditional portraiture, since there were no people within the frame of any of my photographs.”
The communities Hernández photographs play by a new world order, where the unalienable rights of expansion, substance and the pursuit of happiness justify the guilty verdict, as she digs deeper and these yearnings take center stage. Adversity raids prosperity, as Hernández’s confident photography asserts camaraderie and subjectivity in these multinational living quarters. The madness, absurdity, and personality of this reality on the outskirts is central to her photo essays. Her photos reflect trial and error, synthetic epochs, and decay. Hernández has an incessant alliance and passion for Tijuana’s courage in searching to better itself.
The influence of sociology lends a most distinct human quality to Hernández’s work, a body of photographic imagery and migratory mise-en-scène developed through a careful methodology over time. “To me it’s always been important to say that one’s studies give shape to something that is already of interest, in that sense, it’s not like a university makes you who you are, rather you search for a university to locate and lend form to your restlessness," Hernández says. "Hence my interest, first in sociology, then my development as an artist utilizing photography and social investigation methodology to work with the migrant population in vulnerable situations, in irregular settlements and self-constructed homes." Her major and later, her master's degree, brought her closer to anthropological and sociological investigation techniques that she later brought into her artistic practice. "I was convinced I didn’t just want to practice photography, I also wanted to deeply get to know the context of where I was producing images and the people that inhabited these spaces.”
A mindful approach and the development of intimacy are fundamental to Hernández’s representational perseverance and fraternity with the residents. She sought to generate a relationship through her projects, an involvement that generally takes plenty of time to construct. "Each project I develop takes about one to three years of communitarian work," she says. "During that time, I relate to and spend time with the community, I listen, talk and participate in different moments in the lives of the people I work with, all the while conducting interviews, taking photographs and sharing the work with them. At the end of each project, we host an exhibit at the site where the project developed with the purpose of being able to demonstrate my representation of their spaces; I also later exhibit the work via images and text that are descriptions of the context where I worked."
Characteristically shifting her focal point towards interior/exterior personal space as opposed to traditional portraiture, Hernández brings to light the absence of human interaction within the frame, making for an artistic statement that is both inquisitive and expository, investigative and interconnected, all the while smashing the familiarities of photojournalism. “Historically, images that expose households in poverty conditions contain a charged ideological baggage based on compassion, voyeurism and the tragedies of ‘others.’ I’ve been working deliberately with the self-constructed household because I want to subvert that dominant representation in social documentation," Hernández states. "In this manner, I conceive of these images based on a concept stemming from the syntax of objects and space, emphasizing the order and manner in which objects arrange themselves within the domestic environment."
Articulating the dynamics of migration via the photographic image, Hernández addresses the magnitude of possessions as subsistence mechanisms. “I search to highlight the particular, the property and individuality present in the way an object is utilized, its disposition in a place, giving it purpose within a space according to gestures, whims and mania that obey a dimension of the human condition that goes beyond utilitarian simplicity or social condition. In this sense, I am not interested in showing the human figure, I am not seeking portraits of people, rather I intend to construct images of spaces and objects that reference [in an oblique tone] the people they belong to. I want these images to incite thought on the human condition, parting from the material world,” Hernández explains.
Like many of the border artists of her generation, Hernández engages in providing accessibility to a means of artistic production and discussion for the Tijuana community through an independent brand of promotion and support networking. Relaciones Inesperadas is a collective born over three years ago out of the desire to give shape to the different artistic, investigative, and arts education practices being carried out by Hernández, Abraham Ávila and Mayra Huerta. “One day we decided to unite our cumulative practices and systematize our work. With Relaciones Inesperadas we are primarily looking to generate relationships between the diverse agents in the arts ecosystem through educational programs, residencies and conferences. Our goal is to professionalize, reflect, collaborate, and produce knowledge in this field from an investigative and interdisciplinary focus,” Hernández says. Relaciones Inesperadas is an active, involved and intellectual development hub intensely spearheading a pride in arts participation and fostering talent in Tijuana. “To this day, we’ve developed about 45 workshops with internationally renowned instructors living in or outside of Mexico. We’ve also hosted about 20 talks with specialists in different topics, held in a conference format, attended by Tijuana artists, academics, investigators and the general public." In 2016, they will be welcoming the second generation of their Contemporary Art Production Program, made up of various modules, exhibits and international residencies, continuing the creative spirit on the border.
For more of Ingrid Hernández’s work, visit her website.
For more information on Relaciones Inesperadas, visit their Facebook and web page.
Top image: Ingrid Hernández, photo from the "Tijuana Comprimida" series.