The Editor's Pick: Slumping towns, Mixteca Region, Mexico

Matt Black's recent photo-reportage poses the question of the effects of changing cultures, economies and landscapes in regions facing the mix of complex ecologies and social and economic transformations. Through documenting the daily struggles of a village of about fifteen hundred people, named Santiago Mitlatongo — a village located in the Mixteca region, Mexico —, Matt Black shows environmental consequences of economic, social and political mutations in collision with spatial anomalies.
"Residents removed possessions from their destroyed village" | © Matt Black
Originally appeared on The New York Times ı Lens Blog

Matt Black travelled in Mexico to capture the consequences of political, social and economic transformation of the country on villages:
"A boy climbed on his destroyed house" | © Matt Black
Originally appeared on The New York Times ı The Lens Blog

Here's the story of this town where literally lives turn upside down. It looked like the entire town had gone through a blender.
Black says. The landscapes he photographed are in ruin, mortified, destroyed by erosion. Most of these villages, abandoned by economic growth, are located in a mountainous region. Its population is poor and indigenous, living far from the rapidly urbanized Mexican cities.
"A boy walked home across a collapsing hillside" | © Matt Black
Originally appeared on The New York Times ı Lens Blog

These landscapes reflect a shift we know: nature transformed through industrialization and urbanization. Black goes on,
The Mixteca were one of the great civilizations in Mesoamerica. And it's just completely unraveling.
These villages are simply isolated from urbanization and economic growth that, as mentioned above, are transforming Mexican landscapes.
"A collapsing mountain sent rocks toward the village below" | © Matt Black
Originally appeared on The New York Times ı Lens Blog

Few see much future in a place that has lost up to five meters of topsoil to runaway erosion, leaving over 1 million acres so severily damaged that the UN now calls the region one of the most heavily eroded landscapes in the world. One of the oldest continually cultivated patches of ground on earth, tended by one of the world's oldest farming cultures, is becoming little more than a vacant wasteland.
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"A family carried wheat from ruined land" | © Matt Black
Originally appeared on The New York Times ı Lens Blog

A becoming-derelict landscape under anthropogenic pressures: Some villages are facing a dramatic declining population rate which may contributes ecological and social issues for these villages — a population loss of about 80 percent. The population is leaving these places migrating towards cities. The consequences to this urban migration: these villages are becoming ghost villages.
"Cutting wheat from a cracked field" | © Matt Black
Originally appeared on The New York Times ı Lens Blog

Matt Mccann, the author of an article published in The New York Times this Monday 6th October, uses the geological term 'slumping' to name this event of these villages that are sliding by erosion. He reveals that this town of Santiago Mitlatongo is diminishing at a rate of about a meter per day.
"Houses drift downhill in a slow-motion landslide" | © Matt Black
Originally appeared on The New York Times ı Lens Blog

This disaster event is symptomatic of landscapes destroyed by extensive use of land and other engineered intervention combined with complex natural features. Is it natural? Or man-made?
The response, Matt Black points out, 

To the extent that the Mixteca's ecological problems have been examined by outsiders, the list of possible causes feels more like a grab bag of accumulated wisdom than the result of a serious scientific study: droves of grazing sheep introduced by the Spanish, the oxen-powered plow still widely in use, chemical fertilizers and pesticides promoted by the Mexican government, slash-and-burn farming, altered weather patterns from climate change, or just inherently fragile and unstable land.  
The source of the Mixteca's environmental collapse most likely lies in a combination of all of these factors, an accrual of ecological ills meshed against a five-hundred-year history of social upheaval following the Spanish conquest. But to the villagers whose lives have upended by the erosion of the land, the point is moot, and the directive is clear: get out.
In short, a sum of engineered acts and ecological events that will be leading to depleted wastelands.

I'm reminded a conversation between Liam Young, Kate Davies and filmmaker Michael Madsen, in particular the passage on anthropocene. Liam Young says,
When we talk about these sites we visit, we're now starting to talk about them as a site of anthropocene where our hand as marker is most evident and these extraordinary time scales where we talk about our change on the planet playing out is most visible in a very immediate way. [Liam Young, Kate Davies in conversation with Michael Madsen, Odysseys, Volume 31 ı Guilty Landscapes, 2012, 79]
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From a region with a rich history to derelict and mortified wastelands…

"Salvaging lumber from a destroyed home" | © Matt Black
Originally appeared on The New York Times ı Lens Blog

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