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ArtMedia Gallery
June 12 – September 7, 2014

The story behind Opa-locka is the lore of lore. Like Scheherazade’s stories within stories, it is a nesting doll of myth and fantasy. Sure, the community in Northwest Dade has the most Moorish architecture this side of Tangiers, but it’s also home to scores of nondescript warehouses and commercial buildings. Jorge Sánchez photographs these buildings—the architectural “common denominator,” as he puts it.

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Upon entering the gallery, one first sees a line of photographs stretching around the left and back wall. These buildings line the artist’s 6.9-mile commute from his home to the metal manufacturing facility where he works as an engineer. (Sánchez was born in Cuba and studied engineering in the USSR before coming to Miami and receiving his BFA last year from Florida International University.) The photographs have been cropped so that horizontal lines—roof, sidewalk, not horizon because these industrial districts don’t really inspire a vista—match up. The sky is as dull and bulging as your grandmother’s couch. A gritty, ill-kempt street elongates across the gallery wall in a panoramic, Street-View fashion. Once your eyes adjust to the unspectacular buildings, their personalities bloom like the overgrown weeds in the parking lot. Window bars like gritted teeth warn you from getting too close. The distance is familiar. The viewer rides shotgun. In that, these photographs are like Ruscha’s Sunset Strip. But then it gets Becher.

A grid of 20 photos on the right wall categorically deny easy typology of Miami architecture. Although the photos were taken in the same neighborhood (all of these pictures come from a larger project titled North of Flagler) they have more distinction, more color. Some are photographed from an angle. A shadow dangles down one façade like a noose.

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Like Glenn Curtiss, who founded Opa-locka as an Arabian fantasy, viewers of these photographs are tempted to set their own narrative reeling: urban ennui, entropy, gentrification, take your pick. The last two photographs—which, depending on where you look as you walk in, are also the first two—crystallize the cinematic feel of the exhibition. Two pictures, each with two garage doors. Both have the same face-to-cinderblock physicality of a Lewis Baltz, but there’s something about that light. They seem closer to Sugimoto’s photos of movie-theater screens, with cinematic time replaced with urban time. It’s as if these doors somehow project the entirety of a feature-length city.

Throughout this perfectly focused exhibition, Sánchez displays his knowledge of photographic history, and how it can be used to expand or limit a place. Because while all of the above-mentioned photographs are in black and white, it is the slight, reticent ripening of color that captures what is wonderful about these buildings, and this city. That, I assume, is the Opa-locka effect.