In the early 2000s, the American photographer Jim Dow began photographing the food trucks he encountered on his travels through Argentina and Mexico. Years later, his efforts have been collected in a show spanning numerous countries, focusing on a single subject—street food—to bring to light the cultural import of an often overlooked institution.
Dow focuses on a single banal structure as an entrance into broader themes. For nearly 50 years he has photographed buildings central to national identity in the United States and abroad: BBQ joints, sports stadiums, and court houses among them. “I’ve always been interested in the ways that people organize the spaces they occupy,” he recently told Artsy. On choosing his subjects, he says “you look at something and you just get chills; you know you’re in the right place.” His eye has garnered him significant praise throughout the course of his career—author Tom Perrotta has applauded the photographer’s ability to lay bare “the beauty and mystery and sadness hidden beneath the surface of everyday objects and landscapes.”
For “Taco Trucks, Taquerias, and Carritos,” Dow photographed the trucks of native Spanish speakers, eschewing the hipper food trucks that have recently become popular (especially in the U.S.) and focusing on local joints in Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay, and California. The trucks, often bathed in streetlamp light, are sometimes hooked up to clandestine generators through dense networks of wires; in some, the tires have fallen flat, rendering the trucks no longer trucks in the strictest sense of the word.
Dow says the series partially grew out of another photographic project he undertook in which he sat similar structures in Buenos Aires and Mexico City (bathroom entrances, for example) side by side. “People here think everything below the border is the same thing,” he says. “I’m really committed to trying to parse those differences out.” He adds, “it’s a really visually compelling, subtle way to talk about assimilation, migration. Being at home in a culture and not being at home.”
“Jim Dow: Taco Trucks, Taquerias, and Carritos” is on view at Robert Klein Gallery, Boston, Jul. 10–Sep. 12, 2015.