Photographer Thomas Locke Hobbs is interested in the subtle systems and forces that shape a sense of place in the urban landscape. Trained as an economist before turning to photography, he tends to organize each body of work around an analytic framework that reveals some social, historical or geographic component of a city’s identity. The framework can be very tightly structured, as in his series of the triangular shadows formed by a particularly ubiquitous building type in Buenos Aires, or more loosely defined; one of his current works in progress is a series of photographs of young gay men in Iquitos, Peru, which are at once intimate portraits of individuals and a quasi-ethnographic cataloging of a community shaped by the city’s unique cultural and geographical identity.
Hobbs lived in Buenos Aires from 2008 to 2011, and the series presented here, “Barranca,” uses that city’s topography as an organizing principle. The Argentinan capital is located at the edge of a vast plain, the Pampas, where the lowlands meet a wide estuary, the Río de la Plata. On that edge rises a 30-foot bank that separates the city from the river. Hobbs writes, “After living in Buenos Aires for about two years, the flatness of the city, the impossibility of having a vista or a perspective from which to orient oneself, began to feel oppressive. I started taking pictures around the one, small topographical feature present in the city; the brief slant of the barely perceptible riverbank, or barranca.” In the series, Hobbs traces the city from north to south, using the bank as a nine-mile transect that reveals something essential about the city and the history of its making:
Residents of Buenos Aires say the city turns its back on the river. Indeed, centuries of landfill have pushed the present day edge of the river so far from its original banks that standing at any point on the riverbank, the river itself is never visible. What is visible are the markings of Argentina’s history; the lavish parks built in the 19th century, the seat of government, the bullet-scared façade of a government ministry, the site of a clandestine torture center run during the last military dictatorship, murals for candidates, a monument to a lost war, graffiti for recently a deceased ex-president, an elevated highway constructed for the World Cup, and so on.