There are some beautiful photos coming out of this group. Some, though, don’t look like the Cuba that I know. Not that they’re going to new neighborhoods or meeting new people. Rather, some students are so good with their tools that they can manipulate a country (and a people and even buildings) I know so well into an alien landscape of pure, distilled beauty, often divorced of any social, political or economic reality.
Cuba is just too important to me for that.
I hate that for an American, there is no place to consume valuable, accurate news about Cuba. You can read the nostalgic memoirs of Miami Cubans, dipped in vitriol for Fidel. You can see the photos online of cigars, old cars and the same few Cuban workers dressed in colonial costumes. You can read Yoani Sanchez’s pissed prose, or the blogs of a few dedicated gringos. You can read the old fiction of Hemingway or Graham Greene. But where does an American turn to hear what regular old life is like for the majority of Cubans?
After I came back last time, a couple of my dad’s cousins asked me, while we were doing the MS Walk in Porstmouth, NH, what a couple of guys like them would be doing if they were in and from Cuba. That is the question we need to ask ourselves about foreign countries, instead of reducing everything to sexualized or demonized stereotypes.
I guess if I felt like Cuba was a well-covered topic, I could go for pure aesthetics. In Boston I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I value seeing the glorious within the everyday. But when the glory is artificially manipulated and the vida cotidianna is nowhere to be found in public discourse, it seems more like dishonesty than an aesthetic choice. There are a few journalism majors here, and I’ve enjoyed hearing their perspective on which stories we should be telling with our photos. While some of the students are design majors, many are not and the combination makes for a lively mixture.
Granted, I don’t think my method is any better. Given the chance, I would accompany all of my photos with novellas explaining the several decades worth of history, culture, politics and economic shenanigans that converge on the theme of my photo. It was pointed out to me that I am allowed one sentence, and any more than that would be a lecture. Um, yes. Can I just do that then? Can I just give everyone lectures and accompany them with a handful of photos? Luckily, Andrea (one of the professors) is awesome and understood my dilemma right away. When we get back to the US, everyone is going to put together a final product. For me, she suggested that I do a book–the photos I take here broken up into thematic chapters with a lot of copy.
On rough days, I feel that photography may just not be the medium for me. This fatwa on words is pretty anathema to everything about my personality. At the very least, I hope when I return to better internet the enhanced photos will make the lectures I post a bit easier to stomach. But then I have days where if I don’t shoot until the afternoon I get antsy. And everyone in the class I’m (supposed to be) assisting has been incredibly helpful with their critiques. I’m certainly enjoying the steep learning curve, and I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by some incredibly talented, kind people from whom I have picked up a lot.