Cuban Photography

Rey Alvarado, Craig Barber, Anna Mia Davidson, Elaine Ling, Lois Pierris, Lisette Solorzano

Benham Gallery offers an unprecedented look at the realities of life in Cuba from six photographers who create images in this much mythologized country. The exhibition features a rich range of approaches-from documentary to fine art, pinhole to large format, color and black and white—by internationally renowned and locally recognized photographers.

"Cuba is a place surrounded in mystery and rumors, and these artists really go beyond that," says gallery director Marita Holdaway. "Their work delves deeper than the stereotypes-good and bad-and shows a culture on the cusp of huge change-from an isolated communist/socialist island to a consumerist, capitalist country that's being transformed by dollar bills and globalization." Due to recent world events, Cuba hasn't been the focus of much media attention lately, notes Holdaway. "WeÕre forgetting about the blockade and its effects, so this exhibition will help remind people of what's really going on there." All of the artists, including Lissette Solorzano of Cuba, will be present at the opening reception on Thursday, February 6.

Rey Alvarado, a Port Townsend-based photographer, focuses on daily life and the spirit of the Cuban people in his high-contrast, vibrant color images. "Cuba really is a place trapped between the past and the future," he remarks. "ItÕs a time capsule where grandeur rubs shoulders with decline." He largely shoots on the street with 35mm Leica and Contax range finders and aims to represent the "dignity, love and soulfulness of the common person in Cuba." He is a documentary and on-location commercial photographer who has worked throughout the Caribbean, Egypt, Morocco and Europe.

New York-based fine art photographer and educator Craig Barber creates graceful, enigmatic images from homemade pinhole cameras constructed of cardboard and tape. The negatives are made into platinum prints, a technique that evokes the look of 19th century photographs. The inherent bluriness of the images produces imprecise scenes, which mimic a dream state or dimly recalled memories. "For the past 40 years America has been obsessed with the political climate of Cuba while understanding little about the people, their culture, or their land," he says. "My project, 'Havana Passage', is about observing, understanding and documenting the cultural landscape before globalization begins to impact Havana. As the world becomes more homogenized I feel the need to photograph that which is unique." His work has been exhibited widely in the U.S., Europe and Latin America, and is featured in the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the New York Public Library; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York.

Seattle-based freelance photographer Anna Mia Davidson uses her photography to create dialogue, social change and to document the lives of endangered cultures in transition. Her 35mm black and white project, "Beyond The Clich¾: The Positive Influences from the Cuban Revolution," received sponsorship from the Blue Earth Alliance, a Seattle organization which supports photographic projects that inform the public about endangered cultures, threatened environments and social issues. "We only get the one-sided, negative view of Cuba in this country, so I shoot the positive remnants of the communist/socialist legacy, like the education and health care systems." Davidson gained tremendous access to Cuba and was granted permission to enter facilities normally forbidden to outsiders.

Internationally exhibited Chinese-Candian artist Elaine Ling's black and white 4x5 Polaroid silver gelatin photographs capture the interiors of homes and religious places. Some images are from the home of a "Muertero," a person who communicates with the spirits of the dead. The domestic religious altars reflect Cuba's complex blend of European Catholic and African traditions. Havana "is a city caught between the decay of the immediate epoch and the grandeur of past gloryÉan urban landscape that reflects a similar struggle between daily life and the slow forces of nature," she remarks. Ling's work has been exhibited in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Russia and Mexico, and is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Houston Center for Photography; the Brooklyn Museum of Art, among many others.

Seattle-based Lois Pierris uses a 35mm camera to create slightly surreal, wholly unexpected images rich with vivid color, light and texture. "My focus is on exploring the beauty that I see in poor, struggling societies," she says. "I want to show the contrasts of decay and beauty, the surreal qualities of places that have been frozen in time and the sensuality and sadness of the people." Her work is the result of nine trips to Cuba, and has been featured in group and solo shows in Washington and California. Two of her images have been used on Starbuck's "Cafˇ Cubana" CD covers.

Cuban photojournalist Lissette Solorzano creates uncompromising, hard-hitting images that do not shy away from the weariness and physical hardships of existence in her native country. Often shooting in the street, she captures the unposed, unaffected side of Cubans as they go about day-to-day life working, waiting, playing, talking. She also works as a graphic designer, and is a member of the Cuban Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC). She won the Casa de las Am¾ricas Photographic Essay Prize in 1994 and 1996. Her work has been exhibited in Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Spain and the U.S.


Elaine Ling



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