Ernesto Bazan’s book of photographs, simply titled Cuba, “which won the prize for best book in this year’s New York Photo Festival, is featured in an article in the New York Times, which is accompanied by an extensive gallery of photos from this extraordinary look at the everyday lives of Cubans. Here are some excerpts from the essay. The link below will take you to the article, and, more importantly, to the beautiful black and white photographs.
In Cuba’s forbidden allure to North Americans, images from its sun-drenched streets have become all too familiar: old cars, even older musicians, colorful costumes and dour revolutionary slogans. Yet those tired images fail to capture how time has also stopped for many Cubans, whose lives are a daily Sisyphean routine of figuring out how to resolve the problem of the moment.
Mr. Bazan’s book documents that parallel and heartbreaking reality, devoid of color but rich in gritty black-and-white textures. He captures the stoic pride of the guajiros, farmers with rough hands and strong faces. Inside a store filled with empty shelves, a bored caretaker — how could he be a salesman if there is nothing to sell? — sits at a counter. Penitents in Havana seek divine intercession crawling on their hands to the shrine of St. Lazarus. Or they haul crosses, oblivious to the revolutionary slogans that no longer put food on the table or hope in their hearts.
Mr. Bazan insists his work is not political. It is something more profound. It is real, giving an indelible face to the melancholy that lies behind the tourist-trap smiles.
“There is the sense of sadness and waiting,” he said during a phone interview from Brazil, where he has led workshops. “Until when? They have 50 years waiting and nothing changes. A revolution which began in good faith but strayed from the path little by little and became something totally different from what Cubans expected when the revolution triumphed.”
Bazan arrived in Cuba in November 1992, an era that found the island’s economy battered after the collapse of its political and economic patron, the Soviet Union. The government dubbed it the “Special Period.”
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“Living there for so long — 14 years — I saw a profound sadness,” Mr. Bazan said. “There is a high percentage of suicide in Cuba, because people ask how long do they have to live on $30 a month and not be able to provide for their family.”
But Mr. Bazan’s palette is not one of pure despair. He is just as adept at capturing everyday moments of fun, relaxation or even romance. An image of a boy walking a crab may be surreal, but it is right at home along the Malecón in Havana. And his shots of kids diving into the water are alive with odd angles.
He felt a deep connection to the island, one that was forged in his Sicilian boyhood.
“With my photography, I wanted to relive those unforgettable moments spent out in the fields helping the farmers with their daily chores,” he wrote in a diary entry from Nov. 18, 1995. “After so many years of wandering, I felt the search was over. Sicily and Cuba seem to interlock like two pieces of a puzzle. In the daily sauntering along the streets of this island my soul is finally at peace. Now I know why.”
For the article and gallery go to http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/30/showcase-59/