New Book and Photography Exhibition: “The Light in Cuban Eyes”

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Victoria Fleischer (PBS: Art Beat) writes about a photographic exhibition inspired by long-time patron of Cuban photography Madeleine P. Plonsker, who has been traveling to Havana since 2002 to discover and support the work of emerging Cuban photographers. Coinciding with the exhibition is the release of the book The Light in Cuban Eyes, published by Lake Forest College Press. The Light in Cuban Eyes is the first North American publication with support from the Cuban Ministry of Culture and Fototeca de Cuba, Cuba’s repository of photography (comparable in function to the Smithsonian Photography Department in Washington, D.C.)

The exhibition, “The Light in Cuban Eyes,” opened in New York City at the Robert Mann Gallery on March 26 and will be on view until May 26, 2015. The gallery is located at 525 West 26th Street in New York. The exhibition includes work by Pedro Abascal, Pavel Acosta, Juan Carlos Alom, Jorge Luis Álvarez Pupo, Ramsés Batista, Raúl Cañibano, Arien Chang, Donis Dayán, Reinaldo Echemendía Cid, Adrián Fernández, Eduardo García, Alejandro González, Glenda León, Liudmila + Nelson, Kadir López Nieves, José Julián Martí, Néstor Martí, René Peña, Alejandro Pérez, Michel Pou, Leysis Quesada, Alfredo Ramos, and Lissette Solórzano.

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When Cuban photographer Nelson Ramirez was eight years old, he borrowed his mother’s camera, a twin-lens reflex that requires you to reload film before each shot. Ramirez kept forgetting to reload. When he finally developed the roll of film eight years later, he noticed the negatives had multiple exposures.

“I think those are the first manipulated photography that I did,” Ramirez told Art Beat. This week, the Robert Mann gallery in New York City opened “The Light in Cuban Eyes,” a two-month long exhibit that showcases Ramirez work along with 23 others. The exhibit is an offshoot of a book by the same name, which showcases 50 artists and was published earlier this month.

Ramirez creates most of his artwork with his partner, Luidmila Velasco, which often use manipulation. In a 2008 series called “Hotel Havana,” two duo combined images of a street or a city landmark over time, using archival photos from the 1940s and 50s. They would layer those archival images with their own current-day photographs and images that represent people’s fears about the future, such as replacing the ideological billboards with advertisements for Coca-Coca.

Ramirez is now the director of the Caribbean island’s version of Getty, Fototeca de Cuba. It’s in this capacity that he met Madeleine Plonsker, an art collector from Chicago who has been focusing on paper art — photographs, paintings, etchings, lithographs, etc. — with her husband for 54 years.

Plonkser first visited Havana in 2002 on a People-to-People tour of Cuban art, a trip that profoundly affected her. She wandered into an open air contemporary photography shop and, after purchasing a print, was directed across the plaza to the only photography gallery in Havana at the time. Soon she was connected with Ramirez who introduced to her photographers throughout the bustling city.

[. . .] Over time, the collector started to develop strong relationships with the photographers. She would bring friends with her to Cuba and host “salons,” a sort of meet-and-greet showcase where a dozen photographers could interact with collectors. One of the first artists to participate was Pedro Abascal, a self-taught photographer who was one of the first people to take pictures freely on the street after the Soviets pulled out of Cuba.

Abascal has spent more than 40 years as a documentary photography, which he says is a very personal form of self-expression. He says that “The Light in Cuban Eyes” is essential, especially for an American audience, because it gives a glimpse into a world that was closed for so long.

“It covers a period of time in my country which is very important to see what we have to say and how it was,” Abascal said. “[The book] puts together people like myself that were photographing around that time with film, younger people that work with digital and other people who do more conceptual work. You can see a whole spectrum of expression in photography … you can see how Cuban photography is changing, how it has grown up in a sense.” [. . .]

For Plonsker, whose collection is on display, she hopes the book will serve as a “bibliography of contemporary Cuban photography.” [. . .]

For full article and many exciting photos, see http://www.pbs.org/newshour/art/opening-cultural-doors-through-cuban-photography/

See more information on the exhibition at http://www.robertmann.com/current/

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