Like a cop on surveillance, Jocelyn Augustino prowled the pre-dawn streets of Havana before stationing herself near a previously selected example of the island’s beautiful architecture, waiting for one of those ubiquitous vintage American cars to come by so she could photograph it in front of the building – using an iPhone.
“It was challenging; a little bit of a waiting game,” said Augustino, a Gardner native and Washington D.C.-based freelance photographer whose worldwide work has appeared in Time Magazine, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, USA Today and The New York Times Magazine, among others.
The 30 photographs in the exhibit, which runs through January, were taken during a weeklong visit to Cuba in April 2013. They are currently on display at the Levi Heywood Memorial Library, 55 West Lynde St., Gardner. A meet-and-greet with the artist will take place from 4-6:30 p.m. Dec. 23 at the library.
Augustino visited Cuba with a group of photographers who acquired special permits to visit the country, a place few Americans have seen since travel restrictions were imposed in the 1960s after the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro. At that time, the U.S. government placed an embargo on American cars that has not been lifted, although President Obama recently restored diplomatic relations.
Struck by the novelty of the old cars, Augustino got an idea to connect them with the architecture to draw viewers into what seems like a city stuck in another era.
Taking note of interesting buildings while walking the streets of Havana, she would get up at the crack of dawn to wait for the perfect shot of an old car in front of one of them – and that would be one shot, because with her iPhones 3 and 5, she had no control over aperture or shutter speed, and images would often be out of focus.
Augustino said for this project and an earlier six-week residency in China, she decided to use an iPhone application called Hipstamatic, rather than her usual professional cameras, because of the different styles and number of filters available. The images, she said, are square rather than rectangle, and they mimic those of classic cameras such as Hasselblads. However, she said, it makes for limited shooting and a lot of waiting.
“What you learn is a sense of anticipation,” she said. “It was more like me doing some exploring.”
The results are remarkable. The photographs show big shiny cars in bright hues of yellow, purple, blue, and green parked in front of gleaming white churches, old Spanish-style buildings with pink and turquoise details, and decaying Soviet-style apartments. Augustino says unlike New England, the warm Caribbean climate helps keep cars in better shape. Also, she said, the older models are much easier to repair than today’s computerized vehicles, even using non-Americana auto parts, as they are still banned.
Augustino, who worked for several local newspapers before she left Gardner in 1992 for a job in the nation’s capital, holds a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Simmons College. It was a photography course at Parsons School of Art and Design in Paris during a college year abroad that sparked her interest in photography.
Her first project was documenting someone living with AIDS in the late 1980s. After that, she combined her interest in politics and passion for photography into a career that has encompassed portraits of sitting presidents, business and political leaders, and hitting the campaign trail with Bill Bradley when he ran for president in 2000.
In addition, Augustino worked on a photo documentary about Joe Lieberman during the last few weeks of his campaign as Al Gore’s running mate in 2000. Lieberman’s wife, Hadassah Lieberman, is also from Gardner. Augustino worked on President Obama’s re-election campaign as well.
But one of her most prized memories was when Nancy Pelosi became the first woman Speaker of the House in 2007. Augustino was on the House floor taking photographs of Pelosi being handed the gavel.
“I was pinching myself,” Augustino said. “Here was a woman making history as the first speaker.”
An interest in photographers who worked for the Farm Security Administration in the 1930s led Augustino to photography jobs with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Augustino documented work by FEMA following the 9-11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina (“I got a reputation as a disaster photographer”). That work is now part of the historical record in the National Archives.
Augustino, who returns home most summers to spend time on Queen Lake in Phillipston, said she is proud to have the Cuba exhibit showcased in her hometown.
“It feels really good. It’s nice to be able to bring these back to the community where I was born, and to show that community what someone can do with photography,” she said.