Edward M. Gómez Reviews “The Cuba Archive”


In the article “In New Photo Books, a Strong Sense of Place,” Edward M. Gómez (Hyperallergic) reviews three new photography books that “explore a sweep of places and events from Cuba to the studio floor.” One of these is The Cuba Archive: Photography from 1990s Cuba, by Tria Giovan, with an essay by Silvana Paternostro.

New York-based Tria Giovan was born in Chicago in 1961 and grew up in the U.S. Virgin Islands. She first traveled to Cuba in 1990 in search of, as she recently told me, “a place to photograph that had escaped homogenization and commercialization.” There, on the island where Fidel Castro’s socialist revolution had triumphed three decades earlier, she found it.

Fascinated by Cuba in all its ramshackle, post-colonial-meets-revolutionary, funky beauty, and by its people’s indomitable spirit despite their hardscrabble existence, Giovan got to work shooting in color in the “straight photography” documentary manner (an approach that strives for veracity, without later manipulation of captured images). Over the course of numerous visits, she traversed the island, getting to know rural villages, cane fields, mountain retreats, and the crumbling, colonial-era palacios of Old Havana. She immersed herself in Cuba’s history, music, and, of course, politics. (Her earlier photo book, Cuba: The Elusive Island, was published by Abrams in 1996.)

The Annenberg Foundation sponsored Giovan’s most recent trip, and some of the images it yielded are featured in Cuba Is, a multi-artist photography exhibition that is now on view (through March 4, 2018) at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles.

Giovan remembers visiting Cuba during the “Special Period” of the early 1990s following the end of the Cold War, as the country became untethered from the Soviet Union, and Cubans slogged through shortages of fuel and basic supplies. The Cuba Archive includes photos Giovan shot in later years, subtly reflecting certain changes; during her most recent trip, she writes in the book, “Vegetable markets were everywhere, as were fresh coats of paint. Billboards once touting […] the virtues of the revolution had been replaced by mundane imagery and less vitriolic, more tourist-friendly messaging. […] There was a charged vitality in the streets that felt youthful, alive.”

Giovan captures that onda with images of the locals lining up to buy ice cream, the fresh faces of young couples, blonde beauties near the shore, and, inevitably, the sea, that tempting conduit to another world that, to many Cubans, appears as both a forbidding barrier and a shimmering, if uncertain, field of dreams. Giovan feels that her photographs “bear witness to an inimitable, resilient, and complex country and [its] people.” [. . .]

[Photo above: Tria Giovan, “Che Plays Chess, Matanzas” (1993), photograph from “The Cuba Archive” (photo courtesy of Damiani).]

For full article, see https://hyperallergic.com/412036/the-cube-archive-slant-rhymes-pilgrimage/

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