A Revolutionary Project: Explorations of Cuba from Walker Evans to Now

Walker Evans, Havana Cinema, 1933

Walker Evans, Old Havana Housefronts, 1933

Walker Evans, Mule, Wagon and Two Men, Havana, 1933

Virginia Beahan, Bahía de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs), 2004

Virginia Beahan, Panaderia (Bakery), 2004

Alex Harris, 1951 Plymouth, Old Havana, 1998

Alexey Titarenko, Untitled, Havana, 2003

Alexey Titarenko, Dilemma, Havana, 2006

A Revolutionary Project: Explorations of Cuba from Walker Evans to Now

A Revolutionary Project: Cuba from Walker Evans to Now is a photographic exhibition recently on display at the Getty Museum. The collection of photographs looks at three critical periods in the nation’s history as witnessed by photographers before, during and after the country’s 1959 Revolution. Cuba’s attempt to forge an independent state has been a project under development for more than 100 years and a source of fascination for nations, intellectuals and artists alike.

The exhibition juxtaposes Walker Evans’s 1933 images from the end of the Machado dictatorship, with views by contemporary foreign photographers Virginia Beahan, Alex Harris and Alexey Titarenko, who have explored Cuba since the withdrawal of Soviet support in the 1990s. Walker Evans is one of the photographers most responsible for the way we now imagine American life in the 1930s. His distinctive photographic style was nurtured by New York in the late 1920s, but it was fully formed by his 1933 experiences in Cuba. The photographs that Evans made in Cuba reveal the influence of the French photographer Eugène Atget.

Virginia Beahan, Alex Harris and Alexey Titarenko are the three contemporary photographers in the exhibition, who look at Cuba in very different ways. In 2001, Virginia Beahan began a multiyear project on Cuba, photographing its topography in search of remnants of the island’s diverse past. Beahan’s Cuba is a land of contradictions, full of disappointments and hope, decay and rejuvenating beauty, simultaneously anchored to the past while looking beyond the present.

Through distinct vantage points, Harris probed the country’s propensity for ingenuity as it underwent great transition. His 1998-2003 photographs focus on three icons of the island, the American car, the beautiful woman and the revolutionary hero, as metaphors to explore the distortions with which Cubans and Americans see one another. Harris’s car photographs, for example, capture a view of Cuba through the American lens: imported U.S. cars that literally frame the way many Cubans see their island.

Alexey Titarenko’s 2003 photographs of life in Cuba depict people persevering amid varying states of ruin: collecting food rations, fixing long-outmoded cars or playing baseball. Titarenko was drawn to Cuba following years spent photographing his home town of Saint Petersburg, like Havana a once-grand city transformed by revolution and slow decay under Communist rule. Titarenko deliberately photographed Havana in much the same way he’d photographed his native St. Petersburg, as a communist kind of Cold War city that has suffered very much from the communist policies and communist rule. And so his black-and-white and very dusty gray imagery removes any spark, any color from Havana, which is in fact very colorful.

Alex Harris, Virginia Beahan, and Alexey Titarenko on Photographing Cuba‬

The Cuban Revolution

The Cuban Timeline: 1960-2008

Photo-Gallery: Explorations of Cuba from Walker Evans to Now

(Please Click Image to View Photo-Gallery)

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