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

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American Dreams: Iconic Images of 20th Century Life

Richard Avedon, Nastassja Kinski and the Serpent, 1981

Gertrude Käsebier, The Sketch (Beatrice Baxter), 1903

Lewis Hine, Powerhouse Mechanic, 1920

Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936

Mary Ellen Mark, Lily with Her Rag Doll, Seattle, 1983

American Dreams: Iconic Images of 20th Century Life

American Dreams is a wonderful exhibition that provides a survey of the great American photographers of the 20th century. The exhibition consists of of photographs from arguably the world’s most important photographic museum, George Eastman House, and is currently being shown at Australia’s Bendigo Art Gallery.

The works highlight the pioneering role these American artists have had on the world stage in developing and shaping photography, and the impact these widely published images have had on the greater society. Their far-reaching images helped shape American culture, and had an impact on the fundamental role photography has in communications today. Even more than this, we can see through these artists the burgeoning love of photography that engaged a nation.

These images show us not only the development of photography, but also provide some of the most powerful social documentary photography of the last century. We see extraordinary moments captured in the lives of a wide range of Americans, works that distil the dramatic transformation that affected people during the 20th century: the affluence, degradation, loss, hope and change, both personally and throughout society.

American Dreams: Iconic Images of 20th Century Life

Photo-Gallery: American Dreams/Iconic Images of 20th Century Life

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Photos of the Day: Engaged Observers

Photography by: Walker Evans

Photography by: Leonard Freed

Photography by: Larry Towell

Photography by: Larry Towell

Photography by: Mary Ellen Mark

Photos of the Day: Engaged Observers

Documentary Photography: Engaged Observers is a collection of photographs by photographers who  created extended photographic essays that delved deeply into topics of social concern and presented distinct personal visions of the world.  Following in the tradition of Walker Evans and other Depression-era photographers, this series of works focuses on the tradition of socially engaged photographic essays since the 1960s.  Engaged Observers includes photographs from the following projects: The Mennonites by Larry Towell, Streetwise by Mary Ellen Mark, Black in White America by Leonard Freed, Vietnam Inc. by Philip Jones Griffiths, The Sacrifice by James Nachtwey and Migrations: Humanity in Transition by Sebastião Salgado.

Walker Evans: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Mary Ellen Mark: Streetwise (1984) Part I

Larry Towell: The Mennonites

Slide Show: Documentary Photography/Engaged Observers

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Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera

Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera

Exposed is a photographic collection presently on exhibition at London’s Tate Modern Gallery, which offers a fascinating look at pictures made on the sly, without the explicit permission of the people depicted.  With photographs from the late nineteenth century to present day, the pictures present a shocking, illuminating and sometimes witty perspective on iconic and taboo subjects.  Exposed presents 250 works by celebrated artists and photographers, including Weegee, Guy Bourdin, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Philip Lorca DiCorcia, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Nan Goldin, Harry Callahan, Lee Miller, Helmut Newton and Man Ray.

The United Kingdom is now the most surveyed country in the world, fostering an obsession with voyeurism, privacy laws, freedom of media, and surveillance, images captured and relayed on camera phones, YouTube or reality TV.  Much of Exposed focuses on surveillance, and the issues raised are particularly relevant in the current climate, with debates raging around the rights and desires of individuals, terrorism and the increasing availability and use of surveillance.  Exposed confronts these issues and their implications head-on.

Exposed at Tate Modern: Sandra Phillips on Celebrity Photography

Exposed: Richard Gordon on Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera

Slide Show: Exposed/Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera

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Photos of the Day: Visions of Auto-Magic Through the Years

Photos of the Day: Visions of Auto-Magic Through the Years

Visions of Auto-Magic is a captivating collection of photographs of automobiles through the years, images that often transform the ordinary of urban daily life into intense images that sizzle and delight the eye.  The photographs range from very early street pictures, to more recent highly abstract views.  The master photographers represented in this photo-essay include: Walker Evans, Alfred Steiglitz,  Ray K. Metzker, Dennis Stock and Harry Callahan.

The Rolls-Royce Ghost: The 2009 World Premiere

Slide Show: Visions of Auto-Magic Through the Years

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James Agee: Vistas of Perfection

James Agee: Vistas of Perfection

The Self-Dissatisfied Life and Art of James Agee

James Agee has become a kind of legend for his tormented life and early death, no less than for his great books, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and A Death in the Family. If Agee had been able to exert greater control over his life and talent, he might have written more and lived longer; but he would not have written at the particular pitch of desperate sincerity and fearful compassion that has made him so beloved.

When he died at the age of 45 in 1955, Agee seemed to many of his admirers like a case of tragic unfulfillment, a victim of journalism, his not-quite-chosen profession, or of uncontrollable alcoholism, or of the sheer impossibility of being an artist in America. The critic John Leonard, writing about Agee in 1960, pointed out that the 1950s were “a time when postwar American culture conflated art with martyrdom and manhood with excess. Think of the poets lost to lithium, loony bins and suicide, the jazz musicians strung up and out on heroin, the abstract expressionists who slashed and burned themselves. Delmore Schwartz, Charlie Parker and Jackson Pollock pointed the way for Jack Kerouac, James Dean, Truman Capote, John Berryman, Elvis, Janis and Jimi.” Agee fit all too neatly into this tragic pantheon.

It did not take long after Agee’s death for him to find the literary fame that had largely eluded him in life. In 1957, his novel A Death in the Family was published posthumously, and won the Pulitzer Prize. In the 1960s, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (with photography by Walker Evans), which had vanished without a trace when it first appeared in 1941, became enormously popular among a new generation of readers drawn to Agee’s concern with spirituality and social justice.

James Agee and Walker Evans: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Slide Show: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Photography by: Walker Evans

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Read more about James Agee in the Harvard Magazine here.

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