Yesterday I had the privilege of showing friends from Vermont my photography exhibit, “Separate Wings of the Same Bird – Photographs from Cuba & Puerto Rico.” Afterwards, I concluded that talking or writing about my pics enhances the stories that the they tell. Yes, I know that photographs can stand on their own. I also understand, however, that words do not detract from individual prints, and clearly enrich the story(s) multiple images tell.
This essay is the first of ten that connect to the 20 photographs in my current exhibition. Photographs are paired and each set includes a color image from Cuba and a black & white one from Puerto Rico – I saw Cuba in color but Puerto Rico in black & white. In both places I met people who were struggling to make ends meet. But there appeared to be greater joy amongst people in Cuba. I’m very clear that this call is purely subjective. However, the stories of each photograph might help to explain my idea.
Photograph I – Mother & Daughter, Havana
This picture was taken late afternoon outside of a Catholic church. The Archbishop of Havana had said mass and I had spent the afternoon shooting inside of the church as well as in the adjoining neighborhood. As an aside, although it was a Catholic church, many people attending were believers in Santeria. I photographed mother and daughter as they stood facing the church and the steps where I was sitting viewing the street. I had already spotted the two men standing across the street. The mother and daughter had begun some serious scolding of the daughter’s sibling – one of the mother’s other daughters. There were so many elements that I saw in the frame, but for me the focal points were the women’s faces. Mother looks very troubled while daughter appears awfully judgmental. So, while it was the faces that were the stories – at least for me, each woman’s bling and the daughter’s dress began to make the photograph more complete. Finally, the background and the sky brought closure to the frame.
Photograph II – Santeria Elder, Santurce neighborhood in San Juan
I took this photograph at La Placita in Santurce. During the day, La Placita is a food market but at night it turns into a much more youthful scene – the site of music and dance till late into the night. The two men in the pic had just finished eating at a small restaurant that adjoins La Placita. Before they got into the car I chatted with the man who is in the back seat, the well-known artist Eli Barreto Talavera. He then introduced me to the man in the front seat whose necklace is a Santeria amulet. The elder man thanked me profusely for taking his photograph and I helped him get into the passenger seat of the car. As I began to say good-bye, I had to shoot the portrait knowing that Eli would also be part of the photograph. The car framed the shot, I thought that his hand offered rich texture, and most importantly, his beautiful eyes spoke the many thankyous that he had already spoken.
(Photographs are on exhibit through June at the Beaverton City Library. I will talk about the show on June 15/6pm at the library)