Cuba at The Getty The Revolution wasn’t televised, It was photographed.

Dipping into their incredible stash of Walker Evans photographs, the Getty Museum begins their most current exhibit, A Revolutionary Project: Cuba from Walker Evans to Now, May 17–October 2, 2011.
The Evans’ images have a mixture of a tale to tell, as they document a country by way of it’s people.
Some of the images are almost in the August Sander school of portraiture as the tradespeople and middle class are set apart in a less formal, yet separate and distinctive posing.
A “dandy” of the time belies a fairly easy to grasp, universal dress pattern, which when extrapolated could be an indication of the good times some enjoyed under the dictatorial rule.
Remember “Godfather 2”? Or history?
The grossly uneven ruling of the working class, with bribes and payoffs making the investors huge power brokers in Cuba was bound to fall.
A revolution was inevitable.
This exhibit breaks out the history of a country from despotism, to the communist revolutionary take over of socialism, to current day struggles with a financially unsound infrastructure. The photographs are presented with a solid grace, yet even the incredible collection of the revolution imagery, including perhaps the most copied photograph ever, seems restrained.

Credits for image above:
Creator(s): Walker Evans (American, 1903 – 1975)
Title/Date: Havana Citizen / Citizen in Downtown Havana, 1933
Object Credit: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

The Walker Evans photographs would be a show unto themselves anywhere else and the inclusion here illustrates the overall quality of the collection.

The revolution images are powerful, and images we have not seen before, gave an almost backroom look of the planning process. They knew that these images would be kept as a record of what had happened. They became the PR for the revolution and images sent around the world. Whether you see the prep of the rebels or the leaders walking through the stations, there is a sense of the uprising and, in contrast to the Evans materials, a more frenetic, and rugged framing to the images.
Once the revolutionaries are in place, the socialism supported by the USSR, brings forth a new type of photography: the propaganda of a new society.

Creator(s): Alberto Korda (Cuban, 1928 – 2001)
Title/Date: [Plaza de la Revolución, Havana], May 1963
Copyright: © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
Object Credit: Skrein Photo Collection

This image of Che Guavera, reproduced currently on a billboard, was one of the most reproduced images and symbols of the Cuban Revolution.
The original is in the exhibit, framed so the back is visible and you can see the original makings made for publications.
On a modern billboard, it retains it’s power and becomes on of the countries iconic images.

Virginia Beahan (American, born 1946)
Title/Date: Post-Revolutionary “Hombre Nuevo” (New Man), Las Tunas, 2004
Medium: Chromogenic print
Copyright: © Virginia Beahan
Object Credit: Wilson Centre for Photography

Which brings us to the 3rd section of the exhibit.

When the support from the USSR diminished, as did the USSR itself, the finance for programs and infrastructure within the country dwindled dramatically.
As one photographer, Alex Harris, documented the dashboards of cars, still in use from the 50″s, (notice the machete handle sticking out of the glove box),you are reminded that the trade between the US and Cuba is still restricted.

Creator(s): Alex Harris (American, born 1949)
Title/Date: Sol and Cuba, Old Havana, Looking North from Alberto Roja’s 1951
Plymouth, Havana, negative May 23, 1998; print December 2007
Copyright: © Alex Harris
Object Credit: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Michael and Jane
Wilson, Wilson Centre for Photography

© Damon Webster

he also covered the sex trade. The old cars are a throwback to the last trade with the US, although images of a sex trade are what may described as an easy subject to tackle, anywhere in the world.

© Damon webster

Other photographers, like Virginia Beahan, concentrate on the landscape to illustrate the decay. Photographer Alexey Titarenko’s, captures the actual crumbling of their great buildings and ties it to the metaphor of a crumbling infrastructure.

Creator(s): Alex Harris (American, born 1949)
Title/Date: Lazo de la Vega, negative October 13, 2002; print December 2007
Copyright: © Alex Harris
Object Credit: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Michael and Jane
Wilson, Wilson Centre for Photography

The message is pretty simple and clear: Cuba has become delapedated and in disrepair.
But what is the true story of the people?
Sure we’ve heard about the boats going from Cuba to Miami with refugees, but that is relatively small amount of the population.

We know that there are more chapters in the making of this country and although there is an apparent conclusion drawn photographically in the this exhibit, we look froward to a new set of eyes telling that next chapter in years to come.

On this exhibit, the Getty has decided not to publish a catalog, however in their book store there are a number of books, both pre, during and post revolution.
We decided to pick the Alex Harris book, because the car dashboards are a unique cultural insight, with the scenarios beyond the windshields, serendipitous tableaus.

True, ICP also did a major exhibit on Cuba, only in the past year. Focusing mainly on the revolution, the images were more provocative, with a short pre-curser to revolution series of photos that had more of the societal debauchery headed for a fall, feeling.
The Che images also contained a long series from his death in Bolivia.

2 shows with a different viewpoint for different audiences.

With another brilliant, curatorial tour de force, The Getty has put on a photographic exhibit worthy of their collection, once again.

© Damon Webster

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